Getting ready for Sunday services at Grace Point Church in Las Vegas, Nevada, takes about three hours to set up and two hours to tear down. That's because the nondenominational congregation is actually portablemeaning it sets up and tears down for each service. With no bricks and mortar building to house the stage or audio-visual equipment, Grace Point utilizes a trailer.
"We basically trailer everything in but we're able to keep our stage onsite at the middle school [where] we meet," says James "Wojo" Wojtowicz, the church's worship pastor, who is also in charge of managing the production technology.
"The Portable Church Industries set us up initially, and we've been able to add to that and expand what they've set up for us."
The 26-foot standard trailer warehouses everything from the pipe and drape for portable staging assembly to audio-visual and lighting equipment, as well as items needed for the church's numerous ministries. Developed by Portable Church Industries based in Troy, Michigan, the storage unit is tailored specifically to meet the needs of portable churches. It compartmentalizes all of the equipment into crates on wheels for ease of transport to various locations for set up. "They make it a little easier for a church to get started," says Wojtowicz. The church also utilizes an 18-foot box truck and two storage units on the site.
Learning to Shine in Vegas
Founded in 2006 by Pastor Devin Hudson, Grace Point is not only portable but it is missional. The church partners with the City of North Las Vegas to provide volunteers to all of its key events. They also partner with City Mission of Las Vegas, Big Brothers, Big Sisters, and the Boys & Girls Club. "The two primary social needs in Las Vegas, we feel are homelessness and mentoring kids. We try to partner with organizations that emphasize those things," says Hudson.
Sunday services are creative environments that begin with professional rock music. The church attracts a younger crowd and growing families. The message from the pulpit may be enhanced by professional dance, drama, or video.
In many ways, the portable nature of the church fits in with Las Vegas culture and helps to create a sense of community. "Our portability has served as an advantage to creating teams of camaraderie and community among our people that I think you would miss sometimes in a permanent facility. I think it's just given our people an overall attitude of service, recognizing what has to happen to do church at a certain level in a city like Las Vegas," Hudson says.
Grace Point members serve not only as greeters on the First Impressions team, but they also serve on production crews that demand technical skill.
"We just taught everybody who was interested that we would train them up in-house," says Wojtowicz. Indeed, the goal is that the trainees are good enough to go out and work in the entertainment industry. "A couple of our sound engineers can actually go out and work shows and do side work in town through some companies that we are friends with," he adds.
Training includes everything from setting up the stage, to building props, and running lights and sound. "We've taken some people down to see production of a show at Las Vegas, like Celine Dion," says Wojtowicz. Church members in training for the crews have been taken backstage to see big, Vegas-style productions up close to get an idea what to look for on Sunday morning.
"Our competition is not the church down the street, it's the Strip and what the Strip can provide as far as good music and good production quality and we try to be excellent in those areas," Wojtowicz emphasizes.
While portable, Grace Point does rent roughly 1,800 square feet of office space, which includes seven offices, a conference room, and reception area. As of the time of this article, the church that accommodated 750 to 800 members on any given Sunday met at the Brian Cram Middle School located in a Northern suburb of the city. As of July 1st, 2008, Grace Point began meeting at Legacy High School, which features a 450-seat, state-of-the-art theater that will help the church to expand its ministry.
Worship, Grace Point-fashion
There are two Sunday morning services, which last approximately 75 minutes; the early service begins at 9:30 a.m. and is followed by a second service at 11:15 a.m. At the beginning of January, Grace Point also launched a Sunday night service in downtown Las Vegas at a bar called The Icehouse Lounge. The name of the gathering is Five20. This service targets young adults, in the 18 to 25 age range. "It's a fully functioning bar with stage, light, and sound," says Hudson. "Basically we have a band that goes and plugs in there. We have a more youth-oriented service down there that obviously looks a little different from the suburbs of Las Vegas."
In the suburbs, however, setup on Sunday mornings begins at 6:00 a.m. A team arrives with the trailer and box truck. They meet the school custodian, who opens the doors so that the first crew can begin the process of bringing in and setting up the stage, the pipe, and drape. Other equipment and materials are taken to different areas of the school, such as the classes, or "worship environments" for children and students. The church has use of seven rooms plus the cafeteria and the gymnasium.
"Our church is about 90% '20s and '30s and has a big kid's ministry," says Hudson. "We believe in creating environments that are age-appropriate." Hence, while the adults are in the main service, there are four separate nursery and toddler environments, a large GP Kids ministry for children, appropriate for 6-year-olds to 5th graders. There is also a student environment and another for teenagers that serves grades 7 through 12.
At 6:30 a.m., the lighting director and rigging crew arrives along with the audio crew. The middle school cafeteria soon becomes a beehive of activity. The various teams begin setting up speakers and laying out equipment. Once the lighting riggers start rigging the lights inside the cafeteria and once the stage is set up, the crew then transitions into stage hands to help with props and other details that make up the particular series that Hudson is preaching. "There's always something going on, but it happens in different stages as it unfolds," says Wojtowicz.
About 8:15 a.m., the band does a sound check and a run-through of the complete worship set. If there is a special dance or video slated for the service, a run-through is done for that as well. The first service starts at 9:30 a.m.
"For us, the win is to be done with everything and to be able to have our tech meeting at 9:00 o'clock," says Wojtowicz.
Tapping Professional Resources
How does it all come together? For starters, Karen Yee, Grace Point's weekend director, brings to the table a professional background in both production and dance. She is the coordinator who oversees everything that happens on a Sunday. With no brick-and-mortar church to use for rehearsals, Yee is creative. "We're flexible and we just pull off the highest level of production that we can with what we have," she says.
It is Yee's job to enhance Hudson's message with "creative elements," the umbrella term used at Grace Point for anything that happens during the service that includes anything outside of the normal service, such as video or drama.
For instance, Hudson recently created a six-week series called "Life Boat," and wrote parts for all of the characters based on Biblical stories. "We created individual videos and shot, cast, and directed every single video," says Yee. "So for six weeks we had top to bottom production of casting, shooting, location scouting."
The casting is done primarily within the congregation. "Keep in mind we're in Las Vegas and obviously we're going to have resources of musicians, production people, actors, and actresses that an average city would not be able to tap into," says Hudson. "We're the entertainment capital of America so we probably have some resources that would not be available to an average church."
Yee taps her personal reservoir of professional dancer friends and former colleagues for the services. Until she quit her job eight years ago to stay home with her daughter, Yee produced corporate shows for Intel, IBM, General Motors, Redkin Hair, and John Paul Mitchell for Encore Productions. She also choreographed shows on the Las Vegas Strip.
A dance studio where Yee once taught is utilized for rehearsals. Starbucks serves as a meeting place to discuss drama. The church office is also put to use. "We have to do so many emails and phone calls beforehand to make sure we're all on the same page as much as possible," says Yee. What would take two weeks of solid rehearsals in the "normal" world is coordinated and run through once on Sunday morning.
Technology helps. For example, La Quita, California-based Ministry Centered Technologies' www.planningcenteronline.com is "a priceless asset to the planning for a Sunday morning at Grace Point Church," says Wojtowicz. The church website also features a blog sectionAsk GPpart of a Q&A series in which members can post questions related to God, the Bible, or following Christ anonymously. In May, Hudson selected questions to answer as part of his sermons.
"Obviously we look for a day when we'll have a permanent facility," says Hudson. "I think that there are some huge factors in Vegas that stand as an obstacle to thatfrom cost of land and buildings to even the reality of the community in which we do ministry. Vegas has grown so fast recently that our primary area is basically just homes and schools right now. There's not even a lot of access to bigger, warehouse-type buildings that a church could buy and facilitate. I think one day we'll be permanent, but we just take it a step at a time."