Megachurch Hopeful Not Welcomed

Megachurches or churches on their way to becoming megachurches are not always welcomed by neighbors, especially when plans for expansion mean more traffic and more noise for the local neighborhood.

Applewood Baptist Church in Wheat Ridge, Colo., has plans to build an additional three-story education building and a second parking lot with 300 spaces on a 6.85-acre site. The more than 40-year-old church has a membership of 1,500, sees some 800 attendants on Sundays and has four buildings on a 17.7-acre site.

Currently without any debt, according to the church website, Applewood has been considering how to keep up with and expand to accommodate recent and expected future growth.

Although expanding church space is on the church's agenda, neighbors are reportedly opposed to it.

"We get the signal that we are not welcome," said church deacon Tim Goodwin, according to the local Rocky Mountain News. "We think we're a good neighbor, but we're treated like we subtract from the community."

In December, the City Council rejected the church's proposal for expansion, which was then followed by an appeal that failed.

Area residents had sent e-mails and letters opposing the church expansion, according to Rocky Mountain News, complaining that the new plan would increase traffic and air and noise pollution and would make the church a disruption every day of the week with day care and after-school programs.

Such weekday services are already offered, according to Goodwin, and are provided to "minister to the community." And the new plan is a modification of the original plan which Applewood proposed in 2003.

Applewood plans to vote this month on whether to sue the city or move, the local news agency reported.

The church pastor, Calvin Wittman, noted that Applewood is not the only church meeting opposition.

"Churches across the country are facing this," he said, adding that the value of church expansion is not recognized because of the exemption from paying taxes.

Earlier this week, Christ Church in Rockaway Township, N.J., had its megachurch building plan approved after three years of hearings. The final resolution includes about 40 conditions attached to the megachurch building project.

The main concern over the building plan was the noise and traffic impact of the 5,000-member church. While Christ Church said it will decrease the number of services it holds from four to two on Sunday mornings, the final resolution called for a two-hour window between the end of the first service and the start of the next. The church had originally planned for a 90-minute window. Parking spaces are also limited to 900, but with the stipulation that the church could add parking if needed.

Christ Church purchased the new site, a 51-acre former Agilent Technology property on Green Pond Road, in 2005 for a reported $10 million. The proposed church would hold 2,500 people in the sanctuary.

A lawsuit filed in 2005 by the evangelical Christian church against the township remains under review. The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) was passed in 2000 to provide stronger protection for religious freedom in the land-use and prison context and has since been asserted in dozens of lawsuits, the RLUIPA website reports.

As Applewood considers a lawsuit, Goodwin insisted, "We will not be un-Christianlike in this."

Meanwhile, other churches have taken a different route – multi-site. When Seacost Church's plans to expand were rejected by the City Council, the church took its services to multiple locations. Seacoast is now in nine locations throughout South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia as well as the Internet, broadcasting sermons via satellite. A tenth campus will open in April.