The United Church of Christ announced September 21 that it has placed its nine-story denominational headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio, up for sale following years of declines in church membership. The staff will move to a much humbler single-floor office space.
The headquarters housed 330 staff members in 2000. That number has fallen to 117.
The denomination was formed in 1957 and is considered one of the seven sisters of mainline Protestantism in the United States. While the Church of Christ had 2.1 million members at its founding, it has now dwindled to just over 800,000 members. The church has internally projected that it will decrease in size to a membership of 200,000 by 2045.
The church moved its headquarters to Cleveland in 1990 from New York City in an effort to be closer to its Midwestern-concentrated membership. The building has been placed up for sale at $7 million.
The United Church of Christ’s decline is part of a larger decline in mainline Protestantism in the United States. While more than 30 percent of Americans identified with a mainline Protestant denomination in 1970, that number has shrunk to 15 percent.
While Christianity on a whole is declining in the United States across denominations (there are some exceptions, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), the decrease has been pronounced in mainline denominations, and the United Church of Christ is one of the most rapidly shrinking of these denominations.
The United Church of Christ is known for its liberal theology. It was the first mainline denomination to come out in favor of gay marriage in 2005. It has also supported abortion for decades.
“Clergywomen and clergyfolk in the United Church of Christ have been vocal for decades about a woman’s right to choose, ease of access to abortion for all people, and the healthy pathways to get what is necessary and life-affirming,” the church says on its website.
The denomination is also home to the Cathedral of Hope, which describes itself as the “largest predominately LGBTQ church in the world.” The Cathedral of Hope says that “Jesus was the ultimate liberal, who resisted the status quo of oppression and showed us the way to the abundant life God intends for all people.”
The United Church of Christ stresses ecumenism and defines itself by its plurality. It was originally founded as a merger between churches with Anabaptist, Congregational, Calvinist, and Lutheran traditions.
Roberto Ochoa, program associate for congregations of color and ethnic identified congregations, said the decision to sell the denomination’s headquarters was made in order “to meet the current and evolving needs of our staff and ministry partners.”