Should We Turn Empty Department Stores into Churches?
Phil Cooke

Phil Cooke

During the last recession, I wrote a blog post suggesting that pastors needing a building should look at bankrupt car dealerships. During that time, car dealers were going under across the country, and many were leaving modern buildings, excellent parking, and large interior spaces that would make great sanctuaries. Since that time, a number of pastors took me up on the idea and today in many cities you can find growing churches in what used to be auto dealerships.

Now, the big news is department stores like Sears and J.C. Penny. Due to the surge in online retailing, classic department stores are going out of business. In the case of Sears and Penny, they’re not going bankrupt, but are trimming back stores in malls across the country, leaving some very high profile spaces. Forward thinking pastors and church leaders might find a real deal in taking over these financially distressed properties.

Our media consulting company – Cooke Pictures – has three church clients right now who are exploring that option in their city. In each case they are negotiating with former flagship stores in major malls which feature large interior spaces for sanctuaries, plenty of room for classrooms, high ceilings for lighting, and plenty of parking, plus, great visibility.

A challenging economy can be a positive experience for churches and ministries if we watch the headlines and see opportunities in unusual places.


Phil Cooke is a producer and media consultant to churches and ministries across the country. His latest book is “Unique: Telling Your Story in the Age of Brands and Social Media.” Find out more at