(Photo: Westside Fellowship Church)
One church in North Carolina is bringing Jesus to the malls this Christmas season, offering worship and gift-wrapping services to holiday shoppers.
Westside Fellowship Church in Alamance County, for the second consecutive year, is renting out two spaces at Holy Hill Mall, hoping to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas.
“Our goal is to take Jesus to the people,” Kurt Ward, executive pastor of Westside Fellowship, told The Christian Post. “Everyone goes to the mall at Christmastime. Christmas has become so commercialized –for many Christmas is just about the shopping and the gifts. Through this outreach, we want to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas.”
“Redeeming” a space formerly rented by Spirit Halloween, the leaders of the church desire to fill the place with the Holy Spirit this Christmas instead. They offer everything from Sunday morning services to prayer stations staffed with volunteers ready to assist anyone in need.
On Fridays and Saturdays, they will also wrap gifts out of a desire to give to the people and be a good neighbor. The service is free to the public and is especially popular among fathers, who shop with their children, Ward described.
Westside Fellowship additionally rents out a former Victoria Secret space for use as a children’s ministry area.
“We’re hopeful that our presence [will] help remind people of the true meaning of Christmas,” the associate pastor shared with CP.
“We are located right next to the Santaland display, where Santa is on hand to take photos. It is great to have people in line waiting for Santa, knowing that they could be looking over at one of our signs that remind them of Jesus and his birth.”
The church, which usually meets on their permanent campus in Elon, holds no separate services on Sunday at their usual building. Senior pastor Mike Mitchener will preach to the congregation and curious shoppers every week starting in December, and will also be speaking on Christmas Day.
Mitchener envisioned the idea for their outreach at the mall last year in February.
“Twenty months ago ... our senior pastor Mike Mitchener started going to the West Burlington area to pray for God to bring revival,” Ward explained. “He would sit in his car in the parking lot of the mall and ask God to bring an awakening to the area and for Him to clearly show the role or roles that He wanted Westside Fellowship to play.”
“At the time, Mike wasn't specifically praying for the mall, just for the area in general. However, the mall itself was indicative of what was happening throughout the region.”
The Burlington area had been hard hit by the recession, and the mall in particular had lost several tenants to other profitable areas.
As a result, an investment group eventually purchased the mall with the goal to revitalize the area. One of the investors was a member of Westside Fellowship, which paved a way for the church to enter into the mall.
“God was urging the leadership team of Westside to step out in faith and become a multisite church. The desire was to reach the unchurched of the West Burlington area, while at the same time maintaining the strong sense of biblical community that God had created at Westside,” Ward added. “Westside, a church that celebrated its 10th anniversary in April 2011, had been designed to strategically carry out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.”
In order to do so effectively, Mitchener and the other leaders felt called to "go" – to move beyond the walls of its permanent worship center and reach out to a new area, like Holy Hill Mall.
“God has paved the way for much of this work,” the Westside pastor affirmed. “We feel that He orchestrated the steps that allowed us to be in the mall in the first place.”
The ownership and management have been very cooperative with the church, appreciating the additional traffic that Westside brings to the mall. The surrounding tenants have also been receptive to the church as well.
As far as the impact it has made on the community so far, the effects are ongoing.
Last December, 50 families visited the space at the mall for the first time. An additional 20 families made their second visit to the space again. Westside follows up with first time visitors through phone calls and letters.
Just this past Sunday, the church baptized four people who had visited them for the first time at the mall last December, Ward told CP.
The church, wanting a more permanent presence in the area, hopes to create a second campus for their members and visitors after this December and is confident that God will provide them with a space. “Our current, permanent worship center is only about six or seven miles from the mall, but it is out in a rural part of the county and the perception is that we are ‘way out there’ in the country. This year, we want to eliminate that excuse.”
“There are several churches in the West Burlington area. However, the majority of the people remain unchurched here. Many have some church background; however, many simple refuse to go to church. It is our desire to provide them with hope. We want them to see Jesus through us and come to a place where they recognize their need for Him.”
Services at Holy Hill Mall begin at 10:30 a.m. EST on Sundays. For more information, visit the church’s website here.