Two Churches Under One Roof
We’ve all heard of the church multi-campus movement, right? One church, many locations. We see this in cities throughout the U.S. Well what would you say to the flipside of that? How about two churches in one location? Dr. Merritt’s church, Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, GA, has undertaken a grand experiment in sharing our facility with another congregation. And we’re learning a lot.
Not long ago another church of similar theology and style began meeting at a nearby rental facility. As with any sister congregation our staff was cordial and welcoming. There are nearly a million people within a 20-minute drive of our campus, and we are excited about any congregation that’s eager to reach them for Christ. The new church began meeting and growing, but there was a challenge. Each week, volunteers took many hard-working hours to set up their stage, lighting, sound and video screens, chairs, preschool area and other needs to have church in a rented facility. It took an entire day to set up the church, and following their service, several more hours to pack it all away. Many of their team were getting tuckered out.
The other congregation met Sunday nights, and Cross Pointe doesn’t have a Sunday night service, so we reached out and offered our facility to them. Now I don’t want to over-simplify what has happened, because there are many hurdles, facility management issues, shared space oddities and cleaning and turnaround challenges we’re tackling. But the short-form result is that we meet at our campus on Sunday morning, and the other congregation uses it on Sunday nights, and it’s working out really well. Here are a few of the things we are learning:
Sharing is better. When we began scheduling our weekly shared space needs, we got a grasp of just how many empty hours we have in a large church facility. All that space just sitting there, most rooms used only a few hours each week. How much better are both churches in stewarding space by sharing with each other. When you think about how many churches there are in the United States, and how many hours those buildings are empty, I begin to wonder why more congregations don’t think about sharing as an option. Think of the millions of dollars and hours that could be saved by believers acting like Acts 2, sharing with others as there was need.
We’re not in competition. Probably the reason that space sharing is so foreign an idea in the church is that, although we don’t want to admit it, churches are enormously competitive. We’re constantly comparing ourselves to the steeple next door. We will pay lip service to the fact that we’re all on the same Team Jesus, but the reality is that almost no church really operates that way. And if a new church plant comes along, well they’ve just got to pay their dues in a high school gym for a few years before they deserve some cushy pews and a playground, right? God forbid we let them use our space, because, you know, people might (gasp!) attend the other church instead. This idea of sharing is covered in such a cloak of fear that it keeps us from realizing some tremendous potential for the body of Christ.
When we began to share with another congregation, it opened up our thinking into more ways we could share, not only with them, but with other ministries and in other ways. We’re not just sharing a building and chairs, which is a blessing, but we’re sharing sound systems and microphones and video screens and preschool cribs and Bible study rooms and parking cones. Now, Cross Pointe still pays the mortgage, and the other congregation pays a little to cover the cost of using the buildings, but there are many other things that we share where the cost for both churches is cut in half. Those parking cones aren’t cheap!—but we can both use them and have resources left over to put elsewhere. That’s complementing each other, not competition. I think this is what the Acts 2 church sorta looked like.
We’re similar but different. This shared arrangement would not have worked if our two churches were not on the same page theologically. Our foundational doctrine is the same. However, they do a slightly different style of music. At a different volume. They organize their small groups and Bible studies differently. They even park people in a different way in our very same parking lot. What’s cool, though, is that every Sunday night, long after our crowd has headed off to lunch and their own activities, an entirely different group comes on our campus to worship the very same God, learn from His Word and minister to our community. All the same things we love about our church—from the teaching to the small group community—they love about theirs. We just happen to be in the same building.
There are plenty of fish in the ocean. The percentage of Christ followers in North America is dropping each year. There are more people attending church than ever before, but there are also more people lost and without God than ever before. It’s the trend in our population. Though we sometimes overlook this, the fact is that there are more fish in the ocean than either of these two churches could reach in a lifetime. We’re both in the middle of the same harvest field, and each of these churches has just given the other a new harvesting machine. Two really is better than one. Almost immediately, from the very first week, I think both churches realized that this arrangement was going to do one very big thing and that is enable us to reach far more people for Christ.
Some lessons are for the pool. We could have stood on one side of the fence and watched another church swim in their pool while we kept to our own back yard. But we would have missed what is becoming a great learning opportunity. We’re getting good ideas from the other congregation and they’re getting some from us. Sure we work through little issues each week, but the important thing is that we’re both in the pool. We decided to dive in and commit to make something work in the body of Christ. I wonder what this relationship will look like in a year. I wonder what God will do through our two churches. I’m pretty sure though that we’re not going to regret it. In fact, I would put the key takeaway up there for all to see and contemplate right now: “Share your space, churches.” Don’t make those new church plants we see in missions blogs desperate for a place to meet and with limited resources hunt for an empty storefront while your building sits empty 160 of 168 hours this week. For God’s sake roll out a welcome mat.
God will be glorified when we model Jesus’ prayer in John 17 that we be one even as Christ and the Father are one. That doesn’t mean we’re exactly alike. But it does mean we’re after the same thing. If this sounds a little odd, different or even impossible, I’d invite you to come on in. So far the water is just fine.
Author: Eugene Mason, Communications Director for Cross Pointe Church under the leadership of Dr. James Merritt.