7 Quick Takes (vol. 10)

In preparation for the church I’m covering on Tuesday, here are 7 Church Plants With Unorthodox Starting Sites for 7 Quick Takes. Having been raised in mainline Christian denominations, I had never thought much about how new churches are started by independent pastors who lack the backing (financial or otherwise) of some organization. Each of the following churches has a different, unique venue they initially called home, and most have now grown to megachurch sizes (over 2,000) since their humble beginnings. Perhaps ironically, even after starting in unusual places, these churches have sometimes turned again to retrofitting secular buildings for their use, such as an indoor arena or a mall.

No pictures for Quick Takes this week, since I’m highlighting where the churches came from instead of what they look like now. I have some great pictures for Tuesday though that show how a brand new church plant copes with these unusual conditions.

Note: I was going to include Crystal Cathedral too (they started in a drive-in movie theater), but I just covered it recently.

1 – Anita G. Naves Ministries (District Heights, Maryland)

Here’s a church that’s different from the others listed, in that it’s still just starting out and hasn’t grown into thousands (yet). Anita Naves was ordained a pastor nearly three years ago. Since then, she’s been looking for some low-key place to start a church, similar to the beginnings of the other churches on this list. About two years ago, she started using the community center space at her local grocery story. You can read more about the challenges and opportunities that presents here.

2- Mars Hill Bible Church (Grandville, Michigan)

Started in 1999 by pastor Rob Bell when he was 28 years-old, the church was proposed as being worship in its most basic, stripped-down form. The idea caught on quickly, particularly with the support of a nearby church in Grand Rapids. 1,000 people showed up to the very first gathering, located in a school gym. Mars Hill Bible Church outgrew the gym within a year, and they now occupy a former shopping mall (the building was donated, and they bought the land) for their over 10,000 churchgoers.

3 – Mars Hill Church (Seattle, Washington)

Yup, there are two churches on this list with the name “Mars Hill”. I’m not sure I even recognized that these were two distinct groups until I made this list. Mars Hill Church in Seattle (not to be confused with a college with the same name in Seattle) is a reformed church that was started in 1996 by Mark Driscoll in his apartment. The group had a rocky start with fluctuating attendance due to disagreements about the vision of the church, although they eventually outgrew the apartment and moved into a renovated hardware store (where the main campus still is). In recent years, the church has grown to about 7,500 people between 25 different Sunday services at several different campuses.

4 – Lakewood Church (Houston, Texas)

John Osteen and his wife Dodie started Lakewood Church in 1959 after departing from their Baptist roots. They initially held services in an abandoned feed store in Houston. By 1979, their congregation had swelled to over 5,000. When Osteen passed in 1999, his youngest son Joel took the reins. Although his father had grown the church quite a bit during his tenure, the congregation increased fivefold under Joel. Now, the church counts around 43,500 people as members and occupies the former Compaq Center.

5 – Saddleback Church (Lake Forest, California)

Saddleback Church was started by Rick Warren, and held its first public service on Easter Sunday in 1980. The group first met in the local high school theater. Since then, they’ve occupied eight different worship spaces. When the current worship space was under construction, the group (then numbering about 10,000 people) met outside under a tent for several years. The church now numbers over 20,000 people per week and operates several satellite campuses.

6 – LifeChurch.tv (Edmund, Oklahoma)

LifeChurch.tv was initially called Life Covenant Church and was founded in 1996 by Craig Groeschel, an associate pastor with the United Methodist Church. He started the church in a 2 car garage with a borrowed overhead projector and two sets of lights from Lowe’s. When deciding to start a church, Groeschel spent time looking at the market research done on non-churchgoers and specifically designed his content to target that demographic. In 2007, sermons from LifeChurch.tv started being broadcast to the virtual Second Life world as well. The church now numbers in the 38,000s.

7 – Willow Creek Community Church (South Barrington, Illinois)

Definitely the oldest church on this list, Willow Creek Community Church was founded in 1975 by Bill Hybels. For their first two years, the church rented out a local movie theater for services. In 1977, the church was able to purchase land for their first building, which has since doubled in size for their current churchgoing attendance of 24,000 a week. Willow Creek has consistently been listed as the most influential church in America as part of a national poll of pastors.

Any church plants near you that meet in an unusual location?

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