When a church decides to close its doors or move to a different location, often times the leadership decides to sell the church real estate.
In many cases these buildings are some of the most beautiful properties in the city, I can think of a number of properties on the market right now that are in keeping with some of the most beautiful architectural wonders in Minnesota.
So who can buy an old church? The answer is really anyone can buy it, but the uses may be a bit more restrictive. Generally speaking (and I speak to larger cities rather than small towns with this) churches tend to sit in residential overlay districts, so your typical commercially zoned businesses would not work. One couldn’t open a liquor store or auto garage in an old church. In some cases variances can be acquired through your local governmental unit but I would caution anyone looking to go this route.
Certainly a new congregation looking for a new home could purchase and use the property as a gathering space. I have seen some luck with folks buying them and turning them into day care facilities as well.
Given the zoning is often times residential, if you pull the proper permits you could, in theory, have your home at the property. Naturally commercially zoned church buildings are a bit easier to adjust to commercial use, and I have seen offices, funeral homes, retail stores, city halls, and a number of other uses in this manner.
My advice - make sure you check local zoning laws prior to putting an offer on a church property, unless of course you are a pastor seeking a new home for your congregation!