MASSILLON — You’ve heard it before: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
A church in northeast Massillon seems to be taking that approach to heart. St. John Lutheran Church had been previously looking to sell a vacant, adjoining parcel of land, but is now making the entire facility — lock, stock and barrel — available for $1.1 million.
Declining membership and costly interior and exterior maintenance over the years have forced the church to consider multiple options, as it has little need for the entire 19,082 square-foot building and adjoining 2.25 acres at 1900 Wales Road NE.
“The building is an albatross, as far as upkeep,” said the Rev. John Telloni, pastor of St. John since 1987, noting that much of the inside was previously used as an elementary school, which closed in 2004, and a preschool that ceased to operate in 2016.
“We plan to keep moving and serving the Lord in our community,” he continued. “We’re a healthy congregation and are not looking to fold.”
St. John opened in 1909. Official membership peaked at about 760 in the mid-1990s, according to Telloni, who said the congregation now totals about 500. However, regular Sunday services draw about 175 people.
“We’ve experienced what other denominations have, and have watched active membership decline,” said Telloni. “There’s a more casual approach (today) to church membership.”
Church officials initially saw the vacant land as a valuable commercial property that could have been home to a car dealership or other large business, and tried to get the zoning changed. Neighbors objected.
For parts of two decades, the church had been seeking a commercial zoning to sell the land at a tidy profit. Most recently, efforts had stalled in early 2018, due to the resistance of many neighbors in northeast Massillon. According Keith Kleve, treasurer of St. John, the church has no need for the empty 2.25-acre parcel, as keeping the property maintained by cutting grass and weeding has become cumbersome.
So now, the church is looking at multiple options.
One is to sell its entire seven-acre campus, consisting of the church, parking lot and property. While other options include selling the vacant land with its current residential zoning, or leasing part of the church to a startup or small congregation, Kleve said.
The church is listed for sale by Putman Properties. Although the asking price for the church and property is $1.1 million, there is no price set for just the land, Kleve said, which could be used to establish an outdoor park, or “green space,” memorial park, cemetery or something else.
“Our thinking is to work down from the $1.1 million,” Kleve said regarding offers that do not relate to the entire church campus.
A fourth option is to make a portion of the church available for lease to another entity, such as a daycare center, preschool or nonprofit organization for office space.
“If that was an interest, we could share the facility with another group (or partner),” he said. “Or if someone wants the whole thing, we could go find a smaller church (in Massillon).”
Officials of St. John are pretty much in a “wait-and-see mode,” on bids, for now, Kleve noted.
“As offers come up, we’ll evaluate them,” he said. “It’s not until you have a real opportunity, or offer, that you dig into the details.”
Reach Steven at 330-775-1134 or at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sgrazierINDE