In their new, reimagined church home — a former Best Buy — Forward City Church can finally do ministry the way its founders have always dreamed of
By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
Pastor Travis Greene and his wife, Dr. Jackie Greene, started Forward City just five years ago after relocating to Columbia, SC from Charlotte.
Though the cities are merely 90 minutes apart, Travis says he never imagined moving to Columbia. Aside from his parents meeting in high school nearby, he knew next to nothing about the city.
“We were really loving living in Charlotte, but we just felt that we were supposed to start a church and [began] to pray about location,” he recalls. “Really, prayer is what positioned us here. It’s just that simple.”
Of course, it proved to be the right move.
The Greenes began with a Monday night worship gathering in April 2016. More than 600 people showed up — not just potential members, but also spectators and supporters. Dozens of people were saved that day.
By August 2016, organic growth moved Forward City Church to host Sunday morning services, where about 400 worshippers gathered, on average, every weekend.
It didn’t take long before the church outgrew its small building on Legrand Road. “We always had more people than we had space,” Travis recalls. “That was our biggest challenge.”
While he became adamant about finding more space within the first year, he changed his focus in 2019. “My prayers started shifting from wanting more space, to focusing on strategy and systems and processes, and making sure that the way that we did ministry had a great flow to it,” he recalls. “We made sure that outreach, children ministry and life groups were being maximized.
“We really started taking an assessment of how we were doing ministry,” Travis adds. “That opened the door for the favor of God for this new building.”
“Everything was supernatural”
Indeed, by 2020, Forward City was looking for a new, much larger space. Uniquely, retrofitting a retail store was on Travis’s radar from the beginning. In fact, he says he felt like he’d “looked at almost every vacant commercial building in Columbia.”
Ultimately, a former Best Buy emerged as the best fit.
For one thing, at 45,000 square feet, it was huge. Plus, parking was already established, and the roof was in good shape. Last but not least, Forward City got a great deal on the space.
Critically, the building also had high ceilings and was a standalone building, both of which would be vital to maximizing Forward City’s nationally regarded music ministry.
“It was going to be loud in there, and we weren’t really close to anything,” Travis explains. “So, that was super attractive for us.”
He certainly knows what to look for in this respect: in addition to pastoring, Travis is a two-time Grammy-nominated gospel artist and winner of several Stellar Gospel Music Awards who performs and speaks around the world.
Perhaps not surprisingly, then, the first expertise he enlisted for the new building was audio/video/lighting/acoustics (A/V/L/A) systems integrator AE Global Media, Inc. — in particular, CEO Donnie Haulk.
Whereas much of the original church building’s AVLA setup was done in-house by Travis and some other staff members, he and Haulk have worked together for years, touring and putting together other music projects.
It makes sense, then, that Travis sought AE Global Media’s trusted experience when he shot for the moon with the AVLA quality in the new church home. The result is a state-of-the-art, 900-seat worship space that’s perfect for concerts and special events. It includes several LED wall units and, as Travis puts it, “crazy light packages” and “sound that’s out of this world.” There is even a recording studio in the space.
The new sanctuary is also ideal to host Dr. Jackie Greene’s popular, widely lauded women’s ministry groups and events, including Permission World, Dig Deep, and Dr. Jackie Greene Ministries (DRJG). An accomplished author, Dr. Greene has written Permission: Returning to the God-Created You and Dig Deep Devotionals: Remain. Her audiences, too, are vast.
Much more than music
But these are just a few of the ministries Forward City prioritizes; the Greenes are also highly committed to youth and children’s discipleship. The new building needed to put these offerings front-and-center.
Having never led a building project, Travis again relied on Haulk for his insights.
Haulk recommended Churches by Daniels — namely, CEO Charlie Daniels — and the three gentlemen met a few times. Travis says he knew early on that Daniels was the right choice after Daniels wholeheartedly bought into the vision from the beginning, including the call to retrofit a massive retail space.
“Retrofitting seems to be a trend,” Daniels acknowledges. “I didn’t do anything like this early on in my career, but we’ve finished several such projects in the past few years.”
He says there are several reasons why retrofitting is gaining momentum. Chief among them: it often delivers the best value for the monies available.
That part was critical for Travis, because the church started the project with less than $100,000 in the bank. That cash was earmarked to help pay for the former Best Buy.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT FORWARD CITY CHURCH
Year established: 2016
Combined weekly attendance: 1,000
Amazingly, the church then raised an additional $2 million-plus for the project. It’s an ambitious feat at any time, but especially during a pandemic.
“We had no idea how much we’d be able to fundraise; there’s just no way to predict that we could raise that much within six months,” Travis says. “It was really divine how it all happened.”
With these funds in hand, the conversation changed. A lot.
“We were, like, Wait a minute. What does it look like if we actually own the building outright?” he explains. “Once we were able to make that shift, it gave us more leverage.”
“Prayer was really the pillar for everything,” he adds. “At that point, I really felt like we shouldn’t phase the project. Why not just go after the whole thing and trust God? So that’s what we did.”
Accordingly, the project that was originally envisioned in three phases (beginning with a sanctuary and some restrooms) will be 100-percent complete when it opens its doors in early 2022.
The newly reimagined church will include a youth room that, on its own, is as large as Forward City’s entire sanctuary on Legrand Road. This scale reflects the important of this ministry to the church.
“When people walk in, it’s like, Wow!” Travis says. “You can get 300 people in there. We’ll be able to do functions [and host] so many other initiatives in that space.”
Additionally, the new facility boasts the largest, highest (20 feet) indoor playground in the region — another vision Travis asked Daniels and his team to realize.
“To me, that playground delivers the wow factor for any visitor, especially kids,” Travis says.
The new facility even includes an arcade with games and pool tables for church youth, as well as classrooms and meeting spaces.
In its new home, Forward City will now be able to do ministry the way Travis, Dr. Jackie and their team have aspired to for years.
No one does it all alone
In the end, the value of a trusted building partner has been essential for Travis, especially as he maintains his busy travel schedule.
“I really think [Church by Daniels’] tagline needs to be ‘helping lead pastors avoid stress,’ because this whole process has been pretty stress-free,” Travis says. “They’ve been just a tremendous blessing.”
It seems the admiration is mutual.
“[Travis] and his congregation are just some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” Daniels says. “It really comes through, how he loves his people.
“He’ll outgrow this building, too,” Daniels adds. “It’s just who he is.”
When he does, Travis is likely to pursue another retrofitting project.
“That’s probably going to be my model,” he says. “You avoid so many headaches and save so much money because the ground is already leveled. There’s already cement, which is crazy expensive. There are so many advantages to just literally going in with some sledgehammers and opening up the space so you can build it out how you want.”
It stands to reason, then, that Travis encourages other church leaders to consider reimagining an existing retail space for their own ministries.
“My goal is definitely to help increase the faith of any builders or any pastors or leaders who are looking to do a sizeable project,” he says. “I had very clear direction on what to do and how to do it. For me, that made all the difference.”