Miracle on 146th Street

I didn’t coin the phrase, our pastor did, but I did get to be a part of making it happen…
Have you ever worked on something so hard and so furiously, that you don’t even get time to look up to see how it was working out? That’s what the new church campus has been like for me — and I suspect some others. It wasn’t until a brief window of about 10 minutes this past Sunday that I was able to grasp the scope of what had happened…

To be honest, I get tired just thinking about the new campus. Earlier this year our church assumed we were heading in a more traditional direction. They’d bought property, they’d discussed building plans. Most everyone we talked to in the congregation assumed it was only a matter of time until Northway moved from our cramped little mall space into a comfortable big church building. It was probably only about 4 months ago that we realised that God had a much more exciting plan in mind for us. Multi-campus churches aren’t a new idea, and there are lots of incredible ones throughout the States that we could learn from, but it was still a completely new project for those of us working to pull it off — and by the time the location was decided on, there wasn’t much more than a couple months to get it done.

The challenge wasn’t just to do church at two locations, it was to do Northway in two locations. And Northway doesn’t do anything small or understated… or very far in advance. Our main campus is a former gym that, every 4 weeks or so, gets transformed into a different environment and theme via stage sets, elaborate lighting, and pervasive and thematic video. When you walk into Northway you never know what to expect, cause over the week, someone might decide to build a brand new stage, or paste the Last Supper on the wall, or re-wire the entire video system… and it’ll get it done, cause God has blessed the church with so many of His willing servants. The idea of duplicating that effort in another, bigger location, the construction of which will be underway until the last moment, is just a terrifying one…

But the challenge was set in front of the church. God led, and the people got to work. And man did we work. Christmas Eve was sort of a trial run. We only had a temporary Certificate of Occupancy, and had sort of the bare minimum up and running. But we did 4 services there, all of which were close to full up. And then we had two weeks — over the holidays — to finish the job, and bring the rest of Northway to a new gym: nurseries and kids rooms, volunteer facilities, check-in stations, high def video equipment… the list goes on. My part was a small one, and I was able to plan ahead a bit further — I avoided construction constraints and all-nighters by using our kitchen at home as a staging area — but it was crazy. I think I, like pretty much everyone, just put my head down, worked my butt off, and trusted that God would pull everything together and make it happen.

And He did. This weekend was our first multi-campus Northway experience, and no logical sum of individual efforts could add up to the result we got. We had 3 full services at our home campus, and one packed-to-over-flowing service at our new campus. I’m not sure the numbers, but I’d say we easily approached 2000 attendees across two days and two locations in two cities. As volunteers met the night before to figure out how things would work, and then especially as staff pulled together at the home campus to head down to the new one, the excitement and anticipation was palpable. Who knew if this would work? Who knew if our volunteers could do this? Who knew if people would show up? Who even knew if our video boards would stay alive through the service? We certainly couldn’t have known, but God did.

I was doing last minute set-up tasks at the new campus on Saturday, and assigned to the home campus for Sunday, but I had to hop in my car and sneak into the new one, just to check it out. I got there about halfway into the sermon, and couldn’t find a single free parking spot. I walked into the lobby and was confused to find it full of people — until I snuck into the sanctuary and realised there were no empty seats…

It turns out that people are excited to hear the word of God — if you can present it in a way that is relevant to the world we live in today. And if you’re willing to go to them: to pick up your comfortable church experience and bring it to where they are, they’ll show up. And it’s deeper than “If you build it, they will come,” but I’m only just starting to understand it. I guess one of the cool things for me was the not knowing. I mean as a church attendee, not knowing if it’s gonna happen is one thing, as a volunteer maybe it’s another… But as a member of the staff, the realisation that this whole thing, from the beginning until the moment the countdown started for the first service, was a step of faith, is astounding… The fact is, we didn’t know if this could be done, but we knew God was asking us to do it, so we did it. None of us as staff, and none of the volunteers, as amazing as they are, could know if this would work…

Hebrews 11:8 says “He went out, not knowing where he was going…” And my devotional last week challenged me on that. Am I willing to follow God without knowing where He’s leading me? That idea is still a little scary for me, but I guess that’s what God’s been teaching me. A second church campus is certainly not a direction I could have anticipated, but walking in there on Sunday and seeing how God had transformed another gym into His house, and then filled it to the brim with seekers and servants, it’s starting to sink in…

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  1. Pingback: Church At Home out of Beta « Jon and Nic's Blog

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