America is building churches again: Decline has bottomed out, say analysts

Reverend Charles Duplessis poses for a picture at the construction site of the Mount Nebo Bible Baptist Church in New Orleans, Louisiana, July 31, 2015. The old church was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina.Reuters

America is building churches again, according to a leading construction-data firm reported by the Wall Street Journal.

Dodge Data & Analytics says that the construction of religious buildings, measured in square feet of new space, peaked in 2002 and has been declining ever since. It is set to hit 9.3 million square feet this year, a massive decline of 82 per cent since the peak and the lowest since records began in 1967.

However, Dodge says, though spending on religious construction fell more than nine per cent in monetary terms in 2014 against the previous year, the first eight months of 2015 have seen it rise 2.3 per cent.

It suggests that while 2015 will see a further decline in square footage constructed, next year will see a rebound to 9.6 million square feet.

Dodge chief economist Robert Murray said he was "reasonably sure" a rebound is at hand, "given the improvement in the economy and the pickup in charitable giving".

However, he said that there were still factors working against church-building. He said Dodge expects construction to reach 12.5 million square feet in 2020 – still far from the levels seen in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

"The decline has been substantial," Murray said, adding that "a lot of the impediments toward a strong rebound in church construction are going to continue for the next few years at least".

A number of influences have contributed to the fall, including falling numbers and income. More congregations are also seeing the relative freedom of renting property rather than building it as a plus, allowing them more flexibility and releasing money for ministry and evangelism.