Dude, Where’s My Church?


Church demolitionYes, Cerulean Sanctum has jumped the shark. I used the title of an Ashton Kutcher movie for a post. This also marks the second time in eight days that Kutcher's been mentioned on this blog.

Shame on me.

Shame, too, on the Supreme Court for the land grab they hatched in last year's Kelo Decision (see this past post, "R.I.P. America, June 23, 2005").

According to this Washington Times article, in just one year under Kelo, eminent domain rulings resulted in 5,783 property seizures. Compare that one year total with the five year total encompassing 1998-2002 in which 10,281 properties were seized.

Before Kelo came to light, I focused on this issue in my post "Taking Away Your Church Building". It troubles me that we Christians are failing to consider how easy it is for our church buildings to be seized by local, state, and federal governments for any and all purposes.

There's a difference between conspiracy theories and preparedness. Land grabs against churches are increasing yearly (see this post for a few instances). To ensure the maximum possible tax revenue, towns are also blocking the building of new churches in areas of prime development. A quick Google search will turn up plenty of instances for these kinds of strong-arm tactics.

So why aren't we Christians as a whole doing anything about it? Are our church leaders making plans in case we have to go underground?  It hasn't come to that yet, but it's better for us to be thinking now about how we do church in a hostile social environment rather than later.

Rome is burning, folks. So why do our church leaders keep on fiddling? 

29 thoughts on “Dude, Where’s My Church?

  1. More home churches.

    More sharing of church buildings among congregations.

    A lot less money wasted on multimillon mortgages on megachurch monstrosities.

    Come on, Dan, look on the bright side!

  2. At one time xtians used to build beautiful, magnificent cathedrals, that would last centuries.

    Now they build ugly “Big Box” auditoriums that double as a basket ball court (or a Wal-Mart), and which will barely last one life span.

    So what if they get knocked down a little sooner than expected?

    • alot of those big beautiful buildings are just that and not where God is in the midst. a most extreme example is the Hagia Sophia in Turkey which went from a beautiful basilica to the glory or God to a beautiful mosque to the glory of allah.
      on a small scale a pretty white church with a tall steeple in my home town is now a mosque also.
      church is people not buildings.

  3. DPT

    Interesting post. As the son and grandson of lawyers, I’ve often thought that persecution would come to the church here in America in an insidious manner, like the “legal” expropriation you mention. And there’s no question that, as you also mention, revenue-starved municipalities are not keen on seeing new church buildings popping up. Maybe the churches meeting in middle-school cafeterias are on the right track; at least people in those congregations are being conditioned for a future less dependent on traditional church buildings.

    • DPT,

      Persecution will be less in your face than the jackbooted government thug idea we so often envision.

      I’ve always thought that if the mark of the beast thing ever comes down in our lifetimes, it will be sold as a healthcare proposition. Even today we’re seeing that lament, “If we don’t have all your records, how can we possibly treat you?”

      “Bettering the community” by seizing tax-free church properties falls in that same category. Makes sense in any tax-revenue-starved town.

      It will always make sense in some terms. That’s why we have to be wise now and not wait till later.

  4. Helen

    Maybe the Lord is using the government to do what the church leaders won’t.

    The only thing that scares me is that as a society we are increasingly being ruled by big business, and I remember from history when workers had no rights. As it stands today they are becoming increasingly big bullys, as seen in the recent case of the blogger exposing the AOL tactics.

    • Helen,

      You’re right about big business. We used to think that government drove business, but today, big business demands from the government and gets, more often than not.

  5. Too bad most U.S. citizens, and that includes Christians, (maybe even specifically Christians), are so ignorant of history. If they were more aware, they would see the pattern.

    I worry that so many people are ‘enraptured’ with the “Left Behind” mentality, that they simply shrug off ‘bad things’ and say “Well, we will be gone”… UGH!

  6. Rick Creech

    Who in their right mind would want to take the religious machine underground??? The leaders in charge now can’t make it work in a time of plenty. Why would we want them to lead us anymore???

    • Times of plenty often mean weak spiritual leadership. The OT and Church history are full of examples of that sad correlation.

      Of course, that means the opposite is often true…

  7. AlieraKieron

    WIsconsin at least has passed a few laws heavily restricting the use of eminent domain… pester the legislatures!!

  8. i’ve lived in New London for 12 years, where Kelo also resides. btw, she finally settled with the city. part of the area the city took included an hispanic church, Primera Iglesia Bautista Hispana. they don’t have a website…but they took the city’s offer for their property and found a new site in our tiny city and have a beautiful new church building. it wasn’t hostile for them. the congregation would have never had a buyer if the city hadn’t wanted it. this church actually was blessed by the eminent domain proceedings. but if you are at the bottom, and this city is and this part of the city is next to the smelly sewage treatment plant, the only direction you can go is up. God elevated them from their humble estate, which i think is the real lesson. like Jesus, they made themselves of no reputation. so bring it on. the latest bumper stickers around town say, “welcome to New London, your home is ours.”
    God is good

    • John,

      Some of the Google results turned out well for the church involved, but as many or more didn’t, especially in those case where localities lock out churches in order to preserve land for big box companies (and their tax payments).

      • i’m not sure this is a kingdom of God issue. if a church can’t grow into a commercially zoned area, why can’t it be a good citizen and birth a daughter church somewhere and give up aspirations of “mega?” here’s a novel idea, how about churches make payments in lieu of taxes, it’s called PILOT here in New London. we are very tiny, about 12 square miles, and we have 3 colleges, 1 hospital, plenty of state properties and very little industry. so some of these non-taxable non-profits make PILOTs. because no matter how much they help with volunteers, money is still needed for maintenance of the city and provisions for the needy who are attracted to our city. things in connecticut are very territorial, we don’t have county taxes or county governance. each city is on its own and if your a poor city you hit the capitol up for as many bucks as you can. we are surrounded by wealthier cities that are not interested in helping out with low-income housing or social services, so we are a life preserver of services for this community. anyway, maybe churches over a certain size could become taxpayers and help out the community at large. my panentheist neighbor likes that idea. housechurches already do this…

  9. David Riggins

    While I feel the eminant domain ruling was a kick in the face of those who believe in the concept of personal property rights trumping those of the government, we should not be so eager to protect the church building. It is the church body that is far more important, and Christ eloquently showed us that the church is us, and not any piece of property. We need to pick and choose our fights, and I don’t think protecting church buildings is any more important than protecting, say, tax-exempt status. If we lose either, we should be ashamed if it has a negative effect on the growth of the church body.

    • David,

      Disrupt our meetings by assaulting our meeting places and I can guarantee that we’d start having problems. On the whole, we’ve got no plans for being a decentralized church.

      What is your church doing to counter this? Could you go to an entirely home-based model or underground one without huge struggles? We look to our pastoral staff to lead the church, but what happens when there’s no central meeting for a church of 1000 people? What if you have to have a hundred house churches instead? How do you maintain being a church? Educate your people? Minister to the lost?

      Even established house churches have struggled with those things that call for a unified front of more than fifty people. How would we handle that then if we jettisoned our building?

      Juan Carlos Ortiz took his entire church into a house-based model and made it work. But it took lots of prayer and planning, and was years in the envisioning. He was also doing it in a country that was more open to a non-standard model.

      It can be done. But what I’m saying is that no one is planning for it. Like I said, what plan does your church have to go to a decentralized model?

  10. MMM

    Four walls anywhere cannot contain my God. Although I don’t agree with eminent domain just for profit, and I don’t like who’s actually being affected, it doesn’t bother me when they tell me I have to pack up and move; for “Thy Word have I hid in mine heart”. I’m not shrugging it off by any means, either. The battle is the Lord’s, and where I’m fighting right now is taking all my concentration.

  11. Dee


    I am genuinely surprised by the number of respondents to this subject who don’t seem to fear the government taking over church properties. Perhaps I do not understand Kelo; frankly, I didn’t access your links to the information. However, I do understand precedent. If the government (federal, state, or local) decides it has the right to take over church properties and then begins to act on that right… where will it end? Will churches lose other properties as well? Will churches lose their tax exempt status? Taxing the church would provide much needed income for many towns, and multiply that across the nation and the church could become a cash cow for the government. These are the guys who insist on separation of church and state, but they are eyeing the potential income here. It is not a conspiracy, it is just business.

    John Umland brought up a case where Kelo worked in favor of the church by helping it relocate to a more favorable setting. And in some cases it is advantageous to rent rather than to own. However, being good stewards in a representative democracy means we might have to fight to preserve the rights of the church.

    As I admitted, I haven’t followed your links regarding Kelo yet, but I think that any legislation that may threaten the church or her holdings is just plain wrong.

    • Dee,

      Yep. The Church of the 1st century was far-sighted, but we can’t seem top prepare for anything more than a month out. It’s made us expedient rather than prepared. Those Christians with a national stage should be talking about long-term strategies, but you rarely hear of any.

      • Dee


        I understand what you are saying. However, as just a regular person in the pew, how can I affect my denomination’s leadership to take note of this issue? In turn, what steps can our leadership take to have this kind of long-term strategy? This kind of action is beyond my ken. Have you any ideas?

  12. i think a church with a commitment to small groups is prepared to care for itself if the central meeting place was closed. but, if one church closed and all the others stayed open, i’m sure the people would gladly receive the opportunity to church shop and see the other ways God’s people fellowship together.
    home groups prepare people for “one another” ministry. if God allowed the state to close all the churches, it wouldn’t be the first time. it worked pretty good when the heat turned up in Jerusalem in Acts. it has worked very well in China. God is still on his throne and takes care of his bride.
    God is good

  13. Rob


    Doesn’t this:
    “It is the policy of the United States to protect the rights of Americans to their private property, including by limiting the taking of private property by the Federal Government to situations in which the taking is for public use, with just compensation, and for the purpose of benefiting the general public and not merely for the purpose of advancing the economic interest of private parties to be given ownership or use of the property taken.”

    Take some kind of precedence / overturning of Kelo. (I’m not American and don’t know the legal system all that well over there – but my understanding is that it does)

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