More than spiritual growth

With congregations growing, churches find ways to build, expand
Monday, January 19, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 12:08 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Although you might not have noticed, for the past 20 years two small brick buildings in a five-acre field of grass at 301 W. Green Meadows Road have been Rock Bridge Christian Church. Now, the congregation has decided to build a sanctuary that’s sure to be noticed.

The congregation intended to build the sanctuary 20 years ago, but generosity held it back.

“From the beginning, the congregation has given a lot to feed the hungry and help people in need, a third of whatever we get,” said the Rev. Maureen Dickman, pastor of the church.

A retired teacher bequeathed $500,000 in March 2000, which allowed Rock Bridge Christian to seriously consider building the sanctuary. To raise the $1.3 million for the first phase, the congregation donated money, received gifts from outside the congregation and borrowed $430,000. The entire project is expected to cost $2.1 million.

Rock Bridge Christian is one of several congregations in Columbia upgrading churches. The renovations differ, but the motive is the same: To grow, the congregations need space.

A church can feel full even if it is only filled to 80 percent capacity, Dickman said. When that happens, parishioners might not want to join a congregation that feels too full, and a church’s growth stops even though there is still room for more, Dickman said.

Missouri United Methodist Church’s Wednesday Night Live, a church fellowship and dinner, has stopped growing. The room the church uses can hold 140 people, and it draws 120 to 140, said the Rev. J. Neal Lassinger, associate pastor of Missouri Methodist.

When a congregation realizes it is too big or the church too small, it begins the process of renovation. Renovating a church forces a congregation to consider its priorities, because every dollar spent on building could be a dollar spent to help the needy.

“We would rather invest dollars in people than in wood and brick,” said the Rev. Michael Burt, pastor of Grace Bible Church.

About 30 years ago, the congregation of Calvary Episcopal Church began discussing renovations, said the Rev. Frederick Thayer, pastor of Calvary Episcopal. On Dec. 6, the congregation was finally able to move into the addition.

By contrast, because of rapid growth the congregation of Woodcrest Chapel has renovated the church three times since first building it in the early 1990s, said Wendy Yelton, operations director of Woodcrest.

Deciding what to change requires a plan for the future use of the building. The congregation of Parkade Baptist decided to remodel the children and preschoolers’ area to modernize the area and make it safer, said Alberta Gilpin, director of education and administration at Parkade.

After a congregation has decided to build, finding an architect who can fulfill the vision takes time.

“We are looking at modern facilities, but we want architecture true to the current building,” Lassinger said.

Another challenge is designing a church so it doesn’t look exactly like other churches.

The future sanctuary at Rock Bridge Christian was designed to look like arms reaching out and embracing the community, Dickman said. The walls and roof will be made of copper, which changes color as it oxidizes with age, to show that the church changes with the community around it. Unfortunately, creating a landmark is more difficult than building a simple structure.

“A project like this is a lot more challenging because the walls do not have square corners” and a lot of the walls are radii, said Larry Lueckenhoff, superintendent for Huebert Builders Inc., which is building the Rock Bridge Christian sanctuary.

When the congregation of St. Luke the Evangelist Greek Orthodox Church remodeled a former day-care center, which had originally been a residential home, it had to reinforce the floors and add parking, said John Travlos, chairman of St. Luke’s building ministry team.

Converting a former home also has the drawback of space. Travlos said St. Luke’s has 150 people who would like to attend, but the renovated building only has space for 40.

“Until we get another building built, we can’t fit everyone,” Travlos said.

For the Rock Bridge Christian congregation of 80 people, the possibility of growth outweighs the risk.

“We are stepping out in faith,” Dickman said. “We felt like we needed to take this step.”

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