Church flipper: Why this pastor has a passion for finding the new faithful for old houses of worship

All too often, shuttered houses of worship are converted into nightclubs, restaurants and even condominiums, as former GetReligion contributor Mark Kellner noted in a Religion News Service story back in September.

Kellner’s report highlighted “a growing desire to keep houses of worship within the tradition in which they were originally established, even if the founding congregation has diminished.”

A few months earlier, our own tmatt commented on a New York Times article from Quebec with this provocative headline: “Where Churches Have Become Temples of Cheese, Fitness and Eroticism.”

Now, via the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, comes a feature on a “church flipper.” Pastor Paul Marzahn, it seems, is the “Fixer Upper” of houses of worship.

The Star-Tribune’s lede:

Pastor Paul Marzahn is best known as the founder of several south suburban churches. But he’s gaining a new reputation for an unusual side job he’s juggling — as a church flipper.

The Methodist minister scouts for “For Sale” signs on churches with an eye toward rehabbing the buildings and selling them back to new faith-filled owners. He’s also a consultant to clergy looking to sell or buy.

Marzahn’s nonprofit, for example, purchased the historic Wesley United Methodist Church in downtown Minneapolis and last year turned it over to a fresh congregation. His own Lakeville church bought an aging Inver Grove Heights church, rehabbed it, and made it an auxiliary campus.

He’s now helping a ministry serving the homeless revamp a former Catholic Charities building.

“I drive by these church buildings for sale and think, ‘Who do I know who would be a good fit into this building?’ ” said Marzahn, senior pastor at Crossroads United Methodist Church in Lakeville. “That’s my calling. To see churches or nonprofits save some of these great buildings.”

It’s a really fascinating piece.

And it’s one that — given the trend of dying churches — could lend itself to a reality television program for Marzahn. He’s already filmed a pilot, as the Minnesota newspaper points out.

More from the story:

Marzahn’s matchmaking plans are timely. As church attendance declines, Minnesota and the rest of the nation are seeing many of its church doors closing. A small but growing market for religious properties has emerged, but some of the finest buildings often are purchased by for-profit developers.

“Some people see the profit side of things,” Marzahn said. “I see a different potential.”

My only constructive criticism: I wish the Star-Tribune had delved more into the spiritual side of why Marzahn considers this “his calling.”

An earlier Twin Cities Pioneer Press profile of the church flipper included a few references to God, including this one:

Marzahn, 55, the pastor of Crossroads Church in Lakeville, spends about 15 hours a week on his church-flipping endeavors, a talent that’s evolved into a side consulting business that takes him to church properties all over the United States.

How does he find these opportunities?

“It’s kind of a God thing,” he said. “People usually come to me.”

That’s an insightful quote, as relates to Marzahn’s view of the world.

Still, I’d love to know more. Obviously, this is about more than bricks and mortar to Marzahn, and the newspaper stories reflect that to an extent. But ample room exists, it appears, for an enterprising Godbeat writer to delve deeper into Marzahn’s soul.

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