A state-owned facility is transformed into a house of worship

An opportunity for expansion is a blessing to a Detroit church, but the location presents many challenges.

By Jason Cashmer

In August 2006 God tapped a group of Christians on the shoulder and said in essence, “I’ve got a job for you.” God then proceeded to give nearly 45 acres and 150,000-square-feet of buildings to our church for two million dollars.

Christ The King Lutheran Church and School (K-8) in Southgate, MI, is that church and in the past 18 months, has been awed by God’s direction and also challenged by the task ahead.

Our congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2002. We are a worshipping fellowship of about 1,200 in the Detroit metropolitan area. We have been blessed with growth and financial security as we looked forward to the new millennium.

As our church grew, we eyed property opportunities here and there. We appointed a land acquisition committee to monitor available properties as they came on the market.

Facing cutbacks

However, the recent decline in the automotive industry has hit us hard. It’s tempting to ask how this recession will affect the church and resolve to a maintenance ministry, “hunker down and ride out the storm” mentality. No new ministries, no new staff, and certainly no new property.

But God would not allow that. The Michigan Regional Center, a state-owned facility for the mentally-impaired, had closed in 2001 and in the summer of 2006 the state offered it for sale. The church’s bid was accepted and our new challenge has begun.

There are eight buildings on the campus built in the mid-1970s. Five of them are dormitories, single-level suite residences. One is a two-story clinical building with a medical wing and therapy swimming pool. The administration and maintenance building has a 5,600-square-foot warehouse, loading dock and truck bay. Finally, the recreation building has classrooms and a gymnasium. After the renovation it now serves as our fellowship center.

Shortly after the purchase we offered tours of the campus and the buildings. It took an hour to walk through the buildings. People would shake their heads in disbelief over the opportunity that God had given us.

Relocation planned

Over this past year and half we have also seen the challenges ahead of us. Ultimately our goal is to sell our current property and relocate all our ministries including worship, school, daycare and preschool to the new campus. Until then we have begun various ministries on the campus and also begun, completed, and are in the midst of various renovation projects.

The first major project was the fellowship center. The renovation of this 15,000-square-foot building was completed almost entirely by volunteers. The only professional labor done was the new rubber floor in the gymnasium. The gym is used for our school’s sports and drama programs and basketball camps for the children in the community. The gym is also used for worship on a weekly basis.

The fellowship center hosts Bible Study Fellowship, a weekly women’s Bible study with more than 200 participants. The larger group breaks off into 17 smaller groups, demonstrating the amount of space in the fellowship center. Worship is held in the center each week with a Bible class following in the atrium, an open area used for Bible study and congregational meetings, and a large area with seating for 125 people.

The current project is the early childhood center, a former dorm that is being renovated into a 13,000-square-foot education building for Christ The King’s Preschool and Day Care ministries. The challenge for this project is knocking down walls (metal frame with plaster; that’s how they built it in the 70s) and replacing outdated systems with more efficient heating and cooling systems. Upon completion, the early childhood center will have seven classrooms, a conference and resource room, two large outdoor play areas, two indoor activity rooms and an art and science area.

The volunteerism in this project is vital to its success. The many hours put in by volunteers help keep the cost of such a major project within the means of our congregation. Demolition projects, painting, roofing, plumbing and finish carpentry are just few examples of what God’s people are offering in this one building.

As we move forward, two other dormitories will be renovated for our K-8 Christian elementary school. Much of what we learn in the renovation of the early childhood center will be helpful as we increase volunteerism in turning these former dormitories into a state-of-the-art elementary school.

Sanctuary is ultimate goal

Although there is much renovation to be done, the ultimate goal is the new construction of the sanctuary. This new place of worship will join the current fellowship center and future school building creating “one” place for gathering as a family in Christ.

The sanctuary is being built for the community. It is a challenge to convey this to everyone. Typically, churches are built by church members for church members. (Scary how easy the term country club can replace church in that sentence.) Our role in the community is to first provide a place where Christ is worshipped as the world’s Savior. Other ministries flow from there, like spokes from a wheel, the center being worship.

One of the biggest challenges is to realize that we are not building a church for us, but for those people in our community that we have yet to meet. Focusing on the future has also helped the dynamic of leaving our current church building.

These are many reservations about having to leave a facility that is paid for, in great condition and less than 50 years old. But at times God’s will calls for us to look ahead and not back; not to hold on to past blessings, but count on future ones.

The most exciting aspect of this project is not what we are doing, but what God is doing in this community. While we hope to serve him with expanded ministries in the area of seniors, children, and community participation, ultimately these plans will prosper by God’s guidance.

Jason Cashmer is associate pastor of Christ The King Lutheran Church and School in Southgate, MI. [ctk-church.org]


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