Ansgar Gmür accuses the churches of making too little of their real estate portfolios.
The theologian Ansgar Gmür (69) is harsh on the parishes. His accusation: The municipalities make far too little of their large real estate portfolio and waste a lot of money. In his conclusion, it was not managed efficiently enough and was too unprofessional. Gmür was director of the Swiss Home Owners’ Association (HEV) for almost two decades and comprehensively examined the real estate holdings of the churches in Switzerland in a thesis. He demands that the churches repurpose empty buildings and rent or sell them.
The criticism is not well received everywhere. Markus Dütschler, who is responsible for communications at the Reformed Churches in Bern-Jura-Solothurn, admits that there is undoubtedly a need for action when it comes to underused real estate. “However, the church is not a real estate company that works purely on the basis of profitability. Church buildings or parish houses are part of the identity of a city quarter or a village. That’s why you have to proceed cautiously and with tact in these questions,” he counters.
Churches scrutinize real estate
Johannes Stückelberger (64), who teaches religious and church aesthetics at the University of Bern and has set up a database for church conversions in Switzerland, emphasizes that conversions are already commonplace today. “In most cases, it boils down to shared use with other institutions and organizations that rent the church temporarily or rent rooms permanently.” In this way, the public character of the buildings that characterize the townscape can be retained. Quite in contrast to churches abroad, which have been converted into a fitness center, a climbing hall or a bar.
Nevertheless, several large parishes are now taking a closer look at their real estate management. For years, the church has been struggling with a decline in followers, which is reflected in empty pews – and also in falling church tax revenues. The Evangelical-Reformed church community in Bern is therefore currently working on a waiver plan: Churches, parish houses and vicarages that are no longer needed “should be withdrawn from church use,” says Communications Manager Carmen Hess.
The majority of the buildings are to be transferred to the subsidiary RefBernImmo AG and given a new purpose with appropriate subsequent use, for example as school premises. Hess emphasizes: “The structures are already professional today, but are currently being further strengthened in view of the aforementioned property strategy.”
Ansgar Gmur (69): “Churches should be more careful with the money”(00:47)
Lucerne is open to ideas
The Catholic Church of the City of Lucerne has also noticed that the number of trade fair visitors has decreased, especially in the outskirts. “The churches have become too big in many places,” says Urban Schwegler, who is responsible for communications. If the number of members continues to decline, it is conceivable that some of the churches in the city will no longer be needed in the future.
That is why the Catholic Church in the city of Lucerne recently launched a project. “We want to clearly define the conditions under which a church can be sold,” says Schwegler. It is not yet possible to say how a church that has been sold could be used in the future. “That depends not least on the ideas that are brought to us.”
That sounds quite open-minded for a church. You know about the treasure you are guarding, silver plating simply takes a little longer than usual in the highly competitive real estate market.