By thinking outside the box, West End Church created a unique opportunity to expand into a rapidly growing, otherwise cost-prohibitive area of Houston.
By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
For many churches, landlock and exorbitant property prices are all-too-common hurdles — especially in rapid-growth areas like Houston. Luckily, these proved to be surmountable for River Pointe Church.
Beginning in 2015, the decision to merge RPC with a struggling church in the West End area did more than just create a permanent home; it created unparalleled faith + community partnership and expansion opportunities.
Enter West End Baptist Church, a 109-year-old congregation which owned the entire block, including a 1,000-seat worship center; a three-story, 1930s-era building, and a circa-1960s educational center. Sadly, the church had dwindled to fewer than 20 congregants in recent years.
Senior Pastor Patrick Kelley and his team realized the impact that starting a campus in the area could have. At the same time, West End Baptist was facing a timeline from the city to meet building safety standards. Though church leaders were unable to do so financially, they had a multimillion-dollar offer from a developer on the table. That entity intended to build a high-rise apartment complex on the site.
“I told [them] I could make them a better offer: if they would merge with [us] and give us the property and buildings, then we would invest in the space and keep it as a church in the neighborhood,” Kelley recalls. “It was divine timing.”
West End leaders voted unanimously to merge with RPC. No doubt it was clear from the outset that preserving the church’s legacy was of utmost importance to both churches, beginning with the name.
“We wanted to keep the West End name because they had been in the location since 1930,” Kelley explains. “However, we’re not a Baptist church, so we dropped that part.”
West End Baptist’s interim pastor was given a three-year salary guarantee. RPC leaders promised to bring the buildings up to code and return the worship center to working order.
So began a major renovation project to preserve the space and meet the City’s requirements. For this, Kelley turned to the RPC’s architect of choice for several new-build projects: Houston-based Studio RED.
“Their enthusiasm for refurbishing rather than a teardown-and-rebuild gave great energy to the project,” Kelley says. “Their expertise and the way they took care of every detail gave us great confidence as we began to uncover surprise after surprise in the remodel.”
A classic space with contemporary functionality
The project began with the worship space, where West End Church embarked on a $6-million-plus renovation.
The lobby was enlarged, public restrooms were installed, a courtyard was created, and the office was renovated. All electrical, plumbing and mechanical systems were replaced, and state-of-the-art sound, lighting and video systems were installed.
Phase One also included renovating the first floor of the 1960s children’s building.
Coffee brings people together
Next came the 1930s-era building on the campus — the original children’s Sunday School building built for $8,000. Kelley says he and his team knew it would be a costly project, regardless of what the building became. As such, they had their eye on a space that would extend beyond the church.
“We believed that a coffee house, if successful, would provide resources to invest back into the community to fight homelessness and sex trafficking and to help with education in underserved areas of Houston,” he explains. “And the building has so much history, as well as classic architecture and building materials that we believed we could bring it back to life.”
To realize this ambitious vision, Kelley again called on Studio RED.
Today, The Coffee House at West End is a three-story café and venue space that is open to the public all week long. It features a unique rooftop deck with amazing skyline views of Houston and has the most available parking of any coffee shop in Houston— an excellent selling point for special events and church gatherings.
Though the coffee shop employs 25 part-time workers, church staff and volunteers (even Pastor Kelley himself!) regularly help out in the café. “It’s a grassroots effort providing something that hasn’t been done by a church at this caliber in the Houston area,” he says.
“There is life once again on this site”
Today at West End, a church with once just 17 members, is now a campus that more than 600 people call home. Kids are once again filling the children’s building, and young people are finding friends. Marriages — not just funerals — are being performed.
“There is life once again on this site,” Kelley says. “And the community surrounding the church is discovering ways in which the church makes the area a better place to live.”
Keeping the community at the forefront, once again
Well before the West End campus was built, River Pointe Church leaders were hyper-focused on engaging the surrounding community wherever they planted roots — and making that work regardless of site challenges.
“Typically, a church has to find property with problems in order to make it affordable,” Kelley explains. “Sites that are improved and ready for commercial development are typically not within reach of a church, especially a startup church. Solving site issues over time and building a facility around those issues is a more realistic path.”
Such was the case with RPC’s second campus, in Missouri City. It was built in 2019 on a seemingly undevelopable piece of land adjacent to the high school where the church’s satellite campus was meeting at the time.
The site housed protected wetlands and low-lying areas prone to flooding. There were zoning restrictions to contend with. Obtaining utilities would be a challenge, as would requirements for on-site detention of water runoff during storms.
Still, Kelley was undeterred.
“When we were portable, we were invisible until Sunday morning church,” he explains. “With an investment to establish a home in the community, we’re saying ‘We’re totally committed to serve this neighborhood.’”
Having the right expertise on hand made the uphill battle much more attainable. Studio RED Architects immediately teamed up with local landowners and professional partners to create a new hydrology for the site and neighboring parcels.
“[They] had the ability to ask better questions than I could [about this],” Kelley says. “By giving the city and FEMA different options, we were able to have more affordable solutions for drainage and flood control.”
Ultimately, RPC was able to retain eight usable acres of land out of the 18-acre tract — sufficient space for developing the campus. Extensive sitework was needed to provided detention basins and to raise the site, in some places by more than 7 feet. But the result was a new home for the Missouri City congregation, with enough room to grow.
Notably, this RPC campus — as well as the other two — offers the iFit Special Needs Ministry for children and adults. The ministry plans curriculum to help each age group learn about the love of Jesus at their own pace in a specially designed environment. Dedicated spaces are provided to tailor to special needs, including sensory sensitivities.
“Families with special needs children are a large part of our community, and we want to serve this group of people well,” Kelley explains.