Fast-growing Redemption Point Church poised for even more growth after recent purchase

Fast-growing Redemption Point Church poised for even more growth after recent purchase

August 14th, 2014 by Kevin Hardy in Local Regional News

Kevin Wallace makes an altar call at the end of the worship service at Redemption Point Church.

Photo by Logan Foll/Times Free Press.

Kevin Robertson worships during song service at Redemption Point Church in Chattanooga on August 10, 2014.

Photo by Logan Foll/Times Free Press.

THE LIST

Here is Charisma News' list of "5 of the Fastest-Growing Churches You've Never Heard of:"

1. Fearless Church, Los Angeles

2. Koinonia Christian Church, Arlington, Texas

3. OneChurch Columbus, Columbus, Ohio

4. Redemption Point Church, Chattanooga/Ooltewah

5. Freedom Church, Chatsworth, Calif.

Source: Charisma News

BIGGEST DENOMINATIONS

Here's a look at the five largest denominations in Hamilton County by their number of adherents in 2010:

75,598 -- Southern Baptist Convention

22,312 -- United Methodist Church

12,685 -- Catholic Church

11,865 -- Church of God (Cleveland)

10,510 -- Seventh-day Adventist

(Note: There are 62 nondenominational churches with 16,086 members)

Source: Association of Religion Data Archives

There was no magic moment, no particular point in time when Kevin Wallace's church exploded from 34 members to some 1,200. Rather, Redemption Point Church grew gradually yet steadily over the past decade.

And there seems to be no end in sight to the growth.

Last year, following several expansions of its Ooltewah campus, the Church of God congregation opened an inner city campus at the site of the old Highland Park Baptist Church, a once-iconic megachurch. Now Redemption Point is readying to gobble up much of the adjoining former Tennessee Temple University campus.

With the $4 million purchase of about a dozen former Tennessee Temple buildings, the church plans to open a school of ministry, what Wallace describes as a sort of "preseminary experience," to train future missionaries, pastors and worship leaders.

Since Wallace came on board in 2003, the church's staff has ballooned, and the church itself has undergone several physical expansions and has added programs, including a Guatemalan orphanage and a church-planting institute in Uruguay.

Redemption Point's growth was recently highlighted in an article, "5 of the Fastest Growing Churches You've Never Heard Of," written by Charisma News, which covers the nation's Pentecostal movement. In that story, Ron Phillips, senior pastor of Abba's House, one of Chattanooga's biggest churches, said Redemption Point was "rather dead" when Wallace arrived.

"I've never seen a church advance as rapidly as his church," Phillips said. "It hasn't happened because he embraced some modern or contemporary model. It's advanced because there is a strong presence of God on this young man's life."

•••

On Sunday, the faces inside Redemption's Highland Park auditorium were a mix of young and old, black and white.

Wallace, who grew up in East Lake surrounded by black children and families for much of his childhood, says that's intentional. The church has worked on bridging racial divides, Wallace says, because much of Chattanooga's religious community is still split between white churches and black churches. He estimates the downtown church is about half white, 40 percent black and 10 percent Hispanic.

"The church ought to look like heaven on Earth," he said. "And in heaven, there is no place for white people over there, black people over there, Hispanic people over there."

Church members knock on doors each Saturday in the diverse Highland Park neighborhood and others in the surrounding area. Four buses circle the downtown area picking up churchgoers each Sunday morning. And so far, the recruitment efforts seem to be working.

George Lindsey, who regularly goes to an African Methodist Episcopal church, has started attending some Sunday morning services at Redemption Point. His grandchildren are involved in the youth ministry program, and he said the energy of the church services is electric.

"You feel the spirit when you come in here," he said.

And as a black man, he said the pastor's message of racial equality is refreshing.

"God made us all," Lindsey said. "You come here to serve the Lord."

Services at Redemption Point are lively. Wallace paces the massive stage as he preaches, yelling at times. The crowd shouts back "Amen" and "Preach." And the bass and drums from the contemporary worship music shake the auditorium. His sermons often last 45 minutes.

"I don't know what to say but God is in here," said Connie Fleming, who on Sunday visited the church for the second time.

She's a member of nearby Olivet Baptist Church, but was convinced to check out Redemption Point during one of their door-to-door visits.

Her daughter suffers from cancer, and she said the church's staff and members have been checking in with her at the hospital and at home.

"They don't even know me," she said, "and they call me and pray with me and ask what they can do."

This too, is intentional.

"We aspire to be the most loving church in America," is a prominent line on church materials and its website.

•••

With more than 50o million followers, Pentecostalism is one of the world's fastest-growing brands of Christianity. Pentecostal churches, which include the Church of God and the Assemblies of God, emphasize gifts of the Holy Spirit, including speaking in tongues, prophecy and healing.

"Today there is an increasing interest in affirming the unity of mind and body, and therefore the validity of religious experience," Donald Miller said in a 2006 interview with the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Miller, executive director of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture and Director of the School of Religion at the University of Southern California, said pentecostalism is reshaping Christianity.

At Redemption Point, there are stories of hospitalized babies being healed, cripples tossing aside their walkers and cancer being healed.

Wallace, 34, says he doesn't know exactly what has made Redemption so popular. There are many great congregations in Chattanooga, he said, and he's humbled every time someone chooses his church.

"I don't know that there's anything super or different," he said. "We're just passionate about the presence of God. And I think that resonates with many people."

On Sunday, Wallace preached from the Book of Luke, where Jesus admonishes his followers to not only listen, but to also follow his commandments. Those who do are like the man who laid his home's foundation on a rock, the Word says. And the home wasn't shaken by the flood and storm, for it was built on rock.

"Your house and my house will come under an attack," Wallace said. "But you've got to have your house built on the right kind of foundation."

He admits the practice-what-you-preach message isn't all that sophisticated, but insists the church doesn't always need something deeper.

"We need something real," he said.

So he tells them: Love your enemy. Do good to those that hate you. Turn the other cheek.

Wallace then called the men of the congregation to the altar.

They bowed. They laid hands on each other.

You must get your house in order, the preacher told them. Forget the past.

"It's a new day, brothers."

Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at khardy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6249.