It's a movie line about baseball. But likewise with churches, build it and they will come.
Even if, or maybe especially if, people don't see it as a church.
Devoid of a steeple or towering cross, The Ridge's 35,000-square-foot building is set to open with its first services today at 2800 Bonnell Road, located on 47 acres just east of Columbus. From the looks of the exterior, you might mistake it for a school, office building or even a conference center.
Walking though the glass, double doors to an open foyer with a welcome desk, soft colors and commercial carpeting, the decor doesn't offer many answers. And is that a coffee bar in the back? Next to the auditorium? Yes and yes.
All of this, lead pastor Jerry Day said, is on purpose.
"It's designed with friends in mind," said Day, 52. And that's not a euphemism. Day is referring to friends of members and regular attendees, who may not be comfortable with traditional churches but who are curious enough about this non-church to stop by and check it out.
And because Day says that certain religious terms and symbols can take on a negative connotation for those who have turned away from the religion, they take a bit of a back seat here.
"We think through the eyes of someone who has given up on church," Day said. "If we do use them (religious symbols), we try to give it context."
Opening of the building also marks the beginning of a new era for a church that has more than a 50-year history in Columbus.
The Ridge, formerly known as Berean Bible Church, opened in 1957 at 51 N. Brooks St. Final services at that location were conducted last week.
Day's father, Jerry Day Sr., became pastor in 1963. Under the senior Day's leadership, the church grew to eventually see about 400 members in regular attendance, and he oversaw at least five building expansions.
But by the time the younger Day graduated from Bryan College and the Dallas Theological Seminary and joined his father in the pulpit in 1990, he began having doubts about traditional forms of worship.
"I could see that the American culture was changing rapidly, and the traditional church in America was not changing," he said.
Numbers support those perceptions.
According to a Gallup poll, in 1958 — just one year after the Berean Bible Church was formed — 82 percent of Americans believed that religion could answer all or most of the day's problems, while only 7 percent considered religion to be old-fashioned. By 1991, only 63 percent of Americans felt religion held the answers to life's problems, while 25 percent considered it outdated.
Though Day says church attendance at Berean was holding steady, he felt it was time for a change. Not changing presented the risk of losing members who might begin to feel that his church was no longer relevant.
Throughout the ’90s, Day and his leadership team slowly transitioned the church to more of a modern format, attempting to reach people who might have been turned off by staid religious traditions and bring them back into the fold.
The first step was identifying a target audience: ages 25 to 50 and young families. Then, Day tried to envision what a service would seem like to someone who had never attended church. Services took on a singular theme in hopes that attendees would be more likely to retain the message, and Sunday evening services were replaced with small groups and Bible studies. Contemporary songs sometimes stood in for hymns. And about once every six weeks, he introduced dramatic interpretations or multimedia presentations.
Board president Mark Malburg also grew up in a traditional church and joined Berean shortly after moving to Columbus in 1989. Then in his early 20s, Malburg said it didn't take him long to be on board with Day's vision.
"It made me stretch and really question, 'What are we doing with church?' It's fine to serve your congregation, but what are we doing to reach out to others?" Malburg said.
Not everyone was on board as quickly.
Day acknowledges that the church lost some of its members during this period of transition; but he added that as far as he knows, all of those members found another traditional church to suit their needs. And it's probable that many of them landed at Bible Church of Columbus, which Jerry Day Sr. founded shortly after leaving Berean Bible Church in 1997.
"There were some people who didn't embrace that change," Day said. "Those were some tough times."
However, it seems that those who left were replaced by new faces, as attendance remained steady until the early 2000s, when efforts to fully transition to a contemporary nondenominational church were ramped up. Perhaps the most symbolic change was adopting a new name.
Malberg said that the rigid, difficult-to-pronounce name may have seemed unapproachable to some.
"Our name was a barrier," he said. "We decided that if we were really going to do everything we could to reach Columbus, we had to change it."
In 2008, The Ridge — a reference to a slight geographical ridge on the church's land — was adopted at the suggestion of Fishhook, a marketing and consulting firm in Indianapolis that helps church and Christ-based organizations "catch more."
And indeed they have.
Between 2007 and 2012, regular Sunday attendance tripled to 1,200, spread between three identical services, with an additional 100 or so teenagers attending a Sunday evening youth service, making The Ridge the fastest-growing congregation in Columbus.
In the new building, a 650-seat auditorium has regular chairs instead of pews. A stage, complete with theatrical lighting and sound equipment, takes the place of an altar.
Each service is produced by as many as 50 volunteers, including production teams for sound, lights, stage direction and drama direction. They rehearse the service throughout the week. Youth programming, which takes place across the foyer in a multipurpose room called The Hub, is equally elaborate and attracts nearly 300 kids each week.
But for all the branding and buzz words, Day says his main goal each Sunday is help attendees connect with God and the Bible.
"God has put it on my heart to pastor this kind of church," Day said. "I couldn't pastor any other way."
While The Ridge seems to be having success getting congregants through the door, Day acknowledges that the church hasn't avoided the same challenge facing just about every church these days: Getting them to come back regularly and make The Ridge their church home.
"It's important that we move them from just attendance to becoming more committed to their relationship with God," Day said.
While 1,200 people attend each Sunday, church membership is actually about a third of that. With a new building to help provide momentum, he's optimistic that membership will grow.
In fact, Phase II of the rebuild, which calls for an expansion and a larger auditorium, already has been developed.
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