Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park, Illinois (Living Word Christian Center)
As the retail apocalypse sweeps the US, hundreds of malls are being deserted. But a blessed few are being transformed into something entirely different.
Empty and out-of-use malls are being revamped as fitness centers, offices, public libraries, movie theaters, medical clinics, and even churches.
"Only so many consumers are going to malls, and they will flock to newer ones," June Williamson, a City College of New York architecture professor and the author of "Retrofitting Suburbia," told Business Insider. "If developers build a new mall, they are inevitably undercutting another property. So older properties have to get re-positioned every decade, or they will die."
Worshipping at a mall might sound strange but it's a reality that thousands of people across the US are living.
Here's what it's like to go to a church that is inside a former mall.
In 2000, the deserted Grand Village Mall in Grandville, Michigan was donated to Mars Hill congregation.
Source: The Atlantic
The church revamped a huge anchor store, turning it into a huge, open chapel, nicknamed "The Hanger" because it was big enough to fit an airplane.
Source: Mars Hill website
It doesn't look like a traditional church, but it can fit hundreds of worshippers.
The Lakeland, Florida "Church at the Mall" has retail in its name.
The church has two locations, offering traditional and progressive services, and streams all of its sermons online.
The First Baptist Church purchased the 400,000-square-foot Lakeland Mall for $5.6 million in the late 1990s, and spent more than $2 million on renovations transforming it into the "Church at the Mall."
Source: Christianity Today
Inside, the set-up can look more like a concert than a classic pulpit.
From the outside, the Living Word Christian Center in Forest Park, Illinois still looks like mall.
The ministry purchased the Forest Park Mall, a 33-acre shopping mall, in 1997.
Today, the church has more than 20,000 members.
Source: Living Word Christian Center
Southland Christian Church is a Kentucky megachurch with four "campuses" and thousands of members.
Southland Christian Church is a Kentucky megachurch with four "campuses" and thousands of members. (Southland Christian Church)
The Lexington, Kentucky campus is located in the former Lexington Mall, which the church purchased in 2010.
At the time, The Lexington Herald Leader estimated that the defunct mall was valued at $10.7 million.
One of the most striking of the mall-turned-churches is the Euclid Square mall in Euclid, Ohio.
After shops shuttered in the early 2000, 24 Christian congregations rented empty storefronts, Cleveland.com reported.
Unfortunately, the mall's days as a gathering place seem to be numbered.
Seefried Industrial Properties, a developer that has created distribution centers for Amazon, is considering buying and bulldozing the site, according to Cleveland.com.
But, the phenomenon of churches opening up in malls seems far from over. As thousands of stores close across the country, retail centers are going to need to be repurposed — and churches with huge congregations could be the perfect fit.