FORT WORTH -- For years, membership at College Avenue Baptist Church dwindled.
As bills mounted and utility costs soared, one of Fort Worth's oldest Baptist churches, a fixture on the near south side, faced closure.
At the same time, in 2007, a small but growing Vietnamese congregation was searching for a home. With little money to build a church, Pastor Dan Dang called church after church, asking to rent space. Dang said he called 170 churches in North Texas and was turned away 170 times.
The 171st phone call, to College Avenue, ended differently.
"Timing could not have been better," said Mike Shreve, pastor of College Avenue Baptist. "We had been praying for a way to keep our church."
Dang said: "God was testing us. We knew we had to be patient."
Within weeks, the Vietnamese congregation moved into College Avenue Baptist in a deal that allowed both churches to survive and thrive.
But God, Shreve said, was not finished.
Southside City Church, which ministers to homeless and low-income people, was meeting in a park in the Fairmount neighborhood three years ago when the first winter chill arrived. Pastor Darrel Auvenshine approached College Avenue to inquire about space, and before long, that congregation moved in.
Churches kept coming.
Victory Outreach, which focuses on helping people with addiction, moved in. And then The Rooted, a congregation that reaches out to young families, joined.
This summer, Mosaic Fort Worth moved to College Avenue from the west side.
Six congregations now share one building, splitting utility bills and pitching in on renovations. Services are staggered on Sundays and throughout the week. Twice a year, for Good Friday and Thanksgiving, all six congregations meet for a single service.
The arrangement has allowed the congregations to save money and instead spend it on more pressing needs. For example, the Vietnamese congregation, now named College Avenue Vietnamese Baptist, launched a medical mission and sends medicine and supplies to poor countries.
Southside City provides rental assistance, professional counseling, and help with food, clothing and energy bills.
"There is no way we could do these things if we were paying for our own building," Auvenshine said. "We're able to focus on what's important."
Congregations have worked together to renovate the kitchen and dining area and fellowship hall, replace the 40-year-old heating and air-conditioning unit, and add a wireless network. Members have cleaned out old closets and rooms in search of space.
As expected, there have been growing pains.
Some members of the original College Avenue resisted opening the church to the Vietnamese congregation, Shreve said. Members of Vietnamese Baptist were leery at first about adding Southside, he said, which works with HIV and AIDS patients.
"This has broke down a lot of cultural prejudices," Shreve said. "We're all learning to be more loving and more merciful."
When the church recently prepared to renovate the sanctuary, Vietnamese Baptist suggested getting rid of the choir loft, which hindered its sermons. Some members of College Avenue initially balked, member Paul Allen said.
The church had had a choir loft for as long as anyone could remember, he said. But no one could recall the last time members used it. After some discussion, they agreed to tear it down and reconfigure the stage.
"A lot of people call this place home," Allen said.
Two schools will open this fall, likely adding logistical challenges, members say.
Southside City will open a private school for inner-city children, and Mosaic will continue its part-time academy for home-schooled children.
For now, Shreve said, the church has no plans to expand.
"Every time I think we're finished," he said, "God has a different plan."
Sarah Bahari, 817-390-7056