LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - The Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church has been a part of the downtown district for 90 years.
The church has been in the building for nearly 27 years. Now, the church leaders decided to put the building up for sale. It was a decision that wasn’t easy for many in the congregation.
“People are baptized here, they get married here, they grow up and go to youth group here, they grow old here and when they pass away their funerals are here,” said Pastor Keith Coker. “It's a very important space and if you've been here a long time and your family has been here a long time, then all the major events of your life have been here."
Pastor Coker said the church is filled with memories and history, but its congregation can no longer afford to maintain it.
“The building is 44,000 square feet or so and it’s having the sort of issues a 90-year-old building is starting to have,” he said. “There are repairs that need to be done and there are ongoing repair concerns as well.”
Pastor Coker believes declining membership to churches nationwide is part of the issue with keeping the doors open.
“There are many of these structures, particularly the older ones, that are larger than the congregations that built them or sustained them for many years,” he said.
During the church’s peak membership time, there were nearly 800 people filling the pews each week. Now, there are about 50 regular attendees. Patricia Blick, Executive Director of the Quapaw Quarter Association, said big churches closing their doors is becoming more common.
“They just don't have the membership to maintain and take care of their property so you often see churches adaptively reused,” she said.
She said that across the country, old churches have become apartments, condos, and office spaces. For the association, she said the biggest concern is that the church building remains useful.
“I hope they find a new use that doesn't damage the historic fabric of the church and material of the church,” said Blick. “The best way to save a historic building is to keep It in use.”
Pastor Coker hopes the building will house a church again. But, for now, his biggest concern is his congregation's future.
“At this time, no one has indicated that they want to change the name or that they want to discontinue this congregation,” he said. “We are still a vital church.”
He said that selling the church will free the congregation of their financial burden and allow members to rethink the path forward for their ministries.
“We will be able to reset and re-identify so we can best serve the city,” he said.
Pastor Coker said that his goal is to continue the legacy that Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church started 27 years ago.
“Wherever we hang our hat and wherever we are doing our ministry, that's our church building,” he said.
Blick noted that there is an easement on the building regulated by the Arkansas Preservation Program. That ensures the building cannot be demolished. It does allow for changes inside the building, but not on the outside.