By Bradley W. Parks, The Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio)
Heavy doors swing slowly open with a creak. Donna Barclay, the secretary at Central Presbyterian Church in downtown Zanesville, kicks the doorstop down. It hits the floor, echoing off the sanctuary walls.
The sanctuary is like this many days of the week — empty, reverberating with every sound made in its emptiness.
The historical building is up for sale for $490,000.
“We have a declining attendance (and) population in our church,” said Larry Ledford, a member of the board of session at Central Presbyterian. “With the number of people we have, it’s hard to maintain a church so big.”
Attendance numbers have fallen sharply in recent years at Central Presbyterian. As of May 31, the congregation stood at 165 members. Ledford remembers when the congregation consisted of several hundred people.
“There used to be more people,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”
The possible sale of Central Presbyterian raises the question of whether other downtown churches will see similar challenges in a shifting religious landscape.
Many, if not all, face the challenge of reinvigorating their congregations as they grow older and turnover rates shrink.
The brain drain
The decline and attempts at revitalization at Central Presbyterian reflect those of the downtown area as a whole.
While people attempt to revamp downtown with new businesses, some churches are trying to up their efforts as well.
Melanie Von Gunten is the director of religious education and the unofficial historian at St. Thomas Aquinas. She attributes congregational change to brain drain, which is when people earn a college education and leave their hometowns, usually to bigger cities.
“Sometimes the younger people are almost forced to look outside Muskingum County for employment,” Von Gunten said.