published Monday, May 20th, 2013

Established congregations in Chattanooga area offer start-up churches a place to meet

  • photo
    Rock Point Community Church, shown during a worship service, shares space with Hamilton Community Church in East Brainerd.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Powell Grisham says Rock Point Community Church was looking for a certain place, while Roger Kittle says what became Alpha and Omega was looking for any place.

Both faith communities found homes in other Chattanooga churches, part of a growing trend in which churches share space in persistently difficult economic times. Most of the churches that seek to share space are start-up congregations, some multi-racial and others ethnically related.

"We were looking for a leadership team of another church who could get excited about the same mission of reaching the unchurched the way that we are," says Grisham, lead pastor of Rock Point, a nondenominational church in the second year of a shared-use agreement with Hamilton Community Church, a Seventh-day Adventist congregation in East Brainerd.

"If we can't get along and work together, then nothing [about the relationship] is going to work," he says.

Kittle, meanwhile, says three Hispanic residents came to the door of St. Elmo Baptist Church about 12 years ago, looking for a Spanish-language service. He didn't know of one but invited them in to worship. One thing led to another, and the group began to hold a Bible study at the church, then a prayer service. Now, Alpha and Omega attracts more than 100 people a week and uses the building's sanctuary while the host church worships in a smaller chapel.

Northside Community Church, formerly Northside Baptist, has hosted a handful of start-ups, according to pastor Mitchell Reeves. In previous years, the now-defunct Awaken and Bridges congregations worshiped there, while One Accord Community Church, now in its own building in Red Bank, spent time there, too, he says.

Today, Northside hosts North Shore Fellowship, a Presbyterian (PCA) congregation, and Mosaic, which refers to itself as a trans-denominational fellowship.

"It's all been a positive experience for us," says Reeves. "As a smaller church, [Northside is offered] a great sense of contributing to the kingdom of God."

Concord Baptist Church is also on its second tenant, according to Senior Pastor David King. It once hosted a Filipino congregation but now shares space with the Korean Baptist Church of Chattanooga.

Area churches also host bodies of Hispanic, Syrian, Haitian, Indian and Cambodian Christians, among others.

SHARED EXPENSES

Kittle says St. Elmo Baptist has never felt it could rent its space to the Baptist-related Alpha and Omega group since it also hosts a homeschool association, a weekly Widows Harvest group and houses the Hamilton County Baptist Association's Care Center, none of which pay rent.

"We're fewer in number," he says, "but we're still paying all the bills."

In recent years, Kittle says, Alpha and Omega has given the church a voluntary monthly donation, but nothing is required.

Other churches have more formal agreements. The five-year shared-use agreement between Rock Point Community Church and Hamilton Community Church allows for a sharing of expenses, according to Grisham.

The Chattanooga Hispanic Community Seventh-day Adventist Church, meanwhile, pays "a certain amount per month" to its host, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, according to the Rev. Curt McKee, Wesley Memorial's pastor.

Concord Baptist also has a shared-used agreement with the Korean fellowship it hosts.

"We charge them a nominal fee to help offset utilities," King says. "We have an annual review to be sure the relationship is still going well."

At Northside Community Church, North Shore Fellowship, which attracts 500 or 600 people a week, is not charged rent but pays for its share of utilities, insurance and other expenses, officials say. The Presbyterian church uses the church's sanctuary, while the host church worships in its fellowship hall.

Meanwhile, Mosaic, which draws from 40 to 50 people a week, does not pay rent but does its own set-up and take-down in the fellowship hall where its worships.

A PLACE OF THEIR OWN

An impressive sign on the lawn off Shallowford Road gives Rock Point Community Church "a semi-sense of permanence" and "helps the UPS guy," says Grisham, but the church has a goal of moving into its own structure by the end of 2016.

"We're in the middle of year two [of the shared-use agreement]," he says. "The reason for the sign is to let people know we're here, that we're not just moving in and moving on."

Kittle is not sure what will happen with Alpha and Omega when the host church moves. But he says the church's leadership team agreed the Hispanic congregation can stay in the sanctuary, where it moved when its original worship space was being renovated and the host congregation was meeting in the basement to conserve energy.

"One day," he says, "I felt led to stop and look at them [during worship]. Literally, in my heart, I felt we needed to let them stay here and see how it would bless them."

Once that decision was made, he says, the fellowship's attendance doubled from about 50 to more than 100.

McKee says some members of the Chattanooga Hispanic Community Seventh-day Adventist Church would like to have their own building.

"But if it works well for them to want to stay here more, that's fine," he says. "We try to look at it as outreach. They have a need; we're trying to extend the hospitality of Christ."

MUTUAL RESPECT

Grisham says not only are Rock Point Community and Hamilton Community churches compatible, but he and host pastor Dave Ketelsen have become personal friends and even share a passion for running.

"There's an incredible level of mutual respect that moves both directions," he says. "We work very well together. The relationship has exceeded our own expectations."

McKee says Wesley Memorial and its Hispanic "tenants" have a difference in language and differences in theology, but happily adapt when one another's schedules call for an adjustment in the use of facilities.

"We work together well," he says, "and there's harmony."

Reeves says his congregation feels comfortable with both North Shore Fellowship and Mosaic.

"I would say the relationship is very good," he says. "They do a good job of not overwhelming [us]. They're sensitive of their impact on us and on [the Mississippi Avenue] community."

Kittle says he hopes the future will allow for more than just once-a-year get-togethers with their Hispanic friends.

"We're seeking to do more," he says. "I'd love for us to do ministry together, to appear to be more [of] one body. Language is the big barrier now, but it's just a blessing [for St. Elmo to have them] to be part of the church family here."

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to my posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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