A church for the city

 

With stained-glass windows and ornate pillars juxtaposing stained concrete and steel, Frontline Church’s downtown Oklahoma City location merges historical beauty with a modern renovated space for the community.

By Carla Hinton • Photos by Marcus Wehmuller • Additional reporting by RaeAnn Slaybaugh


The transition from house church living room to one of the most beautiful worship facilities in the state was quite the upgrade for Frontline Church of Oklahoma City.

Josh Kouri, Frontline’s founding senior pastor, says the striking combination of architecture and historical importance, along with location and ample room for growth, is what first attracted him and other church leaders to the building back in 2011.

Though some parts of the facility — a former church — were immediately usable for worship and children’s ministry, the building’s East Wing was in complete disrepair. The windows were broken. The roof leaked “rivers of water” and birds made their homes in the rafters. There was no HVAC, and no elevator. 

But in December 2019, all that began to change. Given the shifting demographics of downtown Oklahoma City, Frontline’s leadership realized they would soon run out of space for children’s ministry. Plus, the church’s growing staff needed more office space. 

Frontline accommodated these growth spurts and remodeled its space with a $6.3-million loan from WatersEdge. Of the $6.3 million, $3.8 million was used to refinance existing debt. As Kouri explains, the goal was to combine all the church’s mortgages into one loan with a lower interest rate. 

The remaining $2.5 million went to renovations. 

In both cases, Kouri says he appreciates that the loan interest Frontline pays to WatersEdge is funneled back into ministry, helping grow the financial resources of churches who invest with WatersEdge. “It’s so encouraging,” he shares. “We’re glad that over the life of the loan, we’ll pay much less for buildings and have more resources to see lives changed, people served, and ministry happen out of these bases of mission.”

Though several other lenders were vetted, Kouri says Frontline decided to finance the project with WatersEdge — a nonprofit Christian financial services organization — due to its long history of partnership with churches.

“It’s their heart for the local church,” he explains. “They’re making it possible for a lot of people and ministries to do good work.”

WatersEdge also offered the best interest rate and, according to Kouri, showed itself to be hands-on throughout the process. “We wanted to ensure that we were being good stewards of the generosity of our people,” he emphasizes. 

A rich history and a bright future 

As to be expected, the bulk of Frontline’s renovation efforts were focused on the East Wing. Work included a new children’s space, an elevator for greater handicapped accessibility, new offices for staff, and spacious rooms for meetings and gatherings.

Whereas the church’s previous children’s space was a temporary build completed upon the 2011 purchase of the building, the new space is an ideal solution for families. The fellowship hall — previously converted to the nursery — was reclaimed for its intended use. “Upon the East Wing remodel, we were able to return [it] to a very useful space that is occupied nearly weekly,” Kouri says. 

Frontline’s building has a long and storied history. It housed not one but two churches before the congregation purchased it and relocated its headquarters there. Built in 1911 with the addition of the East Wing in 1940, the building was once the worship space for First Christian Church of Oklahoma City (Disciples of Christ), and then later, City Church. The building is also on the National Registry of Historic Places, known for its Neo-Classical Revival style of architecture.

Knowing that the building’s historic designation could affect the renovation process (since such structures are subject to much stricter — and therefore, possibly more expensive — standards), Kouri and his team got ahead of the issue by enlisting an experienced architect who had renovated similar buildings in the downtown area.

“That helped make all the details that come with a historically designated building happen smoothly,” he explains. “Problems were solved early in the process through wise design and variances from the city. I don’t believe much cost was added to the project due to that, thankfully.”

Kouri says the building fit Frontline’s mission to be a church for the city — something he and his wife, Nancy, felt was important when they started the congregation in their home back in 2005.

“Our heart was to be a Gospel-focused church for the good of the city — to care about preaching the Gospel but also demonstrating the love of God, being the hands and feet of Jesus,” he says. “As the church grew and we needed more space, this building was a clear symbolic center for mission in the heart of the city. We knew this would be a great base to love and serve the city and to train people to go and start ministries in other parts of the world.”

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Growing from 20 people meeting in Kouri’s home to multiple congregations with multiple services in only 15 years demonstrates God’s blessing on Frontline’s work. The church continues to fulfill its mission from its central location in downtown Oklahoma City, and from four additional congregations in south Oklahoma City, Edmond, Shawnee and Yukon. The church has also planted what Kouri describes as “daughter churches” in other states and in places around the globe like the United Kingdom and India.

Reclaiming the space  

Today, visitors to Frontline’s new East Wing might find it hard to imagine just how much work has been done. Hope Wilson, the church’s connections director, says the renovation gives Frontline more space to complete its Gospel-centered mission. “It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for us,” she says. “It’s been sweet to have that space.”

Holly Shockley, along with her husband, Jake, and their three young children, have attended Frontline for about 10 years. Shockley served as a youth leader at the church several years ago.

“The old children’s space was open but a bit of a hodgepodge,” she remembers. The new space, Shockley says, is clean and inviting. “The fact that we have a separate space for kids — that they get to grow, birth through high school, and make it their own — is a very exciting thing.”

Shockley also loves the idea that the expansion gives Frontline and the church’s community partners more opportunities to use the building during other days of the week besides Sunday. “That just warms my heart,” she says.

Kouri says he couldn’t be more pleased with the renovation, thanks in part to Frontline’s partnership with WatersEdge: “The whole idea is to use this place to love and serve the city and to see the Gospel get planted in the next generation.” 

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