A House of God
Good coffee, that was the key. People, no matter how pious, no matter how much the Holy Spirit lived in them and lived in the church, people would follow the smell of a single origin dark roast from some faraway land like Colombia or Sumatra like the great star that led the Magi to the newborn Christ. Good Coffee was right there with engaging sermons and worship.
It was small insights like that which kept Bob gainfully employed. In America, a new church sprung out of the ground like a fresh Spring daisy but, unlike the flora, hoped to stay around through many winters until the day that Christ felt appropriate to bring them on home. Bob, a lifelong Christian, had built up almost seventy churches across the US and treated each one like he was just starting out.
He met with the leaders of his next project, Elevate: A Christian Experience Church. The lead pastor was young, bald, and had an intense stare like that of a hawk eyeing a rabbit. Speaking to him was more like an ocular sparring match than wise council or the meeting of minds. Though Pastor Braxton never said as much, Bob felt like whenever they interacted, he was losing.
They sat at the Denny's across from the fish market that would become Elevate. The owner himself kept coming over to check on their table, excited about all the business that early morning activities like Churches would mean for his business.
"Nothing like a bite after a long sermon, that's how I roll", he said as he filled the coffees for everyone, except June, who drank decaf and then, only one cup because she was six months pregnant.
"Especially early in the morning, " the owner finished to none in particular, though to all of them at once.
"That brings up another point," Bob added. "Service times. I usually recommend doing a 9, an 11 and a 1, depending on how many people start showing up. If you can't support three services, go 9 and 11. If you can only do 1, make it a 9."
Pastor Braxton said nothing and June gave a look of concern before the youth pastor, Matt, made his opinion known.
"Well Bob, I don't know about you, but it's pretty hard to get me out of bed before 8. Since we are trying to draw on a younger crowd, I think later service times are the key to capturing the youth, your 18-30 somethings."
There were a few slight nods around the table, and Bob cleared his throat. He'd seen this before.
"Well, it's true that you'll get a larger portion of young folks closer to noon, that's not always going to be the case. Around later August, early September, late starting churches see a huge drop-off of attendance until around January. We call it the 'Fumble Tumble'. The NFL isn't going to change its schedule for anyone and no matter how much fire you breathe, you're not going to compete with most men, regardless of age."
There were more concerned looks around the table before Braxton spoke up. "I think we can adjust our times accordingly. Those months out of the year, we can do 11 am and the rest of the time, switch to 1." June, Matt and the others nodded and smiled. Braxton was a man of conviction, a good man to have leading a church. Bob could see Elevate was going to succeed. Of course they were, they hired him. What other indicators of future success could they need?
They finished the meal and headed over across the street to the fish market. The Shoreman's Warf was a chain of fish markets that advertised fresh fish flown in from all over the country and even the world. Freshness was the key to their business and when Corona Virus hit in 2020, the supply chain fiascos meant rotted fish delivered a week later and the business did not survive the first 52 weeks needed to flatten the curve.
The group did a tour of the large, warehouse like building. The floors were concrete, which, while practical, were not inviting and were to be covered by laminate tile. It wasn't a Medieval Cathedral. Nor one of those Russian churches with the ornate golden domes. Bob wondered if such a monument to God could be built in America. Places like Harvard, Yale, Brown; these were once seminaries that educated men of God in every aspect of his creation. Now, they exist to spite him. If they built something to last, Bob feared it would get turned into an abortion clinic within thirty years. Where two or more are gathered, that is where God is. Today, Notre Dame is a "cultural center”.
There was a pungent odor of rotted fish that forced June to abandon the group and the men endured for the remainder. Getting rid of the smell was the tantamount issue. A church is a welcoming place and guests should feel comfortable when attending. No one can experience the awesome presence of God while smelling the carcasses of the catch of the day, give or take six months.
Doing their best to ignore the smell, Bob led the group to where he thought the coffee bar should go.
"This area has a water line, gas line and enough outlets to make a good coffee bar without needing too much work outside of just building the thing," Bob explained. "I always recommend coffee bars for places that can afford to give up the space and so far, I've always been right. People flock to them like flies to... well, they come in droves."
"Coffee bar is a must, but are we going to have enough room for it and a kid's ministry?" Braxton asked.
"Kids' ministry is one of our top priorities," Matt added. The other two fellas that were with the group nodded, though did little else except agree with Braxton and disagree with Bob.
"Well, we've found that when it comes to kids' ministry, the guests love them but usually rank coffee bar above child care. Weird to think about, but I've got the data to prove it."
"What if we did just a coffee station and built out the kids' ministry? I don't know how many times you've preached with a bunch of crying and screaming kids in attendance, but it breaks me out of my flow. Kids ministry is a must."
"Coffee station can work. Perhaps we can build out the coffee bar at your next location down the line."
They all nodded with certainty. There was no doubt there would be a next location. Bob's churches always expanded. They'd buy up another fixer upper in a town over and grow the flock there. Growing the Kingdom of God one church at a time. The great commission in action.
"You're either a crying church or a dying church. You'll get a lot of young families with a kids' ministry, that's true." He said to reassure, but more for himself than anyone else.
Construction took a few months and all the while, the serve team was being built from the ground up. Kids ministry volunteers, security volunteers, the Worship team, prayer team. The Ushers, the Parking attendants, the greeters, the online team to build the website and stream the sermons so families could watch church from the comfort of their own couch. What was once only five people became a network of Christian volunteers and Bob was playing the orchestra, getting people where they needed to be, training whoever needed to be trained and keeping the Pastors out of it as much as possible so they could focus on building the body of Christ.
The contractor, a gruff, terse man, approached Bob with the first hiccup of the project. It was late in the build and Bob was surprised that it had taken this long before there were any bumps in the road at all. The contractor had sawdust covered hands and cement in the little hair he had left and wore a gold crucifix around his neck and tried to save the church as much as he could cost wise without skimping on anything or shorting any of his guys.
"Well Bob, it's like this. A/C is pretty well fu-" the contractor caught himself. "fudged. Whoever built this place built it to be a giant icebox. Which makes sense since it used to be a fish market. But your power bill is going to be through the roof if you run the system as is. I've got a guy who can block off a few vents, but the way these things flow, you'll need to open an exhaust vent where you have the giant wooden cross.”
Bob thanked him and took the suggestion under consideration. It was the symbol of the whole religion. The torture device that Christ used to defeat death and sin. But there had to be HVAC. Hot summers and cold winters blessed this town and a church without it was one destined to become a Spirit Halloween by the next September. He brought the issue to Pastor Braxton, who was working in his office at the back of the building.
"Hello Bob, what can I do for you?" he asked, putting his bible down and writing down a few notes on a yellow legal pad.
"Am I interrupting?”
"Not at all. Just adding some scripture to my opening series on Christian marriage. I call it 'Stepping Up: A Guide for Men’.”
"Sounds like a good way to introduce yourself to the congregation.”
"Certainly. So what's up?”
"Contractor says we need to remove the cross on the wall behind the stage in order to get the HVAC situation resolved.”
"Gotta have A/C. It's not even a conversation.”
"I know, but that cross... It just doesn't seem right.”
"Well Bob, you know what makes a church? It's not the building or the iconography or even a large crucifix. It's the people. The body of Christ. That's the mission and we are going to save a lot of people and the only way we do it is by giving them a place like their own home where they can hear the Gospel and Worship the Lord and build the ties that bind us together.”
Bob felt relief and though he harbored reservations, he remembered that it wasn't his church he was building and it wasn't the Pastors' either, but God's. And theirs was a God of relationship, not of symbols or ritual. The cross was removed, and the stage looked like what one would at any other concert venue. The Worship team had their first practice, and it was clear that a drum screen was needed around the kit, as it crowded out the rest of the instruments.
The opening weekend was kicked off by a huge social media campaign. A few Christian influencers from the area posted that this Sunday, they'd be attending Elevate, and the combined views on the church's Instagram went over a million. They were expecting anywhere between 150 to 1000 people in attendance that first weekend and the serve team was prepared for double that amount, Bob had them running so smooth.
"Growth. If you're not growing, you're dying. That's just the nature of this thing. I don't want to talk about money, per se. Too much criticism has been levied at Christians when it comes to money. I don't know about you, but I drive the same Toyota Corolla that I did ten years ago and I'm going to keep driving it until the wheels fall off", Bob addressed the team.
"But we have to keep the lights on and there are logistical realities that can't be ignored, just because you might worry that money is involved. Folks, money is not the root of all evil. It is the love of money. And every man or woman that walks in that door, they're going to, in the backs of their minds, believe that we are here to fleece them. Because they know someone that was led astray. Because they heard a news story. Because they saw it in a movie. The enemy has so many ways to turn people against God and his church. We have to show people the love of Jesus Christ, whether they write a check to this church or fill up on coffee and leave. This Sunday, we have our first sermon," the crowd started to clap and holler. "We've got the building ready. We've got people bringing people bringing people from all over. And as soon as we're done here, that's it, it's yours, I'm out." There were a few murmurs. "That's what I do. I help get you on your feet and hope you fly, but I can't stay for forever and I don't think you'd want me to. But you've got my cell phone, you've got my email. Heck, I live an hour away and if you want to drive out and get a cup of coffee, I'll make the time. But this is yours now and I'm proud of you. All of you.”
Bob left them like an old, retired general dismissing his troops, another man ready to take the reins and lead them to their next battle. On the drive home, he passed billboards for ambulance chasing lawyers and ED supplements that the FDA 'didn't want you to know about'. Bob wondered if what he did made any difference at all. The churches he helped start spread the Grace of God, but spoke little in the ways God called on his people to change. At the last opening Sunday he'd attended, a young man, maybe Sixteen, was talking to a group of boys about one of the young women he swore he recognized from her OnlyFans account. Bob wished he could go back to before he knew what that website was and to the time when he believed the family men he surrounded himself with were upstanding, moral patriarchs and less so a crop of degenerates, slaves to their lusts.
It wasn't that he was without sin. There was only one in Bob's mind who was, and he was murdered for it. No, Bob knew that in the eyes of God, his sins weighed as heavy as any pimp's or prostitute's. But he still lamented that perhaps he was building comfortable lies. Perhaps the barriers to entry that other kinds of Christians built were for some purpose. Maybe Johnathan Edwards had a point and in the rush to grow, Bob did not consider that tumors can grow faster than a body can fight them off.
It was about time for him to go to Saturday evening service when he got home. He changed his shirt and was back out the door. He used to loathe going, but Mary had always insisted and he stopped fighting it long ago. Now it was a fight to keep him home. Even during the lockdowns, when the whole world was reluctant to look one another in the eye, Bob was standing under the revival tent that he'd stood under since he'd come to Jesus. He brought his wife to that tent until the day she died, as well as every one of their children and their children's children. God's holy spirit lived in Bob, at least he believed it did. He was blessed and made it his mission to spread his blessing to whoever would hear him. Whatever doubts Bob harbored, he knew that if it were all on his shoulders, he'd have failed long before. But Bob believed in the plan. And perhaps the next great holy man was entering Elevate because he'd heard the coffee was good.