While churches, like Parkview Church in Oak Park (above), are most often sold to other congregations and remain houses of worship, they can attract residential and commercial developers, but municipal zoning is a key factor in that equation. (Bob Uphues/Editor)

Parkview Church at 641 S. Oak Park Ave. is for sale, and its listing agent says there’s a fine art to selling a house of worship. Matt Messier, principal of religious, education and not-for-profit real estate at Foundry Commercial, says that helping churches find buyers has been his family’s business for over 50 years.

Messier’s family got its start in the church-selling business with his father in Detroit. A Korean War veteran, the elder Messier was working in residential real estate when his family church merged with another congregation. He was asked to handle the sale of the extra building. 

The rest is history. Messier ended up selling more churches over the years, and his sons carry on the business. Based in Detroit and Orlando, the three brothers help market churches nationwide.

Matt Messier estimates that he’s sold more than 3,000 churches across the country during his career and at least 15 in the Chicago area in the past year. He often works with a particular denomination’s headquarters in town and is selling Oak Park’s Parkview Church for the Chicago Presbytery, which owns the property.

“The difference between a church and a commercial building is clear from the seller’s perspective,” Messier said. “Lots of times, there’s just so much emotion tied to the building. There have been baptisms, weddings, first communions there. There’s a kind of sacredness to that property that you may not find with others.”

Roughly 75 percent of Messier’s listings sell to another church, which will continue to use the building as worship space. The other 25 percent are often redeveloped. Whether those buildings are turned into condominiums, renovated to some other use or torn down depends on a number of factors, including the location.

Zoning considerations

Parkview Church is located in a residential district. Like a lot of older churches, there is no parking lot included with the building because it was built as a neighborhood church where parishioners would walk to services. It is also surrounded by single-family homes and is across the street from Fox Park.

Messier says Parkview has a lot going for it. 

“It’s a nice building with beautiful stained glass,” he said. “That uniqueness and that location across the street from the park will spark a lot of ideas.”

He says he’s had five to six showings of the property on some days, and many different parties are expressing interest, including developers. 

“There’s what the property is and what the property could be,” Messier said.

He always points interested parties to municipality to see what is possible within current regulations, calling zoning “super important.”

Parkview Church is surrounded by single-family homes, and Messier thinks it is unlikely that a village would spot-zone something in a residential area for commercial use. In other locations that might work well.

Outside of Oak Park, he has seen one church rehabbed into offices for an architectural firm. Another recent sale is going to be renovated in a 55-and-older community. 

Changing church needs

Messier says that even pre-pandemic, some churches were seeing their congregations dwindle and that COVID-19 drove an increase in online services, which in some areas resulted in decreased in-person attendance.

As Oak Park’s Catholic churches undergo the process of consolidating as part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Renew My Church initiative, Messier says religious entities are rethinking their real estate needs.

“Back in the early 1900s you had an Italian-speaking church, a Polish-speaking church and a Romanian-speaking church within blocks of each other, all serving a different population that walked to church,” Messier said. “Nowadays, the archdiocese is starting to combine some of these smaller churches.”

Parishes are starting to question whether they need all of their real estate and realize there are significant cost savings to be had if there are fewer mortgages and fewer buildings to maintain. Messier notes that those savings can be put to other uses.

While it can be sad when a church closes, Messier notes that often it can signal something positive when churches combine. 

“It can create a lot of good momentum,” he said. “A combined church can offer more programming and bring in more people. The church can be more vibrant and more appealing to people.”

Calculating price

In a typical residential real estate listing, a selling agent looks at nearby comparables to price a home. Messier says that approach is challenging with a church because they are all unique and because there are far fewer on the market at any given time. 

When it comes to pricing, he says, “You look at the economic strength of the surrounding community, the history of tithing and the functionality of the space.”

Listing agents factor in how many people can the church seat; how many classrooms, if any, there are; whether there’s a fellowship hall, kitchen, gymnasium or parking. All of those factors affect the listing price. 

Messier notes that the larger the building, the smaller the buyer pool and says that a 15,000-square-foot church would garner a lot more interest than a 75,000-square-foot church.

At just over 13,000 square feet on a little more than a quarter-acre site, Parkview Church is listed at $650,000.

Looking for a church? Take your pick

542 S. Scoville Ave.

Parkview Church at Oak Park Avenue and Jackson Boulevard may have just hit the market, but it’s not the only house or worship listed for sale right now in the village.

In March 2021, we covered the listing of New Spirit Community Church at 542 S. Scoville Ave. in Oak Park. The 9,600-square-foot church was listed at $750,000 with the option of adding the parish house and lot next door for an additional price. 

The church was later remarketed with the two lots, 538 and 542 S. Scoville, combined and priced at $1,295,000. 

To date, the church has not found a buyer.

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