The Soma Center (part 1)

“If God is with you, make your plans big.” -D.L. Moody

Ever since God steered me away from the path of professional music ministry, and toward the ideals of The Core, I have been steadily losing my far-sightedness. In other words, I’m still not sure I know what I want to be when I grow up. Graphic design makes a good day job, and I enjoy it. It can even pay well if you’re lucky. Pastoring The Core feels like a good fit for me, too, but I don’t really know what The Core will look like in 5 or 10 years, and I don’t think I’m cut out to leave it and plant more churches, and many, many other churches already in existence that I could pastor would probably want me to be something I’m not.

But today, I feel like I got a glimpse.

Even from early on in the operation of the Front Porch, I’ve had a “wandering eye” of sorts. I tend to leer at these big, old buildings in broken down industrial areas that are obviously longing to be gutted and remodeled. Springfield has no shortage of them. God has got to have something in mind for these monsters… but when I start the infill in mind, I run out of dreams before I run out square footage, and it just starts to seem like a project for a project’s sake.

Meanwhile, in another sector of my mind, I look at all the wasted space inside church walls. Basketball courts that get used twice a week, if that, and probably less than once a week for basketball. Auditoriums that sit empty 85% of the time; Classrooms that get more attention from a housekeeper than a class; Dining areas and fellowship halls and multi-purpose rooms that just seem to be twiddling their thumbs, dying for a little action.

Don’t get me wrong. In the context of our current faith culture, most of these churches are doing a fine job maintaining and using their facilities. But isn’t it possible that there’s a better solution? Large churches nearly always have more space than they need (even if the surplus is on weekdays) and small churches lack the amenities and ministries and facilities that draw so many to “Six Flags Over Jesus.”

I am not against megachurches. However, there is a special place in my heart for those smaller bodies who truly believe in holistic fellowship, and relational discipleship, yet always struggle to gain a foothold in our society due to a lack of resources, connections, or both.

You may love the prayerful atmosphere at the House Church, but they can’t remedy the constant distractions your children create.

You may love the spiritual growth at the Simple Church, but you feel isolated as the only single person over age 25.

You may love the sense of community at the Coffeehouse Church, but you can’t get past the memories of support groups, mission trips, book studies, youth events, and basketball clubs at your old megachurch.

My question: Why should these two problems continue to exist? Why should resources go wasted at large churches, and go lacking at small churches?

My answer: A large, urban Church Co-Op Center. For now, let’s imagine it would be called the Soma Center (Soma being the Greek word for “body”.)

Before I go into any detail, let me paint a few pictures for you:

Imagine a small network of House Churches. Each one functions well on its own, but they love to get together once a month to stay on the same page, and broaden their circles of fellowship. They can reserve an auditorium at the Center for just such an occasion. Or even for other occasions, such as a wedding, baptism, funeral, or just a big party for no good reason. And if one of the House Churches in this network doesn’t have a suitable home to meet in, they can take advantage of one of the Center’s several cozy meeting rooms.

Imagine a small traditional church nearby, which has recently gained a few youth members, and an energetic youth leader, but has no money for a youth facility. They could reserve a space at the Center, and run a shuttle back and forth. Or maybe all they need is a basketball court once a month, or a venue to have occasional concerts. Perhaps the church doesn’t need space for youth so much as for children, and a teacher can chaperone the children as they board the shuttle for the ride to and from their church building.

Imagine a small group of divorcees who all go to small or medium-sized churches without a DivorceCare ministry. This group can organize itself, and rent out a space at the Center. Perhaps one or more of their churches would even choose to help cover such a minimal expense. Or it could be a child-rearing club, or a discussion group, or a prayer gathering.

Imagine a church plant just barely off the ground, meeting in a high school. They’ve got their worship space, but they can’t run the office out of the pastor’s house anymore. They can rent one or two rooms of furnished office space at the Soma Center, much more affordably than anywhere else. And they may even decide to move their Sunday morning service to the Center’s Auditorium while they’re at it.

Imagine a church that’s got everything they need except for storage space for some of their seasonal or cumbersome items. The Center can provide that to them, as well.

I think we’ve concluded as Americans that the only way to get all the “amenities” of the Christian Life is to grow churches that are large enough to pull them all off. But is there any reason that people from two (or more) different denominations can’t share a building, especially when it is owned and run by an ecumenical and benevolent third party? I don’t see why not.

Here is a list of a few features I envision for this Center:

  • Auditorium for 200-400 people
  • Chapel for 80-120 people
  • Gymnasium
  • Concert Venue
  • Coffeehouse
  • Office Space
  • Classrooms / Meeting rooms
  • Youth and Children’s Education space
  • Daycare
  • Storage Space

This is not to say that the church has been necessarily been going the wrong direction… in fact, it has done many things right. But it has done these right things separately, individually, rather than corporately. And each church winds up feeling like jam spread over too much toast. Why not re-introduce the terms of first century church, when there was a “Church in Smyrna” and a “Church in Sardis” and a “Church in Corinth”. Likewise there could be a Soma Center in Cleveland, and one in St. Louis, and one in Minneapolis, each representing the geographic and cultural unities that were present in the time of the first apostles.

And yet, a facility alone (or 100 facilities alone) would not amount to a very big dream. Because ultimately the vision is to unify. To repent for our divisiveness, and return to the unity Jesus called us to exhibit. And I believe a beautiful expression of such a historic turning point would be an ecumenical network (I wrote about this idea in a past post called “One-ity“.) Let’s call it, for our purposes here, the Soma Network.

Read part 2.

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