As Southland Christian Church considers the Lexington Mall property for the second of five planned satellite campuses across Central Kentucky, a church leader stresses one big difference between it and their first foray: They'll take more time.
Last year, Southland began services at its campus in Danville just three months after closing on the property that was part of an old Lowe's home improvement store in the Boyle County seat.
"We moved really fast, almost too fast in getting that up and running," said senior executive pastor Chris Hahn.
That happened because the megachurch on Harrodsburg Road in Jessamine County wanted to open the Danville campus in the fall, one of the two best times to open a church, Hahn explained. The fall works because people are getting back to a normal schedule as school starts. The other good time is Easter, when many consider returning to church.
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Time might be on Southland's side with the Lexington Mall property, for which the church has a contract to buy. While it's moving fast to involve the community — a public meeting will be held on the site Tuesday — Hahn said the church isn't likely to close on the property until after the new year. And the church will then do an extensive renovation of the mall building, which has been vacant since Dillard's left the site in 2005, or rebuild.
Behind the campaign
Southland's decision to buy the property at Richmond Road near New Circle Road is part of a campaign dubbed 10-7-5.
The campaign hopes to see Southland bring 10,000 people to worship by Jan. 1, 2017, at five satellite campuses. Achieving that seven-year goal would double the number who weekly call the Harrodsburg Road site their spiritual home.
The campaign has its roots in discussions the church's leaders had a few years back, as they began to evaluate what would happen as Southland grew from 8,000 weekly to 10,000.
"None of us were really excited about sinking millions and millions on this site to get even bigger," Hahn said.
The leaders determined "we really had been focusing internally" and needed to look to grow outside Harrodsburg Road. They decided to take cues from other churches around the nation that have begun using satellite campuses.
They looked at Lexington's suburban cities including Frankfort, Georgetown, Richmond and Danville. They considered Danville because they knew a large number of people already drove from there to weekend services, Hahn said. They were also excited by the proximity to Centre College.
"When you can reach a college campus, you're kind of reaching the world because people will get an education, and they'll go back to where they were and share Christ," Hahn said.
Starting a satellite
With a city chosen, Southland's leaders turned to their members who live in Danville, people such as Bill and Lana Yeary and Mark and Jan Cassidy, just as they will do as they begin to work at Lexington Mall.
"We don't want to presume walking into that community that we understand the community," Hahn said. "We wanted to rely on them."
Besides their insight, the couples were among those who helped bring in chairs and tables and even run wiring for the security system as part of the renovation that happened between the leasing of the Danville property in June and its opening in September.
The Cassidys volunteered to provide muffins and coffee for the church's first year. But not all the equipment was ready that first Sunday. Mark Cassidy, who manages Danville Country Club, brewed 18 gallons of coffee at the club and brought it over.
"It was just amazing that first Sunday," Bill Yeary III recalled. "I don't think anybody knew what to expect, whether there would be a hundred people or 500 people.
"We knew Southland knew what they were doing, but we were truly amazed there were 600."
Everything at the two Sunday services each week is done locally — from the communion service to the offering collection. The one notable exception is the sermon. That message is a video broadcast of the one at Harrodsburg Road, a way for the congregation to stay on the same page, church pastor Jon Weece has said.
Attendance in Danville has averaged 600 since the opening, and now the church's members have ramped up their planned community involvement.
Lana Yeary said members have adopted Jennie Rogers Elementary School and plan to assist with tutoring, teacher appreciation and providing food for those in need.
It is programs such as those that will come with the campus at Lexington Mall. Hahn said leaders hope to receive good input at the Tuesday public meeting.
"We really want to listen well to what the needs are," he said. "That will drive the building needs."
The site is sure to evolve, too, just as the Danville campus has in nearly a year in operation. It started with children's ministries but had no middle school and high school programming. Leaders quickly realized, though, that those were needed. They're now among the work of the seven staffers on site.
Those staffers have adjusted quickly to changing needs, but Hahn said the leadership hopes the future staff at Lexington Mall, particularly the campus pastor, will be able to work at Harrodsburg Road "for six months to a year before we open the doors."
"Our campus pastor in Danville wasn't afforded that and just got a crash course," he said. "He's done great, but it would be great to have that time."
Time to build?
And just because the campaign slogan says seven years, that goal is not set in stone.
"It's really more of a vision and dream," Hahn said, adding the church isn't adamant about having all five satellites open in a certain amount of time or even five total. "The motivation behind all of it was let's go share God's love with more people, and things will grow."
As for where else the church might look to expand, Hahn said leaders receive calls and e-mails weekly from people in communities including Pikeville and Corbin about expanding there.
But for now, Southland will be focusing solely on Lexington Mall, said Kurt Braun, its executive director of finance and administration.
"The magnitude of this next campus will take all of our time and attention for a while," he said.