The space behind Celebration Church looks like a field, empty except a beige modular. But where some see a barren field and an ugly building on concrete blocks, Pastor Dave McAlister sees a community center.
He sees a building with a full commercial kitchen and a gym with a weight room, space for aerobics and locker rooms with showers. He sees a building where children and teenagers can spend after-school hours and the low-income can receive free medical check-ups. He sees a building available for virtually any community need, for free.
“To me, church should be helping the community be all it can be,” explains McAlister, 50, of Renton’s Tiffany Park.
He says many churches have lost sight of those outside their congregations. As pastor, McAlister says his goal is to strengthen the community.
A community center has always been a vision of McAlister’s. But that vision didn’t have a chance of fulfillment until his church’s 2006 move to the Highlands. Before that move, Celebration Church was in a Cascade shopping center. And before that, in he and his wife Tandi’s Cascade apartment complex. The couple started the church in 1991.
The church’s past locations provided no room for expansion. Now, with five acres of open field, the Highlands property has plenty of space for new construction.
The contemporary Foursquare church has added about 40 members — including six newborns — since the move. And with those 120 church members crammed into a building almost three times smaller than the Cascade storefront, Celebration Church needs to expand.
“We went from 10,000 square feet to 3,800. We’re kind of crammed,” McAlister says of the small building set back from 148th Avenue Southeast.
His church could use more space for its many extra-curricular programs.
“Every night of the week we have something going on,” McAlister says.
Monday night is usually women’s ministry, Tuesday is choir and special music (any upcoming solos or duets), Wednesday is youth programs, Thursday is sermon encounter, when various groups discuss the upcoming Sunday sermon, Friday is usually some kind of self-improvement class and Saturday is run-through of the next morning’s sermon.
Because of lack of space, some classes operate outside church walls. A Spanish congregation meets at Celebration Church Friday nights, which forced the 15 couples in a recent Celebration Church marriage class to meet at a member’s home. Children’s Sunday services sometimes overflow into outdoor tents.
“We’re basically using the building to the maximum,” McAlister says.
In addition to an assortment of community events, the community center would house Sunday morning services. Children and youth programs would be held in the current Celebration Church.
So McAlister has the vision. Now he has to come up with the money. He estimates the center will cost $1.5 million to build. He hopes to have the building up in five years. Unless “some wonderful event” allows the center to go up sooner.
McAlister needs donations to bring his center to life, but he’s not asking for money.
“My belief is a pastor should never beg people for money to do a job the church itself has a vision for,” he says.
Instead, he hopes church membership will increase, and members will donate to make his vision a reality.
McAlister’s congregation already donates to the church, not only money, but time and effort.
Each Sunday sermon is a production in which various church members participate. McAlister’s weekly message is delivered not just through his words, but through drama, dance, sign language and choir. All under colored lights and fog machines. The theme — conveyed partly by elaborate stage decorations — changes every two months.
“Everyone is participating by using the gift God gave them,” McAlister says.
Everyone is participating, including those who set up the stage every two months. On a recent day at the church, the theme was Celebration University, demonstrated by a small chalkboard and and giant letter Rs hanging from the ceiling, standing for reach, revise, reveal and release. The next theme? The shepherd, illustrated with artificial sheep.
“Our core value is we believe church should be fun,” McAlister says.
The church’s roadside sign indicates that value. “Celebration Church,” it reads. “Who says going to church isn’t fun?”
McAlister’s unconventional approach turns off some, including many in the Foursquare congregation that met in the Highlands church before Celebration moved in. Maybe half of those church members left upon Celebration’s arrival.
“Most church people I may offend with things I say,” McAlister says.
Apparently Celebration’s members aren’t typical church people. All moved to the Highlands church from the Tiffany Park shopping center.
Before joining Celebration Church, McAlister says most members didn’t go or didn’t like going to church. Including McAlister. The Oregon-bred McAlister says he felt like a fish out of water at his four-year post as senior pastor in Tuscaloosa, Ala. There he had to wear a tie. Here he wears Hawaiian shirts.
“I got to the point where I didn’t even like going to our church,” he says.
So he moved west and started Celebration Church.
Before moving west, and before Alabama, McAlister worked as a youth pastor in Port Charlotte, Fla., and Winston, Ore.
In addition to money, McAlister and his congregation have to clear construction and zoning hurdles before their community center can be built. Already McAlister is struggling to ready the modular building for occupancy. He spent nearly $20,000 moving the building from a Foursquare church in Kirkland and expects to spend another $80,000 on permits and inspections. The modular would house some of the church’s programs, as a “temporary fix” before the community center is built. But it could be six to 18 months before McAlister can even get the modular permits.
“The most challenging part of the project is getting past all King County’s regulations,” McAlister says. “Hopefully, if King County can see the benefit for the community and schools, it will be more forward on getting this done.”
There’s a community center just down the road from his church, McAlister says. But it’s “nothing to the extent of what we want to do.”
He has many obstacles to overcome, but McAlister believes his community center will be built. His desire to build the center is motivated by his Christian faith.
“Jesus always met people’s physical needs before their spiritual. And that’s what I believe we as a church should do. We should create a community center to meet people’s physical needs. And when those are met we can help their spiritual lives too.”
Celebration Church is at 11840 148th Ave. S.E. Services are Sunday at 11 a.m. The services are also streamed live and archived on the church’s Web site, at celebrationfoursquare.org. For more information, call the church at 425-226-2381.