Megachurch Redemption to the Nations will launch a new 800-seat location Sunday in Cleveland, Tennessee.
It seeks to serve the unchurched of Bradley County, as well as the roughly 400 people who Senior Pastor Kevin Wallace estimates have had to drive from the Cleveland area to its main location in Highland Park.
Many are legacy members, he said, who once had a shorter trip to Ooltewah, back when the now-independent congregation had a location there and was affiliated with the Church of God.
Since going independent and consolidating in Chattanooga proper a few years ago, Redemption to the Nations has added locations in Uruguay, Bulgaria and Athens, Tennessee.
For its latest space, church leaders at first eyed Dalton, Georgia, which they felt needed another Christian expression, Wallace said by phone Thursday.
"Where there is an absence of the kingdom of God, we see that as an invitation," he said.
Cleveland, however, had certain advantages. Wallace said despite its religious reputation, most people in the area don't attend church. He was excited by this potential harvest and eager to alleviate the Sunday commute of Bradley County members.
Then, "God opened the door," Wallace said.
A former Walmart came available to lease at 2750 Keith St. About a year ago the church began renting -- and renovating.
"You look around, walk around the facility, and it feels right," said Kris Horvath, who will serve as the campus pastor. By phone Friday, he described a space that is "gonna be geared toward life."
The roughly 60,000-square-foot location features administrative offices and a large prayer sanctuary. As on the Highland Park campus, the cafe will be open nearly all week.
Horvath envisions students from Cleveland State or Lee University studying at the long bar-type counter, outfitted with Wi-Fi and electrical plugs. His 4-year-old has been testing out the indoor playground. There are to be video games, table tennis, and maybe, a basketball hoop.
Horvath and a team of about 15 other staff and volunteers will run things on a day-to-day basis, and Wallace will preach on Sundays.
This is not the norm at other Redemption to the Nations locations. The Bulgaria and Uruguay campuses have their own preachers, Wallace said. The Athens location screens videos of his sermons in Highland Park.
But Wallace has timed it all out for Cleveland. He'll start there Sunday morning and then whip down Interstate 75 and arrive at the Highland Park campus to preach, just as the worship, giving and pastoral prayer portions of the service are wrapping.
The idea is to replicate the DNA of the Highland Park location, said Horvath, who has been working with Wallace for years. He sees the senior pastor as "one of the greatest voices in this hour."
Now in his early 40s, Wallace joined the Pentecostal Mountain Meadows Church of God in Ooltewah around 2003.
"I've never seen a church advance as rapidly as his church," Senior Abbas House pastor Ron Phillips told one publication around 2014.
Phillips attributed this not to any particular contemporary model Wallace embraced, but rather to the "strong presence of God" in the young pastor's life.
According to a 2014 Chattanooga Times Free Press profile, Wallace sought to forge a diverse congregation in a region where religious communities are largely split along racial lines.
Mountain Meadows was renamed Redemption Point. Around 2012 it expanded into an old church in Chattanooga's East Lake neighborhood.
"We packed that thing," Wallace said, recounting the period. "God helps us. A bunch of people come to Christ there. They're saved. Lives are changed. And then someone comes up to me and says 'have you heard Highland Park Baptist Church is for sale?'"
Wallace toured the storied old megachurch's property, and in 2013 Redemption Point purchased it for $3.1 million -- a sum contributed by an anonymous family, according to a Times Free Press report from the time.
The church soon deepened its roots in Highland Park. It gave the East Lake location to Joyful Sound Church of God, the congregation Wallace grew up in, according to Wallace and the Joyful Sound website.
And around 2014 it bought for $4 million a dozen former buildings of nearby Tennessee Temple, which moved to a different location, the Times Free Press reported.
Finally, around 2017, Wallace and much of his congregation left the Church of God. The denomination shaped him profoundly, he said.
"There was no reason really for me to leave except the Lord said leave," he said.
The Ooltewah church belonged to the denomination, and with the exception of about 150 people, everyone who was at that campus moved with them downtown to the sprawling Highland Park campus, Wallace said.
"That's when God began to speak to us about the nations and the world and about this apostolic thrust that we felt, to send," Wallace said, describing a spirit of evangelism.
The now-independent church adopted its present name. It partnered with a church planter in Uruguay around 2017, Wallace said, and replicated the process in Bulgaria soon after, before launching the Athens campus.
"We feel our way through," Wallace said. "'What is God saying? Where is God making it evident to us that he's pointing us to?' I don't like to think of this as franchising. I'm not into a franchising model. But I am into replication, and Kingdom expansion."
Contact Andrew Schwartz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.