Pastor repurposes money from dying churches into social justice

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As developers gobbled up churches in downtown Washington in 2013, the Rev. Amy Butler had a realization. Institutional Christianity, she believed, was unlikely to revive itself after decades of declining membership.

Butler later learned that religious institutions in the United States were valued at $1.2 trillion. And she met a man who was distributing money to anyone he perceived to be working for some kind of community healing.

Those experiences prompted a lightbulb moment for Butler. Why couldn’t money left in the coffers of dying churches be repurposed to fuel projects aimed at doing good in the world? Years later, Butler has brought her idea to life through Invested Faith, a fund established to receive assets from closing houses of worship and disburse them to entrepreneurs motivated by faith and focused on social justice.

The project started with funds donated by financially successful churches and is supporting 13 fellows whose projects include connecting teenagers with free mental health resources and employing refugees to make and sell bread. As Invested Faith begins its third year, Butler now has started trying to convince struggling churches to support it with the money they have left.

“From a spiritual and community standpoint, placing assets with Invested Faith would optimally be a shared decision made to celebrate the past witness of a congregation,” she said, and to ensure “the work of faith that congregation has held so dear for so long continues” even after “the life of the institution comes to an end.”

Now the pastor of National City Christian Church in Washington, Butler knows that some see accepting the closure of churches as akin to giving up on institutions that mean a lot to many. But she rejects that framing, reminding skeptics that belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead lies at the heart of Christianity. “We don’t need to be afraid of death,” Butler said. “We’re people who believe that after…

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