Stories

How Does A Church That Meets In A Middle School Take It To The Next Level?

Seaside Community Church of Huntington Beach is a congregation that gathers each week in a unique ocean-side location in southern California as they have for more than two decades. However, when a building deal fell through unexpectedly, their land-locked, middle-school location made it challenging to accomplish their goals. Their big vision? To effectively reach their community and build the ministry of service.

Their solution – an efficiency and atmosphere upgrade with Portable Church Industries (PCI) – was just what they needed to position their church to continue to thrive.

Sam Knutsen has seen it all at Seaside. Ever since his father and a friend launched the church almost 20 years ago, Sam has served in some way in the congregation that presently ministers to about 450 people each week.

Anything related to computers, web, media and presentation, technology, and Sunday set-up and take-down has involved Sam in some way. With help from David Merrick, Sam became the point-person for Seaside’s partnership with PCI.

It was a partnership that came at just the right time for the tight-knit Seaside family.

The church has been meeting at Sowers Middle School for the entire time of its existence, since February of 1996, starting in classrooms before moving where they gather now in a larger lunchroom area. But in 2015, the church thought that perhaps the time had come to secure a permanent facility.

A Unique Vision Challenge

Although there has always been some level of desire to be in a permanent building, land is hard to come by in the coastal region. As Knutsen describes it:

“There is zero open land – everything has something on it already. To get a permit to build, the cost is either ridiculously high or the city won’t give you a permit, or there won’t be enough parking.”

The church negotiated with the school district for a couple of years to get one of their old school buildings that had been unoccupied for over 10 years. Just when it looked as if the church may have found a way to have a permanent home, the school district changed their plans and moved their offices to the empty building.

Seaside had been given money to secure a permanent church building. When the deal fell through, the church leaders sought the best way to steward what they had been given while positioning the ministry to be more effective in their unique situation.

“I think people had high hopes of it working, and then when it didn’t, there was a little bit like the wind out of the sails.”

Rather than falling victim to the building blues, they began asking how they could do things better and make their portable location more welcoming to the community.

And that is when they reached out to Portable Church Industries.

A Unique Surfside Culture

The goal in talking with PCI wasn’t only to make the middle school a nicer place to meet, but to better reach the southern California surfing community and to build the ministry of service within the church.

As Knutsen describes it, “It’s a very close community, not a lot of commuter people. It is a surfer community and a beach community. The church is a mile and a half from the ocean maybe, so everything is very casual.”

“In the summer it is very common to see people coming in to church literally with sand on their feet. We’re very informal as far as dress and meeting in a junior high school right by the beach. We are able to go down to the beach and do beach baptisms and have parties at the beach and stuff.”

It’s a unique setting to be sure, as they can do things you’d only see in a warm climate.

For example, their youth group meets outside under trees. Sometimes they use a canopy. Other times the teens wrap in blankets as they worship when the temperatures dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit – a truly cold day for them.

It might not work in Minnesota, but it has worked well for almost 20 years at Seaside.

A Unique Meeting Place for Junior High Ministry

The Junior High ministry at Seaside meets in a storage container that does double duty.

During the week, it sits on the school property and houses church equipment, but on Sunday it converts into a trendy cargo container in which the young teens can gather.

“The Junior High group has a 40-foot shipping container with two big garage doors that open up; it has couches in there and bookcases. It looks kind of like a room. They roll some AstroTurf out and put a big canopy out in front and kind of make like an indoor/outdoor seating area.”

A Unique Systems Situation

Unlike most churches that contact PCI, Seaside already had a pretty good system that had been developed over their two decades of ministry. The congregation had volunteered their skills to create sturdy storage cabinets, for example, and a plywood stage that was durable, but very heavy.

To make the situation more challenging, the team was transporting a lot of the equipment in a 20-foot box truck. That meant it all had to be lifted or run up and down a steep ramp.

“We had a really good method, if the right people were there.  There was a way to load it all so that everything fit well, but not everyone knew it exactly.  And it took a lot of manpower.  What made us really want to reach out to PCI was the question of what can we do better?”

After a little research, Knutsen concluded they needed to work with a company that knew churches well. He realized that they were already using one portable storage case from PCI, and reached out to start the conversation.

The Unique Advantages of Upgrading

PCI did not come in and tell the team at Seaside to throw everything out. Far from it.

They worked alongside the Seaside team to discern what should stay and what should go. And they brought a lot of fresh ideas that came from working with over 2,500 churches.

I think some of the things were having systems for the child check-in. I remember one of them had an usher or greeter case that had offering boxes and things that most people don’t think of unless you’re in a church. They also understood we’re a church not a business, so we can’t go top of the line always. We have to figure out what we can and can’t afford.

Something as simple as changing the chairs on which people sat each week made a big difference. Seaside had been using the classic metal folding chairs for years, except when they would rent padded chairs for special events. PCI helped Seaside find chairs that stored easily and were a treat to sit on each Sunday.

Joe (from PCI) came out to Seaside for the weekend.  He observed, took pictures, and watched them work with their old system.  Then he wrote a 45-page itemized proposal integrating some of their existing systems.

“Joe didn’t come on strong or anything like that; it was apparent he wanted to work with us and made it clear that it was like, “Whatever you guys want to do, we’ll do.”

Sam served as the point-of-contact throughout the process, getting input and feedback from the relevant stakeholders as needed. They eventually landed on a solution that blended the best of what they had with the best of what was available to help them take their ministry effectiveness to the next level.

Two Key Benefits of the Upgrade

As someone in charge of presentation and logistics, two upgrades stand out to Sam the most.

First, the lighting upgrades PCI installed have transformed the secular school space into a more intimate environment conducive to worship.

The fluorescent lighting in the school felt more like an office setting, and they couldn’t dim the lights. Seaside had stage lights and could light up the people on stage with spotlights, but when they turned off the fluorescent lights, people couldn’t read their Bibles.

“What’s the point of having a church if people can’t read their Bibles in church?”

To make matters worse, the fluorescent lights washed out the projectors, and floor-to ceiling windows let the sun come in unfiltered, creating a lighting mess.

After the upgrade, the windows are now blocked as needed with curtains to control the light from outside. And the new LED lighting system enables them to light up the room and adjust the lighting as needed, allowing them to control the feeling and the mood of the morning.

The second upgrade that most excited Sam was the clarity of the new system.

The biggest problem they had before with tear-down was that it went really fast, because everyone was hungry for lunch. But that meant the team would be digging for stuff the next Sunday that didn’t always get put in the right place.

“I was one of the few that knew how everything got set up before. If someone had a question, they came to me. So with PCI, someone took the time to work with me to put everything in its place and give everything a home.”

Knutsen describes the process as collaborative and fun. And the end result?

Even if they don’t put it in the right cubby, now I can say, Hey, this is sound equipment, put it in this case.  Even if it’s not on the right shelf, it’s pretty easy to find next Sunday when I need it.

The new system is very well laid out and easy to understand.  There is a chart that says where every case goes and where everything goes in the case and where that case goes in the trailer.

The Unique Impact of an Efficiency Upgrade

Perhaps the greatest impact of the upgrade was that it empowered Seaside to keep moving forward in focused ministry.

Not only has the actual set-up and take-down process gotten easier to use for everyone – even the first-time volunteer — it no longer depends on a “specialist”, the one or two people who must be there to make sure everything gets set up properly.

And the culture of the church has been upgraded as well with the renewed focus on creating an inviting and welcoming environment. With the changes they made with PCI, Knutsen says they are “putting their best foot forward to reach the community.”

“We didn’t want to do it just for the sake of it looking nicer.  That’s not the goal of the church.  We wanted to upgrade so we can grow and share God’s word better.”

In addition to lighting, seating, and sound upgrades, Seaside now has big banners inside of the courtyard behind the ministry tables that make the outdoor area look more inviting and more welcoming.  It’s just one of the many improvements that PCI brought to the conversation.

Seaside Community Church clearly has a passion for people and connecting with the community. The upgrades and efficiencies of their new system has not only helped enhance their worship environment, but has given them greater opportunity to connect with the people of Huntington Beach in a meaningful way.

“I definitely felt like Portable Church really had a good understanding of what churches that are portable really need.”

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Portable Church has partnered with churches of all sizes over the last 23 years. Whatever facility challenges you may be facing, rest assured that the PCI team has probably already encountered it — and found solutions.

Connect with PCI today to schedule a free 20-minute consultation and find out what Karen Johnson, Valley Christian Church, and more than 2,000 other churches have already discovered.

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