One of the largest evangelical churches in the country recently received permission to build a bridge from its campus to a major highway to help ease the flow of traffic on Sundays.
North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga., will begin construction on the $5 million bridge in December. The bridge, the senior pastor said, will help draw more unchurched people who would otherwise find it difficult to attend because of the usual parking lot jam.
"Those of you who are regular attendees have learned to navigate the congestion without losing your faith in the process," Pastor Andy Stanley wrote in a letter to the 22,000-member congregation. "But you also know the complexity of inviting someone to 'Meet us at church.'"
"I have friends who say it's just too much like going to a Braves game."
The Alpharetta campus typically hosts over 7,000 cars during the three worship services held on Sundays. There are over 3,000 parking spaces but only two exits or entrances.
There is plenty of parking and plenty of seats in the worship center, but the challenge is getting people on and off the parking lot, Stanley pointed out.
Although the church can currently seat 4,800 people in one service, the infrastructure only allows them to comfortably accommodate around 3,500 people at a time.
"Once we go past 3,500 people at one time, it gets exponentially ridiculous in the parking lot," he told North Point congregants at a worship service earlier this month.
"I don't see this as ... building a bridge as much as I see it as a way for us to get maximum use out of a facility you have already built and paid for," he said.
For the past nine years, North Point leaders have wanted to create another access point to the campus. After conversations with the City of Alpharetta, Georgia State University, the North American Mission Board, and the Corps of Engineers, the megachurch finally received all the permissions necessary to proceed with the construction of a bridge.
The bridge will stretch 1,000 feet across flood plains and wetlands and connect the campus to Old Milton Parkway via Brookside Parkway. It will be constructed as a three-lane wide concrete bridge with a walkway.
When construction is completed in 2010, Sundays will feel like a Labor Day in terms of traffic, Stanley noted.
"Is it worth it?" the pastor posed.
"It all depends. If our mission is to be a church that's perfectly designed for the people who already attend, then we don't need a bridge. But if we want to continue to be a church unchurched people love to attend, then yes, it's worth it."
"I believe creating a second access point allows us to stay on mission," he added.
Addressing the skeptics, Stanley said he expects to get some emails and letters that ask "why don't we give $5 million to missions?" to which Stanley would respond, "We don't have $5 million to give to missions. We don't have the money. We're going to give the money. Then as this church continues to grow, we give millions of dollars away outside of this organization. That's one of the great things about having a big church."
He also stressed, "This is not about steel and concrete. This really is about the stories we hear week after week as people come to faith."
According to Stanley, this is the first capital campaign North Point is holding for a project benefiting the Alpharetta campus. Funds raised from previous campaigns have gone toward its multi-site campuses in Buckhead and Cumming.
Acknowledging the economic downturn, Stanley asked attendees, "Have we ever made financial decisions based on the economy as a church?"
"No," he answered. "We never miss money we give. You miss money you misspent, that you lost in the stock market, [or] misinvested."
North Point Community Church declined to provide further comments.