Adaptive Reuse: What Is It and Why Should You Consider It? Blog Feature
Joe LaPaglia

By: Joe LaPaglia on July 09, 2015

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Adaptive Reuse: What Is It and Why Should You Consider It?

Church Construction | Managing Facilities | Adapative Reuse

Your church needs to expand. Now what? Do you start excavating dirt on a brand new property, or do you lease an empty building for a while? Another option—adaptive reuse—may be more affordable and efficient than building new or renting. But what is adaptive reuse, and under what conditions is it the right solution?

First, adaptive reuse means renovating an existing property to fit your church’s needs. Many churches in recent years have converted former storefronts and retail spaces into worship centers. But repurposing a space that wasn’t originally built to serve as a church can be complex and costly, sometimes more expensive than renovating an existing church or building a new one. So how do you know what the right solution is?

Here are four factors to consider to help you determine whether building new, leasing, or adaptive reuse is the right solution to help your church gain added space:

1. Spatial stewardship

At Aspen Group, we care deeply about spatial stewardship—fully utilizing a church’s physical space for maximum efficiency and effectiveness so that all of the resources entrusted to the church, including the building, are stewarded well. Nowhere does the concept of spatial stewardship apply more than in the decision to build, buy, or reuse. Sometimes being a good steward means revamping an old building, and other times, when the renovation would be too difficult and costly, it means breaking ground on a new space. You must decide which approach meets your needs and represents good spatial stewardship for your church.

2. Cost per square foot

Excavating a green site and building a new facility is typically the most expensive approach to gaining more ministry space. Along with the cost of the new church itself, you also have expenses associated with improving an undeveloped lot. In most cases, your money will go twice as far by adapting and reusing an existing building compared to building new. Before you decide to build, rent, or repurpose a space, gather key stakeholders from your leadership team and congregation and discuss these critical questions:

What is your mission?

What are the growth projections in your area and for your church over the next few years?

Will your current funding model be sufficient for that growth?

The answers to these questions may help you decide the best path forward.

3. Realistic timeframe

Adaptive reuse projects typically allow for a quicker turn-around than new construction, which means you can be up and running in your new and expanded space faster. On average, the construction phase of an adaptive reuse project takes approximately four to six months, while a new building project can take between seven to twelve months from groundbreaking to dedication. And before you even break ground, it sometimes can take eight months to one year to acquire the right zoning permits and entitlements. Additionally convincing your local government that building a church will be “the highest and best use of the property” can be a tedious process and will add on extra time. Overall, your ministry can be up and running in a renovated space in about thirteen months. Green grass projects, on the other hand, can take up to two years. Your church will need to determine how much time it can afford to live in cramped quarters while your building project is underway.

4. Location

Ask any real estate agent to list the three most important things about a property, and you'll likely hear, “Location, location, location.” The same is true for churches. It’s critical to select a location for your church that is aligned with your ministry mission and values and the needs of the local area in which you reside. Your core ministry should dictate where you want to be located, and that, in turn, may determine whether or not you build fresh or renovate an existing building situated in a prime location for your vision, congregational demographics, and ministry. For example, one church we worked with tried desperately to find a green site to build a new church on the outskirts of town. But every deal fell through. Ultimately, the church leadership sensed God calling them to stay downtown to continue serving the urban population. This clarity helped them decide to build their new church downtown, not outside of town, and they became crystal clear on the size and type of building they needed for their ministry purposes.

Every church has unique needs, and no two building projects are ever the same. Your church will likely wrestle through additional factors beyond the four listed here. But these factors will serve as guiding principles to help you align your facility to your ministry, and help you practice spatial stewardship as you determine how best to gain more ministry space.


If you’d like help evaluating whether your church should consider adaptive reuse or a new construction project, the team at Aspen would be happy to assist.


About Joe LaPaglia

Joe LaPaglia is former Director of Cost Modeling for Aspen Group. He has more than 45 years of experience in the construction management field.