Howard churches face crisis over space

Growing population prompts expansions

September 11, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

Calvary Lutheran Church in Woodbine is overflowing with worshippers -- it holds Sunday school in walkways, has crowded parking lots and considered holding meetings at nearby restaurants.

Its membership has doubled to 260 within the past 16 years, causing the church to increase the number of Sunday services from one to three, expand from one to two pastors and add a full staff.

"The goal of the Christian church is to take the Gospel to other people," the Rev. Roger L. Rinker said. "The problem is that when they come in, everything changes -- you can't sit where you want to sit, you can't park where you want to park."

The church is one of many in Howard County that are bursting at the seams, resulting in applications with the county Department of Planning and Zoning for expansion, including building additions and more parking spaces. Church leaders say the influx of worshipers is primarily caused by the growing population, and some say churches also have updated their traditional formats to try to spread their message to more people.

Rinker said many churches used to wait for people to come to them -- a mindset that could have led to a stagnant attendance in the 1970s and 1980s -- but now are trying to adapt to the community's differing needs to create a more welcoming environment.

Some new worshippers at Calvary Lutheran Church would immediately leave upon hearing that the church didn't have a nursery, so the staff added one to accommodate the growing population, Rinker said. A director of youth ministries also was hired, and the church has plans to expand its building and parking spaces.

"You can have the best service in the world, but if there's no place to park, people won't come," Rinker said. "If you make it difficult to feel warm and welcome, they won't stay."

George W. Martin, chairman of the Columbia Religious Facilities Corp., said the growth of congregations in the past few years -- increasing from about 240 to 260 countywide -- could be partially attributed to the growing Korean population. The county's Asian population more than doubled since 1990, from 8,098 to 19,124, which could account for Bethel Korean Presbyterian Church in Ellicott City applying to add two temporary trailers on its property.

Columbia's interfaith centers -- used on weekly by more than 6,300 Buddhists, Christians, Jews and Muslims -- are growing as well, with two centers to be built in the villages of River Hill and Kings Contrivance, Martin said.

The Rev. Bob Wallace, pastor at St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church in Columbia, said the arrival of more residents -- the county's population increased by more than 60,500 since 1990, with 247,842 residents counted in last year's U.S. census -- helps but doesn't automatically lead to church growth. He said churches are drawing more people by becoming more hospitable, which he said has always been practiced, but "it just gets lost now and then." Many churches now deliver their messages in a way that nontraditional worshippers find easier to understand, he said.

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