Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Church Next Door

As malls empty, churches are moving in. Are they a bane or a blessing to commercial neighbors?

George Romero’s classic 1978 film Dawn of the Dead centers on a tattered group of zombie-plague survivors huddled together in a shopping mall. In the aftermath of society’s collapse, the vast parking lots, brightly lit stores and restaurants hold everything that a small group could possibly need to live indefinitely through the collapse of society.

Romero’s images of empty escalators and desolate shopping centers were a powerful social critique in 1978. At the time, the thought of an abandoned shopping mall was a major stretch of the imagination, a picture that stuck with you.

But today, the scene is awfully familiar.

Across America, consumers are abandoning traditional strip or indoor malls in favor of online shopping and newly built “lifestyle centers.” We’re seeing shopping malls slowly drain, leaving what was once premium retail space empty. Though (thankfully) a far cry from a zombie apocalypse, the quiet echoes of pop music in an abandoned shopping mall are no longer fictional.

As our malls empty, churches are finding ways to leverage this abundant, inexpensive space. Whether as a result of growth, shrinkage, or a change of ministerial strategy, churches are moving in and turning former temples to consumerism into places of worship. This approach carries numerous benefits for churches, including affordability, low maintenance costs, and abundant parking. But what about others who share the parking lot? Do businesses sharing commercial space with a church see them as good neighbors? Churches deliver large scale benefit to the wider community, but what about those closer in? Read more

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