An Exchange of Churches
Christopher Cockerham, CPM, broker, Cockerham Commercial of F.C. Tucker, REALTORS®, Bloomington, Ind.
Sometimes in commercial real estate, you get what you pray for.
It all started in 2022, the third year of the pandemic, when Christopher Cockerham’s brokerage took a distress call from Rivers Edge Fellowship Church in Bedford, Ind., 20 miles south of his home base in Bloomington. “Just before COVID they had moved into a car dealership. They turned the showroom into a sanctuary, offices and Sunday school rooms and turned a lower level into a teen center,” Cockerham says. “Everything was going great until the pandemic hit. If you weren’t able to pivot to an online system, you struggled, and this church did.”
As the church’s membership and income shrank, the costs of upkeep on the sprawling property were swallowing its reserves. Rivers Edge officials wanted Cockerham’s help with selling the building and grounds as quickly as possible, while they searched for a more modest new home themselves. Preparing to market the building, Cockerham, CPM, assessed it as likely to return to a use akin to the former car dealership. He drew up a flyer touting it as a “light industrial building” with “potential for a business needing administration offices along with warehouse space and a potential showroom.” As he posted signs and shipped the flyer to his 20,000-member database, in the back of his mind he figured a nearby military base might have a use for it.
As much as we think about the internet these days, there’s nothing like a sign sometimes to find the buyer.”
He did not expect the next call. Guide Pointe Pentecostal Church across town was in the opposite situation from Rivers Edge, bursting at the seams in its traditional limestone building. They had spotted the Rivers Edge “for sale” sign and thought the building looked perfect to accommodate their growing programs, including a pre-K-8 school. In the process of negotiating the sale, Guide Pointe officials asked where Rivers Edge would be going and learned that they were frantically searching for a new location. “They said, how about our building?” Cockerham recalls.
Rivers Edge jumped at the chance, and Cockerham found himself brokering a change of places between two congregations. In another twist, the move became almost literal musical chairs. Around the same time, Cockerham sold yet a third church whose new occupants needed chairs. Cockerham procured a surplus from Rivers Edge. “As a broker, you never knows what services you’ll end up providing,” he says.
Selling and buying churches isn’t as simple as negotiating among individuals, he says. “Most churches require meeting with a board of trustees to explain the real estate process. I sat through several Sunday evening sermons so that I could talk to the congregation about how the sale was coming along.”
Getting to closing proved somewhat hair-raising, Cockerham says. “Guide Pointe didn’t do their books in a conventional way that banks could underwrite.” After going back and forth with a bank, “they had to redo their books, and it postponed closing by six months.” As closing stretched from December 2022 to June 2023, Rivers Edge continued to bleed red ink, inching ever closer to the bottom of the reserves barrel.
Now that the deal is done, “Both of them feel really good financially,” says Cockerham.