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Field Guide to Places of Worship

(Updated December 2014)

Amendment I of the U.S. Bill of Rights states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

The intent and meaning of this amendment, and its translation into when, where, and how places of worship can exist, remains a highly debated topic in American society. Read on below to learn more about the laws, zoning, and appraisal issues unique to places of worship. (K. Stockert, Information & Web Content Specialist)

Q - ProQuest articles available for NAR members only. Password can be found on the ProQuest/Find Articles page.

Government Resources

In 2000, U.S. Congress passed RLUIPA—the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. The U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division offers some details on RLUIPA here. In 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice published tow helpful documents on this subject:

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service offers a web page, Tax Information for Churches and Religious Organizations, which includes links to valuable information about taxation and exemptions.

Zoning, Taxation, and Appraisal 

The Valuation of Houses of Worship During Prolonged Periods of High Unemployment, (Real Estate Issues, Winter 2013). Q

Last Air Rights, (Crain's New York Business, Nov. 2012). Q

Building a Business on Churches for Sale, (New York Times, Mar. 31, 2012).

What’s the Deal: Saving a Church, (Wall Street Journal, Nov. 25, 2012).

Church Eases Boston Grip, (Wall Street Journal, Sept. 11, 2012).

On Price, Cost, and Value, (The Appraisal Journal, Winter 2010). Q

Square Pegs, Round Holes, Easy Targets: Valuing Special-Use Property in Eminent Domain, (The Appraisal Journal, Summer 2010).  Q

Design & Reuse

Think Selling a Home is Hard? Try a Church, or a Bowling Alley, (Tampa Bay Times, Dec. 7, 2014).

'Micro' Apartments Planned for Historic Gold Coast Building, (Crain’s Chicago Business, Nov. 26, 2014).

The Separation of Church and Real Estate, (Bloomberg Businessweek, May 8, 2014).

How to Reuse a Church: Our Top Ten (Hidden City Philadelphia, June 2013).

Church to Transform Former Cl​ub in York, (Houston Chronicle, Dec. 4, 2012).

Today's Changing Church (Planning, Nov. 2012) Q

A Converted Church that Went from Sty to Stylish, (New York Times, Feb. 9, 2012).

Property: Church in Sag Harbor Finds Potential Owner, (Wall Street Journal, Eastern Edition, Aug. 5, 2010). 

Entrepreneurs Make Use of Odd Spaces—Properties With a Past Provide Unique Marketing Opportunities; Jails Transform Into Hotels, Churches Into Restaurants, (Wall Street Journal, Eastern Edition, May 4, 2010). 

Church Turned Club is Now a Market, (New York Times, Mar. 16, 2010). 

How to Convert Unique Building Into Houses (OldHouse Online, n.d.)

Impact on Residential Properties

Heavenly Market for Church Deals (Orange County Business Journal, Jan 2012) Q

Needing More Than a Prayer, (US Banker, Jan. 2010).  Q

Receiving Community: The Church and the Future of the New Urbanist Movement, (Journal of Markets & Morality, Spring 2003).

Churches sell steeple space as hiding spots for cellular antennas, (The United Methodist Church News, Apr. 1, 2005).

Research on Your Own

To search for the most recent articles on this topic, login to NAR's ProQuest account and enter subject terms such as:

  • Real estate and places of worship
    • Enter into ProQuest text box as SU(real estate) AND SU(church* OR synagogue OR temple OR mosque)
  • Places of worship and zoning
    • Enter into ProQuest text box as SU(church OR synagogue OR mosque OR temple) AND SU(zoning)

eBooks & Other Resources

Books, Videos, Research Reports & More

The resources below are available for loan through Information Central. Up to three books, tapes, CDs and/or DVDs can be borrowed for 30 days from the Library for a nominal fee of $10. Call Information Central at 800-874-6500 for assistance.

Real Estate Law, Eighth Edition, (West Legal Studies in Business via Google Books, 2008).

Churches, jails, and gold mines... mega-deals from a real estate maverick, (Chicago, IL: Dearborn Real Estate Education, 2003). HD 278 G59

Appraisal of religious facilities, (Chicago, IL: Appraisal Institute, 1997). HD 1387 Ap6r

Economic Empowerment Through the Church: A Blueprint for Progressive Community Development, (Zondervan via Google Books, 1994).

Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs

University of Southern California’s Center for Religion & Civic Culture

Boston College’s Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Field Guides & More

These field guides and other resources in the Virtual Library may also be of interest:

Field Guide to Historic Properties

Field Guide to Researching a Home's History

Field Guide to Zoning Laws & Ordinances

InfoCentral Blog

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The inclusion of links on this field guide does not imply endorsement by the National Association of REALTORS®. NAR makes no representations about whether the content of any external sites which may be linked in this field guide complies with state or federal laws or regulations or with applicable NAR policies. These links are provided for your convenience only and you rely on them at your own risk.