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To Stay or Sell

To Stay or Sell

The Rev. David Bahr says renovations to Park Hill's sanctuary have helped increase church attendance.

In 2013, the congregation at Park Hill United Church of Christ faced a pivotal decision: stay or sell.

Members carefully considered which move would embody more faithful stewardship. Staying would require a capital campaign to address the Denver church’s aging infrastructure. Selling would mean sharing a space with a neighboring congregation but more money for ministry.

Although the decision to stay was decided by a razor-thin margin – less than 10 votes — the Rev. David Bahr says the renovation had a powerful, transformative effect.

“It’s pretty dramatic,” he says. “We’ve brought in more people, more organizations, more ministry. Even those who felt that faithful stewardship called for selling the building agree they are happy with the outcome – and surprised at the level of generosity the capital campaign inspired.”

The church is thriving now thanks to its partnership with Church Building & Loan Fund, which spearheaded Park Hill's $450,000 capital campaign. CB&LF invests in churches to revitalize mission and transform communities.

Priscilla Bizer, a CB&LF capital fundraising executive who oversaw the project, navigates churches through the campaign process beginning to end. That process, she says, must start with the question “why?”

“When a church first contacts us to ask for information about a campaign, we send them a document called Visioning and Strategic Planning,” she says. “That’s a step-by-step process that really helps the church think more deeply and faithfully about what they want to do and why. The ‘why’ is really important.”

For Park Hill, answering the question was easy.

“We wanted everything we did to make our ministry more effective,” Bahr says. However, the church didn’t realize how much the accumulated cost of neglected repairs could hinder its ability to serve the community.

From left, Billie Smith, the Rev. Susan McKee, the Rev. David Bahr and Tammy Williamson.

With that in mind, renovations focused on making the church more sustainable and accessible to the community. One of the first projects was to bring openness and light to what was a dark and unwelcoming entry area. Walls were broken down in favor of glass, allowing light to pour in and enhancing visibility of church leaders in their offices.

Other renovations, like updates to the sanctuary, also improved accessibility, Bahr says.

When pews were removed during the sanctuary floor renovations, chairs were temporarily set up in the new welcoming area. Congregants found they preferred the seating, so when it came time to move back in the sanctuary, they ditched the pews altogether.

“New people looking for a congregation who looked at our old pews saw rigidity, separation — a traditional congregation,” Bahr says. “When we took out the pews, now we’re sitting around one another. People are brought closer.”

The change helped drive a period of growth, with a 20 percent bump in attendance, Bahr says. Better yet, the space is now suited to non-worship activities for the community at large. For example, groups like Black Lives Matter use the sanctuary as a meeting space free of charge.

“Now that we have a building we’re proud of, we’re happy to do that," he says.

That enhanced level of community engagement has brought the church closer to its theological identity, he says.

“We are a church that is community-oriented, and that really reflects now in our worship space,” he says.