LOS ANGELES — For 45 years Harvest Tabernacle Bible Church sat at the corner of Holmes Avenue and East 55th Street in Vernon.

The congregation met and listened to sermons from Pastor Donald Cook Sr. and celebrated holidays throughout the year.

In 2016, Cook’s son, Donald Cook Jr., took over the role as pastor.

“This was the place since 1976 where people came. They smiled and fellowshiped and hugged. They spoke to God, prayed to God, God answered their prayers,” Cook Jr. said.

But now the site is answering new prayers, for housing. The original church has been demolished and rising is a new structure that will soon become home to up to 50 Angelenos.

The pastor and Harvest Tabernacle have joined the growing “YIGBY” movement, or Yes In God’s Backyard, an antidote to “NIMBY-ism.”

Church leaders are redeveloping their property for new purposes and to better serve their community.

“I’m glad the season is the season," Cook Jr. said. "It allows the church to think outside of the box. Does the church exist still if there is no building? Absolutely. There are individuals who will never come to the four walls of the church because of a personal reason or personal experiences. This opportunity allows more people to be reached."

Church membership has been declining in the United States for many years. Fewer members mean less revenue and sometimes empty buildings.

In 2021, the Pew Research Center released new data on religious affiliation in the U.S. They found that in 2007, 78% of Americans identified as Christian. Today that number has dropped to 63%. 

Through surveys, they also found that 29% of U.S. adults are religiously unaffiliated. Reduced attendance means some churches have had to shutter their doors or sell their property.

But Martin Porter said there’s another way. He’s the founder of Logos Faith Development, a company that works with faith leaders as they reimagine how their property can be used.

“Many churches face the challenge of reduced members, fewer and fewer members. Reduced income and, on the positive side, what to do with what God has given us, and what God has given us, is property. How can we turn that property into a ministry?” Porter asked.  

Porter and Cook agree that the best ministry right now is housing. Los Angeles is currently experiencing a housing and homelessness crisis. Over 66,000 Angelenos are currently experiencing homelessness, according to LAHSA

So, the property that once was home to a church will now be home to a multipurpose building with apartments, communal living spaces, a rooftop garden and a grocery store.

Harvest Tabernacle will still own the property and the congregation is currently meeting out of another church’s building. Cook Jr. said he doesn’t see the demolition of the building as the end of an era. Instead, it’s a resurrection.

“This project has allowed us to know that the church is alive and in full effect," Cook Jr. said. "You don’t necessarily need the four walls. But you do need multiple ways of touching individuals."