It’s 7:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Sonny pulls in front of a 200-year-old shirt factory turned nightclub ready to clean up after last night’s show. I unlock the door; we walk in to assess the damage. Ticket stubs, cocktail napkins, beer bottles and concert flyers litter the floor, which is sticky from one too many spilled drinks. At the front of the room is a stage that, just a few hours before, welcomed a Grateful Dead cover band called “Dark Star Orchestra.” They played to a standing room only audience of 700.
Last weekend, Chris Daughtry from American Idol played to a similar-sized audience. In an hour or so, as the lemon scent of Sonny’s floor mop begins to overpower the smell of barley and hops, a very different band will arrive fronted by Scott Womer, Worship Arts Pastor. As they warm up, a set up crew will turn this gritty 19th century brick-walled two-story room into sacred space for a style of worship that attempts to bridge the monastic and missional aspects of the Christian life for the roughly 200 average attendees.
This is Revolution Hall, the Sunday morning home of Terra Nova Church in Troy, New York. When we launched last year, people from the Christian community assumed that we were meeting here because we had nowhere else to go. In fact, God led us to this space, which has repeatedly been voted one of the top music venues in the area, because it was consistent with our missional philosophy. Here’s the concept in a nutshell: rather than asking non-believers to come into a church building that feels comfortable for us, we go to a space that feels comfortable for them (and to be honest with you, we feel pretty comfortable here, too.)
We believed that in doing this, we would not only draw people with no previous connection to Christ, but we would also create a space for the Christ-follower who had disengaged from the community of faith because he couldn’t find a church that accepted him with his tattoo art, piercings and penchant for loud music. Looking around on a Sunday morning, it would appear that we were correct. We are a congregation of spiritual seekers and misfits.
Troy, New York is an old Hudson River industrial city that got forgotten when the 1800’s turned to the 1900’s and the products that made it famous went out of style or became obsolete. The city spiraled into decay and poverty as the population plummeted from its high of 75,000 to its low of 40,000. The churches of Troy responded accordingly … opening soup kitchens and clothing donation sites. These things are still needed here and Terra Nova has strategically partnered with relief agencies and homeless shelters. However, a different Troy is emerging today as new art galleries, boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops seem to open weekly. The artists and activists have moved in, followed by the urban professionals. Everywhere you look, old vacant buildings are being turned into expensive loft apartments or condominiums and former brown field sites are turned into parks.
God has called Terra Nova to reach a demographic defined not by age but by a point of view. Because of our intentional focus on the arts community (including running an art gallery from our office and education space), we attract the liberal blue state creative artist types and those who see God’s creative stamp in the world around them. Because of the venue and the music and the atmosphere, we attract people who are fascinated with a church that would meet in a bar. And because of our proximity to several colleges and universities, we attract a lot of students. New York’s Capital Region hovers right around a million people and during the school year, 250,000 of them are students.
In addition to our local calling through the work of Terra Nova Church, the founding leadership team of three pastors felt a strong calling to demonstrate successful multi-staff church planting in an effort to simultaneously short circuit Lead Planter burn out and Lead Planter cult of personality. We have become convinced that the success rate of lead church planters would increase dramatically if partnered with an Executive Pastor or someone with similar gifting and calling.
If you or your church has a heart for church planting and would like to learn from our mistakes and successes, we would love to speak with you and connect you with further resources. Terra Nova Church is a member of the Acts 29 Network of church plants.