Port City Community Church held its first service on October 24, 1999 in a rented auditorium at a middle school in Wilmington, North Carolina. However, the first service was not the actual beginning; Mike Ashcraft and his brother-in-law, Chris Kuhne, had been in conversations about starting a church for years. Both of them were youth pastors with a passion for helping people walk with God. During the summers they would put on summer camps at Ormond Beach, Florida. These camps would serve as a way for God to shape them and the church He would have them build.
The two started the church with a handful of volunteers and participants (29 to be exact). They rented a middle school auditorium and used minivans to haul gear, week to week. The first service had 84 people in attendance and a commitment to do it again.
Fast-forward to 2001. Attendance had grown to 242; the gear to pull off a service was being hauled in a new donated 16’ trailer; a birth to pre-k ministry was meeting in the cafeteria of the middle school; the gymnasium was holding the elementary age ministry and a rented office space provided workspace for the four person staff and the volunteer youth ministry. The budget for the year was $180,859; this allowed for the hopeful new hires to help with small groups, media, and family ministries.
From 2001 to 2005, the staff would grow from three to thirteen. Because of this, the church would move to a new office facility and the budget would increase from $180,859 to $2,000,801 annually. Attendance swelled to over 1,900. During this time, Port City would add two more Sunday morning services, stop a midweek service to keep focused, and add another sixteen foot trailer and a sixteen foot box truck to carry all the gear.
Valuable lessons would be learned by the board of directors and senior staff at Port City as the school reached capacity and service times were maxed out. Port City had been in the process of looking for space options in the community. A 113-acre site was explored; when it was learned that a million dollar sewer project would have to be completed to use the property, the church moved on. The church then began looking at a facility in an industrial park in the north part of town. Port City would invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to the project only to have the deal fall apart in the eleventh hour. Through patience and God’s provision, a piece of property was found located in the geographic center of the Wilmington area. A group of investors from the church purchased and gave the church the option to buy.
The church would hire CCL and Associates out of Atlanta, Georgia to help with planning and development of the facilities to be constructed on the piece of property. Plans would be finalized on a 90,000+ square foot facility, with two theaters for children, a main auditorium that would seat 1,750, office space for about sixty employees, birth to pre-k area, a café and a bookstore.
CCL would also serve as project managers of the project, freeing up the staff to continue to do ministry. CCL would be the first part of a three-part team that God would assemble to help Port City realize the new building. The next part of the team would be ECCU out of Brea, California, who would secure the financing of the project. Edifice from Charlotte, North Carolina was the general contractor that would use its religious facilities division to bring the project in on time and on budget.
With capacity hindering the church’s ability to reach its mission, 2006 and 2007 would prove to be a very challenging time for the staff and leadership at Port City. The 2006 attendance grew to 2,200 and the budget for 2006 would be 3.7 million. The church began to look at options to solve the capacity issues.
The church decided to add another location to bridge the gap until the construction could be completed. Port City would rent four theaters each week for two services, three theaters for children’s ministries and one for adults. The service would be a video teach from the main location from the week previous with a live worship band. We would hold two services and have full family ministries. These were lessons we had learned before, we needed to have places for people to serve and the ability to serve one service and attend one service. The second location would run eighteen months up to the opening of the new facility. During this time, the attendance at this location would grow from 275 to 600 and the overall attendance would grow to 3,200.
In 2008, the staff prepared to move into the new building. The budget for the year grew to 4.4 million and the attendance stabilized at 3,200 as capacity was reached at both locations.
The first services at the new facility on 250 Vision Drive were on July 20, 2008. The service times remained at 8:30 am, 10:30 am and 12:30 pm on Sundays.
In the new facility, the average attendance has increased by about 1,200 people since the move to Vision Drive! The average attendance for the first seven weeks at Vision Drive was 4,692 (including adults and children). Our 10:30 am service was at full capacity and there was room to grow at the 8:30 am and 12:30 pm services.
The Evangelical Christian Credit Union (ECCU provided the funding for the CCL’s loan) and CCL remain a part of the relationship with Port City as we look to the future and plan to try to keep pace with what God is doing at Port City Community Church. Phase two is currently being looked at, with the help of land financing with ECCU and strategic planning with CCL.
I believe Port City Community Church is an example of a great team assembled to do God’s work with everyone submitting to trying to make the vision of Port City a reality. This team took a kingdom perspective and looked for creative ways to make financing and construction work.