New Anchorage churches hold services in school buildings – 2/21/15

During the past year, I’ve attended church services of five church plants here that hold services in public schools. I like the concept of church organizations renting school facilities for after-hours use. The Anchorage School District allows renting elementary, middle and high schools in a businesslike manner. Use charges offset costs of our public school facilities when not in use.

I can see some advantages in using public schools, compared to brick and mortar churches: Schools have slightly more convenient parking, uniform layout for bathrooms, classrooms for teaching children, and large, well-lit multipurpose rooms for worship services. Disadvantages might be the need to bring tables, sound and projection equipment, and displays. However, compared to the cost of purchasing and maintaining a fixed church facility, a rental fee paid to ASD more than compensates for using such a facility. This week’s column will describe two churches using this model for worship services. In subsequent columns, I’ll do the same for other churches.

Clear Water Church

I attended Clear Water Church’s service Sunday. The congregation meet at Wendler Middle School in the multipurpose room, and uses classrooms for “children’s church.” The service lasted about 1 hour and 10 minutes. It consisted of a musical praise time with a small praise band, a heartfelt personal testimony by one of its members, a pastoral time of connection, and a sermon. The sermon, delivered from a script by an affiliated congregation pastor, was a windup of the lengthy series on the Bible called “The Story.” Clear Water conducts communion every other week, and communion was given Sunday. Personally, I liked the service. There was no pressure at any point and attendees were a pleasing mix of millennials to those in their late 50s.

Rev. Mike Merriner of Clear Water said they began meeting at Wendler in 2013, and have been meeting there since. Following up on my observation on millennials, he says 58 percent of attendees are in that category, with 8 percent being college students. The Wendler site was chosen for its proximity to UAA and APU. Clearly it has been a wise choice. In response to a question from me about the cultural pressures and issues millennials face, such as sex, marriage, abortion, afterlife, etc., he said “I think what the millennials attending Clear Water Church appreciate is our willingness to present the Biblical truth claims and argue for their wisdom. Life is better done God’s way. Where else are young people going to get this than in church?”

Merriner, an Anchorage native, received a master’s degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, returning here in 2001. He’s pastored at ChangePoint and Faith Christian Community. Clear Water’s sending church was ChangePoint. A sending church actually facilitates planting a new church in the community, helping it get started financially, prayerfully, and with staff, as necessary. Dan Jarrell, ChangePoint’s teaching pastor, commenting on Merriner noted “When he launched Clear Water, we encouraged people to join him if they shared his vision and even sent one of our elders to help since he was very interested in that work and a close friend and supporter of Mike. We have no authority in those works, but provide counsel and physical support (monthly financial support can often be part of that as are things like buying chairs and tables for them, etc.)”

Clear Water’s vision statement is “Love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; love our neighbor as ourselves.” Its mission statement is “Go into all the world and make disciples, teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded.” Its motto is “God’s vision for life.”

Merriner, commenting on the meaning of Clear Water, said it’s “because our fundamental desire is to help people see reality as God sees it. We want to present God’s word so clearly that people can see God’s perspective on life as clearly as looking at the rocks on the bottom of crystal clear Alaskan lake.”

Clear Water meets at 10 a.m. Sundays at Wendler.

Chugach Covenant Church

I visited Chugach Covenant Church in October 2014 and commented on a facet of their services, immersion baptism, in my ADN column. The structure of their services is similar to Clear Water’s. Meeting at Begich Middle School in East Anchorage, C3 uses Begich’s multipurpose room and classrooms for children.

Rev. Dan Krause offered insight into their beginnings, and purpose. Feeling called to plant a church, he shared those thoughts with a friend, Rev. Mike Merriner of Clear Water. Through this contact, Merriner connected Krause with Rev. Mark Meredith, then pastor of Community Covenant Church in Eagle River. Meredith wanted to plant a church in East Anchorage and was looking for someone who might be interested in doing so. Through these connections a new church was born in 2011. Initially meeting in the Totem 8 Theater, they grew but were concerned with lighting and availability for children’s areas, sparking their transition to Begich.

Krause, responding to my question about targeting says “While we don’t have a specific target age group or demographic, we seem to primarily attract people from three groups; young families, military personnel, and people from the recovery community. As a former children’s pastor, I firmly believe that we must offer a safe place for kids to learn about Christ and begin a life-changing relationship with Him. We also believe that our location gives us a unique opportunity to reach out into the military community.”

Going further, Krause said “It is our vision to be a multiplying church that God uses to bring thousands of people of all race, culture, and economic standing to a transformational and reproducing faith in Christ Jesus our Lord. Starting in East Anchorage, extending into the surrounding communities, and to the rest of the world, we will be a church without walls that seeks to love and glorify God, love others, and serve all in Jesus’ name.”

I like the model these churches use; it obviously works. Many churches operate expensive facilities, calling for huge financial outlays annually. If you seek a solid church, consider these.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits.

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