What to do with Church Property (Stuff) and Archival Materials

David Schoen, Minister for Church Legacy, and Closure, CB&LF UCC

1. Church stuff is church property.
(Church) Assets include both real estate and personal property of the church, such as computers, vehicles, and furniture.”  Churches often ask if they can divide ‘stuff’ up among members and friends. Individuals (members, pastors, and friends) taking church property and ‘stuff’ free of charge is not recommended and may violate IRS requirements for the distribution of tax-exempt property.


2. Church leaders need to authorize a policy and plan for the disposition of church property
Church leaders need to plan for the disposition of all the property (stuff) in the church in consultation with legal counsel that know corporate law and congregations in the local state. The policy and plan should be transparent, equitable, authorized and published by the church leadership.
An inventory should be taken of all the church property.
Plans should be made for the cleaning of the church facility.
Collect keys to the facilities, all doors, and locks.
If the church is going to be vacant secure the church property.


3. Some options for disposition of church property
Include church items in sale of church property
Donate to other churches or to tax-exempt community organizations. See if new churches need items including worship furniture and objects, choir music, office equipment. Post notice and pictures of items available to churches or tax-exempt organizations on wider church or community online emails or websites.
Sell the property at fair-market value. The income must be added to assets for distribution.
Keep written record of donation or sales of items. Create a template form for sales and donations. Follow state guidelines for reasonable, fair-market pricing.
Create policy and form for members and/or families to request donation/memorial church plaques.
Sell church items in an estate sale and add income to legacy assets for distribution. Follow state guidelines for reasonable, fair-market pricing. Keep record of sales with a sale template form.
Historic items, furniture, and art (including stain glass windows) may be appreciated as donations to denominational archives, local historical organizations, libraries, art museums or community centers. Keep record of donations.

4. Church Records and Historical Materials are part of a Church’s Legacy

Collect and organize your church records and archival materials, including but not limited to:
Membership, marriage, baptism, death, and clergy records
Church meeting records, newsletters, communications
Photographs, history pamphlets, audio recordings,
Historic furniture, worship items, books, and art
See Society of American Archivists (or denominational) recommendations on sorting, organizing, and donating records
Consider and contact options for distributing church archival materials
Denominational Archives, Judicatory Archives, Related Seminary
State or Local Historical Society, College, or Public Library
Check the archive recipient’s guidelines for donation
Invite the recipients of archival materials to worship with congregation
Document archival donations and recipients
Inform judicatory where church records and archival material have been deposited


Some additional resources
Facing Your Church’s Uncertain Future:  Good Practices for Courageous Conversations & Faithful Decisions offers guidelines and resources for discerning, discussing, and making decisions concerning your church’s future, including closure and legacy.  
Completing Your Church’s Mission: the Vital Work of Closure and Legacy
Repurpose, Relocate, Relinquish: Rethinking Church Buildings
What’s Your Legacy?
Final Act of Faith: Closing Congregations Nurture Next Generation of Mission
Covid & Church Closures (Part 2)