It’s sunny but chilly this Sunday morning in Portland, Maine. That’s typical for May. It’s Eastpoint Christian Church’s final week in this facility, their fourth location in 13 years, but such is the case for many church plants, especially in the Northeast.
Each location has had its challenges, but this one has been especially interesting. It’s a former DHL Express warehouse on the grounds of Portland International Jetport; worship and sermons are regularly interrupted by the roar of jets taking off and landing. Churchgoers have overlooked the noise and been thankful for the building, cramming nearly 1,500 people into 15,000 square feet of space that took two years to find. It’s a special, almost surreal day because of the anticipation and excitement of moving into a new permanent home in just a few days.
A God of Unlikely Places
The Eastpoint story is great for many reasons, but to really get a feel for it, you must go back more than 13 years and get to know Eastpoint pastor and planter Scott Taube and his wife, Beth. Scott had been serving the Lord in ministry for many years when Dan Clymer invited him to take a trip with Restoration House Ministries to look at opportunities in the Northeast, particularly Portland.
Nothing about Portland drew them there: no history, family, or close friends. On the contrary, starting a church in Portland would require leaving family and friends. The Taubes were foster parenting and rearing their own children through critical times. They were doing fine in their ministry at Fairfield Christian Church in Lancaster, Ohio.
Portland needed a thriving church. In a city of more than 250,000 people and a state of 1.3 million people, not a single Restoration Movement church met there. But the trip didn’t stir any passion in Scott at the time, and so he and his wife went home satisfied they had done their part to pray and investigate the need.
An Unmistakable Sense of Calling
After returning to Ohio, Scott was mowing his lawn when he felt God urging him to stop what he was doing to meet with him. Scott shut off the mower and went inside his house to pray. During that prayer, with Portland still fresh in his mind, came the thought, Scott, what are you going to do with the second half of your life? He also thought of all the obstacles to such a move: leaving family and friends, a comfortable and fulfilling ministry, and the foster kids; the inherent difficulties with planting; and convincing a wife whom he was pretty sure wouldn’t be thrilled with the idea. Feeling almost overwhelmed, Scott recalled God reassuring him, “Just watch!” With that, God removed the pressure to convince Beth. If it was going to happen, God would do it.
So many things pointed to the move. Scott kept encountering Ezekiel 47, which speaks of water flowing from the throne to the sea, making salty water sweet, growing deeper as it flowed, and people gathering to be ministered to by its presence. (Beth wondered how long it took Scott to dig up that one.) During a family trip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, while shopping in an outlet mall, they noticed all the sweatshirts and hoodies were printed with “Portland,” “Kennebunkport,” or “Maine.” Close college friends said they were willing to take, and eventually adopt, the foster kids the Taubes were caring for. In a family meeting, Lindsay, then a seventh-grader, said, “God expects more from our family.”
While praying in her car during a moment of personal crisis, Beth asked God for the improbable: “God, if you really want us to go, play ‘Word of God Speak’ when I turn the radio on.” You can guess what happened. God’s expectations became very clear. We all might wish we had that type of calling, but how many of us would be willing to make the sacrifices that come with it? In any case, it was time to follow where God was leading.
Planting a church always involves fund-raising, and Traders Point Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana, caught the vision of the first independent Christian church in Maine and provided the funding the Taubes needed to move and live there. Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and Fairfield Christian joined in.
To prepare for the plant, the Taubes spent time with Brett Andrews of New Life Christian Church, Chantilly, Virginia, and began working through a 300-point checklist for planting a church. Three couples moved to Maine nine months before the anticipated launch to get a better understanding of the area. They visited churches and realized they would be helping to bring something entirely new to the area. God confirmed his call by providing for housing needs, connecting them with people (their Realtor knew Scott’s family), and by clearing a path for people to trust them early on.
A local person had an empty cinema that he was willing to rent to the church for $500 a month. “It felt like God was going to push every obstacle down!” Taube said as he viewed the task before them. The little church was off to a great start!
Not Without Setbacks
One month into their new rental agreement, the fledgling church received an unexpected $7,000 utility bill that nearly wiped out their operating funds. On top of that, after huge investments in cleaning and upgrading the theater, a severe mold problem was discovered that forced them to move out.
Their next stop was at a Marriott hotel, where they set up and tore down each week, and the little church family continued to grow. After outgrowing the Marriott space in just two years, there was another search, and the church moved into a former carpet barn. “As our church grew, it was growing increasingly obvious just how difficult it was going to be to rent or buy space in an area that would keep the church attractive.” It took another two years to find the DHL Express property at the airport, but that warehouse space—though it had no air conditioning—cost more than $200,000 annually. The church’s efforts to find a permanent home met with rejection after rejection because of zoning restrictions.
A God-Sized Opportunity
After so many disappointments involving property, buildings, or space, an incredible opportunity materialized. Eastpoint’s dream location was to be near the Portland Mall, since all traffic converged in that area of town and it would provide maximum exposure. The opportunity came when Bob’s Discount Furniture, a 92,000-square-foot, big-box store right next to Home Depot, came up for sale. The $7 million price tag was formidable, and it seemed impossible for a church to make that level of investment. That’s when Doug Crozier and The Solomon Foundation stepped up by backing Eastpoint’s offer.
Taube and his team had been investigating churches across the country to gain a better idea of how to best use this building to reach the heart of the community. They settled on a model they saw at 2|42 Community Church in Brighton, Michigan. After spending time with the 2|42 staff and learning about their approach, 2|42 lead pastor Dave Dummitt went to Portland to investigate how this new space could fulfill a similar mission.
A more traditional church might find 2|42’s approach unorthodox or even reckless, but it is calculated to create community partnership through stewarding the building all through the week. It’s a desire to give the building back to the community and minister through the connections created there. Eastpoint decided on such amenities as an indoor soccer field and other sports facilities, a 100-seat cafe, and areas that focus on kids with special needs and under-resourced families. In making these choices, Eastpoint decided to value connections and conversations more than fear or conventional thinking.
A Community Center with a Church?
When Dummitt was asked, “Are you a church with a community center or a community center that houses a church?” he answered, “We are a community center that houses a church.” Scott’s answer to the same question was similar but more nuanced. “It took a long time before I believed what I was saying because the statement is totally counterintuitive for a church planter.” He finally grasped the concept when he considered the community Eastpoint serves. Taube describes his community as a place where most people live behind trees on two-acre lots and desperately need connections. A community center stirs up a realization of that need and creates church people who desire to serve the community. Local churches were less than excited about Eastpoint’s approach, but the unchurched community embraced it. Portlanders had trouble believing a church would give a gift like this to the community.
Fulfilling the Mission
It’s been 13 years since three couples moved to Portland, Maine, to plant a Restoration Movement church in a state where none existed. On the first weekend in its newest location, Eastpoint’s attendance nearly doubled. One of the most liberal-minded cities in America has returned the church’s embrace without any compromise of the gospel. A huge chair hanging on the wall reminds everyone who walks through the door about the necessity of spending time with God. Street pastors go out every weekend to help drunken people leaving bars to get home safely. Each Christmas and Easter, the entire offering is directed to community agencies. A halfway house gives new hope to those released from prison. The new building is alive and active every day with many community and ministry functions filling its space. And Eastpoint, 13 years after its birth, is the largest church of any kind in the state of Maine and is using its resources to fulfill the greatest commandment!