It couldn’t have seemed fair. While many pastors were flipping a few switches to prepare their churches for Sunday services, members of the fledgling Living Church in Mansfield sweated harder than a traveling rock band’s road crew to get their rented spaces worship-ready.
Within two hours, often starting at dawn, they turned bare floor space into full stages, with lights, sound, projector, chairs and four temporary kids rooms -- then made it all disappear.
“We did extensive set up and tear down every Sunday morning,” said Dan Hunter, lead pastor and crew chief for the church. “We have a 30-foot box truck. We would pull stuff out, set it up, have services and put it back in the truck.
“We obviously were a legitimate church,” he added, “but we just didn’t have a home.”
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Now the Living Church’s congregation of more than 500 is living the American dream of home ownership, after purchasing and remodeling the former Life Family Church at 2271 Matlock Road.
The congregation took mercy upon itself in October and hired a general contractor for the project, which included tearing off the entire Roman Colosseum-style front of the building, as well as most interior walls, Hunter said. It was built originally as a restaurant and bar.
“We literally kept three walls and a roof,” he said. The re-creation cost about $700,000, funded with donations and a bank loan.
More than 500 people attended the grand opening church services May 3.
“It was wonderful to be able improve on what was already there, and make it inviting to families,” said Rachel Hunter, Dan’s wife and co-pastor, who plays supportive roles in the ministry and other activities. She also works full time as chapel worship director at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie.
“It’s exciting the possibilities that are open to us now that we have a building,” she said.
The founders of the church, including the Hunters, migrated from Grace Church in Houston, which had 14,000 to 15,000 members, Hunter said, in 2010.
“Sixteen of us were praying and felt God wanted us to start a church,” he said. The launch team had 43 members.
“When we were looking at cities to plant a church, we went looking all over Texas,” said Truston Baba, an executive pastor. “When we came to Mansfield, it just felt like home. It’s a place where we want to raise our children and work for the city.”
The church was founded Oct. 10, 2010 --- 10-10-10 as Dan Hunter prefers it -- with 115 members, who made a deal to rent space in the Aristide Event Center after several months in family homes and hotel meeting rooms. The church crew set up the stage and equipment and then removed it for all Sunday services, and at times set up the stage for some of Aristide’s weddings or other events, as part of the rent arrangement.
Aristide, at the time owned by Larry Nix, “was extremely good to us,” Hunter said. “There’s no question that he was extremely instrumental in the church’s success.”
About a year later, Youth Pastor Elisha Garcia moved his programs and young people from meetings at a family’s home to the Farr Best Theater in downtown Mansfield, where the load-in was a little easier but still exhausting, Garcia said.
“One of the big dynamics for one of our youth programs is building relationships,” Garcia said. “You can imagine the people unloading to get set up, it didn’t leave a whole lot of time for the pre-service and post-service, which is where a lot of the interacting occurs.”
In the new church home, Garcia added, “we can create a space that we can be very proud to show parents on Sunday morning,” he said. “We’ve created spaces that are very vibrant, are unique, are very fun, and are engaging. Before, everything had to be so mobile.”
A focus of the church is supporting the Mansfield community, the church leaders said. Living Church is known to city officials for putting 100 or more of their members on volunteer duty at city events, like the Rockin’ Fourth of July fireworks show, and other community activities.
Hunter said the church also has committed 10 percent to 15 percent of its Sunday collections to help fund organizations specializing in such areas as disaster relief and sex trafficking.
Baba said the church, rather than focusing on building its own events, favors assisting the good works of other churches and organizations.
“Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, let’s just add some horsepower to the wheel that is already spinning,” Baba said. “Let’s just lend some of our energy and our resources and our volunteers to make what they’re doing better.”
The church’s new building was designed in 2003 and built as a 10,000-square-foot restaurant-bar, which featured a convex facade of arched doorways reminiscent of Rome’s 2,000-year-old stone amphitheater.
“The owner was a former pro wrestler and wanted the building to be designed based on the Coliseum,” said John Ruckle, one of the architects involved in the design. “But it failed because he could never get a liquor license.”
The new, contemporary design keeps a curved front but otherwise couldn’t be more different, with its tinted glass windows, glossy stonework, wood accents and, most of all, mounted above the center doors -- a 10-foot-tall asterisk.
“That logo for us means there’s more,” said Hunter, who believes his unorthodox choice of symbol to be unique among churches. “An asterisk next to a word means there’s more about this word or paragraph below. None of us reaches a point where we’ve arrived in our relationship with God, and there is nothing more.
“We’re not going to get to a point where we stop stretching and taking risks,” he added, “because there’s always something more.”
2271 Matlock Road