Who Are Local Churches Building For?

The past twenty-four months in Northeast Ohio, have revealed many new church buildings and additions, but why are they being built and are these new people willing to attend these churches?
by Carolynn Mostyn

Above: Artist rendering of Grace Missionary and Christian Alliance Church in Middleburg Heights, scheduled for completion at the end of 2003. Below: The Chapel in Green is scheduled to be completed in June 2003.

Is Christianity taking a giant step forward? Over the past two years new church buildings and additions are more prevalent in Northeast Ohio, and area pastors reveal uplifting as well as disheartening news with regards to new projects.

Are more Americans becoming Christians and going to church on a consistent basis? There has been some growth in churches, however; over the last decade there is little or no increase in the percentage of growth per year. Pastor Knute Larson of The Chapel in Akron, contends that the increase in his congregation has run fairly consistent each year over his nineteen years as the Chapel's Pastor. Reverend Karen Hartley of Wedgewood United Methodist Church in Ellet told Connection Magazine, "Although expansion of our facilities is encouraging, I do not see a rise in the number of American's attending church." Yet, Grace Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Middleburg Heights has seen a fifty percent increase in attendance over the last three years according to Administrator, Ernie Richmond. However; Interim Pastor Arthur Smith of Warrensville Road Community Baptist Church reports he recently read that there could possibly be a decline in church attendance.

All agreed that growth has been steady, but not necessarily increasing and most growth comes from young people coming back to church. These young families are looking for a church home and a safe Christian atmosphere to raise their children. "Nobody has a deeper love than a parent for a child and parents care what their children learn," Larson said.

Most I spoke with agreed that during September of 2001, attendance spiked. However, reports suggest that the spike was created mostly by members attending more regularly than new visitors, and then attendance tapered back to normal within four to six weeks. People were searching for comfort, some questioning their faith and others to see what their Pastor would say after such a devastating event. "Our President as been very open in calling people to pray," stated Pastor Larson. "It could have a positive effect."

"I used to be able to name 7 of the 20 mega churches that existed through out the country. Mega churches are those having attendance over 2000. There are now over 700 across the nation," stated Larson. Yet, the statistic that Reverend Scott Baker from Northwest Avenue Church in Tallmadge noted was, "even though some congregations are experiencing growth, we must consider that doors will close forever on 4000 churches this year. The growth explosion you see are churches connecting people to God's grace." Baker explained. "The culture is prime in this postmodern world to get connected with something that sheds some meaning and purpose to our lives. A church that is willing to step outside of some traditions and practice God's greatest command, 'Love God, Love People' will grow," he stated. Baker feels that longevity does contribute to church growth. "From the Pastor, staff and congregation, growth comes from stability and a sense of excitement. Good things happen when people experience God." he continued. Reverend Baker said, "we, as Christians must practice the Biblical approach towards lost persons. People not living their lifestyles according to God should be embraced by the church. Jesus came in contact with many people carrying much baggage and pointed out their sin without condemning them." Baker's church has continued a steady growth, but he attributes it to the attitude of the people. "If people in the church are not willing to help those who are outside of Christ and Christianity and connect them to a purpose, then that church is not going to grow. If it were not for the congregations ability to make changes in keeping with the needs of the world, there would not be growth."

Reverend Hartley is pleased and excited about her churches new building project. "It is scary and there are worries, but when I see the realization of the answer to our prayers it is exciting. We have to do what God is leading us to do," Hartley explained. Wedgewood is adding Sunday school rooms and a family life center including an area where the congregation can meet for dinners that also doubles as a gymnasium. "Now our congregation will be able to sit in one room at the same time for a church dinner," boasted Hartley. "Our addition will make for a healthier church and community. Outreach is a very important part of who we are and having a good environment for community children to enjoy is necessary. Statistics say that fifty percent of middle school age children have never attended church, except for weddings, funerals or an occasional visit with grandma." However, not all new church construction is entirely for new members.

When the doors open in June 2003, at the new Chapel campus in Green, about 3000 of the current 8000 Chapel members will make it their home. The new campus will be one with the Akron campus operating on one budget, staff and board. The Chapel consortium consists of five Chapel churches located in Marlboro, Kent, Wadsworth, North Canton and Hudson that are independent and strong by themselves. There are also three churches grandfathered by the Chapel that are included in the consortium. They were either started by a Chapel staff member or became a part because of strong similarities. There is also, a Chapel Association that is an informal networking group open to other churches. This association meets twice a year for encouragement seminars and to use each others resources. Pastor Larson believes, "A church needs to teach the authentic word of God, adapted with love and grace to reach the people. An authoritative, but loving approach to the Bible," Larson continued. "Church should be a fun and gracious place to welcome strangers. It should get outside its walls to touch the lives of those who do not yet like church. Offering programs adapted to the communities needs, we meet the people where they are, but still teaching the scripture."

Steve Harper, Assimilation Pastor of Grace Christian and Missionary Alliance Church said, "God kept bringing people our way, so we started a Sunday evening service that is a repeat of the morning service. We also started evening Jr. High, High school and adult Sunday school classes. We saw a big increase in our growth with this service. Many who work in the mornings can now enjoy the same service and Sunday school in the evenings." Ernie Richmond contributes much of the growth of their congregation to the Felt Needs Ministry. Richmond explained, "Grace is a family based congregation that ministers to the public adapting programs to the needs of the people. There are programs for singles, single parents raising children that involve children and parents and divorce groups. Grace for Recovery is a ministry to those dealing with substance abuse, eating dysfunction and codependency. Making Peace with Your Past Retreats have benefited many that come seeking help with the pain in their lives." The Grace Church addition of 93,000 square feet will be finished in the fall of 2003 with seating availability for 1350 people.

Each of these churches has a family life center of some sort. It seems these gathering areas have become an important part of today's church expansions. A room where church members can gather for dinners and programs, and where the community can use it in some capacity. Warrensville Road Baptist Church is not a mega church nor have they varied much from the traditional church, but they have grown and expanded. They have just added six classrooms and a multipurpose addition for use by the congregation and community alike.

Though most churches are not growing in leaps and bounds, many people are discovering the good news that following Jesus has to offer. It is encouraging that so many churches are reaching out to embrace the lost, with the same forgiveness and compassion that Jesus taught. C

Editor's note: Many people went to church after nine-eleven, truly seeking to hear from God, truly desiring to know God. They needed to know how to get right with God but instead many heard a man-centered message that reassured them how good they were and how good America is. With no direction for true repentance, with no convicting words of correction and rebuke, many left some of those churches more lost than ever. Many came seeking to get right with God and man got in the way.

'Repent' may not be politically correct but it's not a dirty word, it's the word of God. I personally believe that the churches boldly proclaiming the whole word of God, (including true repentance) will see a God given harvest like never before. The Harvest is ready to be reaped.

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