A few weeks ago, JDLand noticed that the National Community Church—which currently operates Ebenezers Coffeehouse at 2nd and F Streets NE—had picked up the old Miles Glass building on 8th and Virginia Avenue SE for $3.5 million. Since then, there’s pretty much been radio silence from Church leaders, as they went through “visioning charettes” to hash out plans for their new property.
Curious, I sat down yesterday with Pastor and prolific blogger Mark Batterson to learn what I could about what’s in the works for that long-blighted corner. The gist: Make another Ebenezers, but bigger.
Batterson, who works out of a small, book-filled corner office next door to the Coffeehouse, is wide-eyed as he describes the concept for the new “campus,” the term used for each of the eight locations National Community Church has in the D.C. metro area (most are movie theaters, which the Church rents out for services on the weekends). Along with the Miles Glass property, they’re in negotiations to acquire adjacent parcels, which would allow for new construction of between 50,000 and 75,000 square feet.
What to do with all that space? The new coffeehouse, he says, could be the biggest in the city, helping to anchor the southern end of Barracks Row. Ultimately, Batterson envisions two performance spaces, one at about 500 seat capacity and another at a thousand, with at least one level of underground parking to handle the crowds. To keep the kids busy while adults are worshiping—or drinking coffee, or going to a play—there will be a large childcare center so special that they’ve retained the architects who created downtown Disney to design it.
“It’s hard to even put into words,” Batterson says. “It would look nothing like a McDonalds playground, but that concept.”
Batterson wants to break ground within a year, and finish the first phase—everything except the large theater—in 12 to 18 months. He’s hesitant to put a dollar value on the construction, since the project hasn’t even gone out to bid yet. But he’s figuring it might cost around $200 per square foot, which would put the price tag somewhere in the $10 million to $15 million range. All that would be paid by the Church’s approximately 2,500-person congregation, mostly 20-somethings, which presumably would grow with the additional capacity.
“We don’t need all that space today,” explained Batterson. “We will in 20 years.”
The Barracks Row location, though, is just one piece of the Church’s expansionary ambitions. In the next couple of decades, Batterson is shooting for 20 locations all over the country and the world, most of them following the movie theater model (there’s already a coffeeshop outpost in Berlin, Germany). The National Community Church isn’t a denomination like the Southern Baptists or the Lutherans—Batterson says they’re “absolutely orthodox” in their beliefs—but it is a distinct style of worship, with its focus on being “in the marketplace.” Which is as much worth evangelizing as anything.
“In a sense, it’s spiritual franchising,” Batterson says.