Ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic and declining donations, the Potter’s House of Denver has decided to sell its $12.2 million, 137,000-square-foot megachurch in Arapahoe County, Colorado and go completely virtual, Pastor Touré Roberts has revealed.
Roberts, who leads the multicultural church along with his wife, Sarah Jakes-Roberts, made the announcement in an interview with The Denver Post published on Monday.
“COVID-19 forced every church in America to rethink how to best serve their parishioners and the broader community,” Roberts told the publication. “Due to the inability to gather and the economic instability of the pandemic, our church, like many other churches in the nation, experienced declining donations.”
Instead of trying to do upkeep on an “old building that needed significant repairs,” which they have occupied for more than a decade, Pastor Roberts explained that selling the property and going fully virtual with their services made the most sense.
“We decided that the best way forward would be to sell the property, continue our online offering that had proven a successful alternative and maintain our hands-on community outreach operations, which includes our food bank that feeds thousands of families per year,” he said.
Church officials weren’t immediately available for further comment when contacted by The Christian Post on Monday. However, The Denver Post also reported that real estate developer, DHI Communities plan to convert the 32-acre site on which the church currently sits into a collection of more than 500 paired homes and apartments, as well as a 5-acre park.
The shuttering of The Potter’s House of Denver comes as many churches nationwide are being forced to make the difficult choice of abandoning their buildings due to dwindling attendance — sometimes without the prospect of a virtual alternative.
On Christmas Eve, for example, members of the 221-year-old, 15,000-square-foot First Presbyterian Church of Bellefonte in Pennsylvania held their final service and shuttered their church after the pandemic reduced their in-person attendance to 12.
Prior to the pandemic membership had already dropped to 40 from its heyday when hundreds used to gather in the building for worship.
A Lifeway Research survey of 1,000 Protestant pastors conducted Sept. 1-29 shows that even though 98% of all Protestant churches are now open for in-person worship services, nearly matching pre-pandemic levels, congregants have been slow to return to the pews.
Compared to figures from January 2020, the survey showed that as of August, 13% of churches were attracting less than 50% of their pre-COVID-19 attendance. Some 35% of pastors reported attendance levels between 50% and 70% for the period, while another 30% reported attendance levels between 70% and 90%.
Researchers are also still grappling with what the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is likely to have on church communities.
Data shows that black churchgoers have adapted so well to online church amid the pandemic that some 41% of them now favor a hybrid model of in-person and online services, even after COVID-19 is no longer deemed a threat. Just 7% say they would rather their church services remain digital going forward.
David Kinnaman, president of the California-based evangelical Christian polling firm the Barna Group, and Barna Director of Insights Mark Matlock suggested in 2020 that the pandemic could result in a loss of faith for the next generation.
Citing earlier research, they showed that a majority of young people who grew up in the church would likely either walk away from their faith or from the church when they become young adults. They made their comments during a discussion about the impact of the pandemic on Christians aged 18-29.
“I think it will. I actually think we’re going to see an increasing number of people who’ve lost connectedness with their faith community, with their usual rhythms and practices. We’re going to actually see an increasing number in the years to come and the long-term impact is even more fallout from that,” Kinnaman said.
“We know that 22% of young people today are what we call ‘prodigals.’ They lost their faith entirely. That number grew by double from 11% 10 years ago. So what it will look like in 10 years is hard to know, but we think it’s going to actually accelerate that problem."
When asked about what he was seeing and hearing from churches that are trying to respond to the problem, Matlock highlighted research showing that among adults ages 18-29 who were raised Christian, only 10% of them are considered ideal or "resilient" disciples.
Some 22% are no longer Christian, and 30% are classified as ‘nomads’ because they still believe in God but aren’t connected to a church. Another 38% are considered ‘habitual churchgoers’ but have loose ties to God.
“It’s important to realize about that 22% is that they just aren’t coming to church anymore,” Matlock said. “They’ve said I no longer identify as a Christian, which is pretty serious.”