Creative Leadership

From a Building Perspective, Empty Car Dealerships Might Benefit Local Churches

With the vast number of Chrysler and GM car dealerships closing, going out of business, or selling, this could be a great opportunity for local churches who are looking for a new building or expansion of existing facilities.  While every case is different from a design point of view, in many cases, car dealerships have made excellent church buildings, and during this financial crisis, the prices might never be better.  Here’s some things to consider before you investigate a local dealership.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the issue:

Car dealerships are usually in high visibility locations with easy access.
Because off their car repair equipment, they have solid electrical power for your A/V, lighting, audio, and video equipment.
They have large areas to convert to a sanctuary – like the car showroom or the mechanical bays.  Both have high ceilings.
They’re often modern, contemporary designs.
Because of the car display lot, parking is good.
There are usually staff offices already in place.
Most have large signs already in place that can be easily converted.

If it’s an old dealership, there may be environmental concerns from years of bad fluid disposal.  Be sure and do an EPA evaluation.
Also, if it’s old, it may not look very attractive or have other shortcomings.
Depending on the architectural design, it may not work as a functioning church building.
There might be a need for classroom space.

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  1. I remember hearing how many Chrysler dealerships are closing here in the DFW area and was shocked.

    I think it’s a great idea; I’ve been around a few churches that have moved into a facility like a dealership and you’re spot on with all the pros.

  2. Don’t know that it will help the misconception of preacher’s sometimes being seen as used car salesmen but there are some synergistic opportunities that could make it attractive. For example we could now legitimately advertise ‘trade in your old life for a new one’ etc etc.


    I also think draining the used baptism water into the bad fluid storage could turn that pro into a con  : )

  3. Some good points. But for those who follow Workplace Ministry, less businesses means less profit, which can result in less financial support for the local church. You can add that to your "negatives" list. The "pro" being they should now be a lot cheaper to rent.

  4. This is a great example of connecting the dots.  Near my own home, there are empty dealerships lining the streets.  Here’s what I love about the idea….

    I’ve always thought it was brilliant to use movie theatres for church. Beautiful buildings, great theatre seating, excellent sound / light space, airconditioning, heating, etc.  Very comfortable and often non-threatening to a guest.  In fact, I converted to Christianity in a Calvary Chapel located in a movie theatre in San Diego.

    But of course, that’s also the downside, isn’t it?  It only reregisters some of the things we are re-evaluating about church these days.  Too comfortable, set up for lecture style meetings rather than interaction, unavailable for inviting the community in to provide resources for them, etc.

    So, here’s what I like even better about your idea.  Somehow, car dealerships (either by where there located, how they’re built, or something I can’t identify?) don’t have that "here, settle in and get comfortable and prepare to "watch" church" stigma.

    Somehow, car dealerships, for whatever reason, seem far better at removing the "luxury" of church attendance and getting down to some of the other business the Church could be accomplishing…….  

    Another brilliant example that springs to mind would be Matthew Barnett’s Dream Center – feeding & housing & training 1000’s weekly BECAUSE IT WAS A HOSPITAL so it’s basically set up to do that. 

    I want Mel McGowan ( to come weigh in!

  5. I’d go beyond car dealerships.  There are hundreds of Circuit City locations that are currently available for lease.  As well as K-Mart stores that sit empty.  Landlords are eager to fill those spots in thier shopping centers which something… anything.  The car dealerships are good solution, but I’m afraid the cost of an overhual to make them "projection and sound ready" would be costly.  The retail big box spots might be more easliy configured for a church format.  In our city we have a stand alone Circuit City location that has a great location, plenty of square footage, extra parking, loading docks, restrooms, etc. It’s been sitting emtpy for 3 years. The price keeps coming down. The lease cost now it sits at about $15K a month. To build a buliding like it would cost you upwards of $10M in our part of the county. That puts your monthly bill right around $55K a month.  The deal can’t be beat. Churches with growth issues should be taking a hard look at outbound venues like car dealership and big box stores for sure!

  6. We’re actually considering a car dealership for our 3rd campus. This particular one is great because there is very little entry cost (to lease) and we can be up and running in no time. As the site grows, the building will grow with us. We’ll start out by using the showroom as the sanctuary, then when we’re ready we’ll grow into the service bay.

  7. The church I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma did this 25 years ago. We converted an empty car dealership into a church building. The service bays worked out great for a sanctuary and other large meeting rooms. It took a lot of work and yes, we had to deal with the oil situation, but it all worked out great and served the church well for several years before moving on to larger facilities.

  8. The church I currently attend in Dallas holds their contemporary service in an old
    car dealership across the street from the main church building. Originally they used the space for Sunday school classes and smaller events like an annual art show but decided to start a contemporary service and figured it would be the best place to hold it. So far, it hasn’t been the most ideal situation. While the space is nice and open (minus a few support columns), the entire area is covered with tile, which creates an audio nightmare. There are also a lot of windows that have to be covered up in order to make the space warmer. There are other little problems too that you’ll have to deal with so be ready to spend some money and do some work to make the space more conducive to the church environment.

    A lot of it comes down to the individual dealerships cause they’re all different. What about old Circuit City buildings? They seem to usually be made of two parts: the showroom and the warehouse. The showroom could be used for a welcome center and children’s ministry while the warehouse, typically taller and larger, could house the main worship service. These buildings, which are vastly available, could be great alternatives to small church plants looking for a permanent location. Just a thought. Let’s just be careful we don’t turn in to used car salesmen when it comes to the Gospel. 

  9. Architecturally – Favorite aspect of the typical dealership design is the amount of glass, window, open air designs – inviting and encouraging people to come and see what’s inside. I pass a small “storefront church” several evenings during the week. Always enjoy being able to drive by and see the people in Bible Study or worship and praise. The open space is great for larger gatherings and yet flexible enough for small groups, breakout discussions, and easy equipment movement. Most include numerous offices for either staff or small classrooms. Parking would never be a problem. And remember the key words of “location, location, location” – usually along familiar main thoroughfares. The other most positive reason – it DOESN’T look like your typical church, and the stereotypes that go along with that perception.

  10. Of course when we get the Government involved, and force businesses to close because of their political donations or the Governments idea of who should be open and who shold not…we are making these decisions in a biased political way. Taking away the rights of these families who have built their family businesses for years and years. Then we also get into the legal end of undermining contract law which is unconstitutional. Property rights issues crop up and we began to butcher the Constitution. Jim C

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