Abstract: Christian churches control substantial areas of land in Africa. While intensifying struggles over their holdings are partly due to the increased pressure on land in general, they also reflect transformations in the relations through which churches’ claims to land are legitimized, the increased association of churches with business, and churches’ unique positioning as both institutions and communities. This article presents the trajectory of relations between church, state and community in Uganda from the missionary acquisition of land in the colonial era to the unravelling of church landholding under Museveni. Drawing on long‐term ethnographic fieldwork, the authors argue that claims to church land in contemporary Uganda draw on: 1) notions of belonging to the land; 2) views about the nature of churches as communities; 3) discontent regarding whether customary land owners gave churches user rights or ownership; and 4) assessment of the churches’ success in ensuring that the land works for the common good. The article develops a novel approach to analysing the changing meaning of the landholdings of religious institutions, thus extending ongoing discussions about land, politics, development and religion in Africa.