While most U.S. churches are anticipating the end of the current pandemic, a congregation in North Carolina is thinking ahead to the next one. To prepare for future outbreaks that might necessitate outdoor worship—and to provide a community resource—City Church in Gastonia plans to add an amphitheater to its main campus. Fundraising is underway for the half-million-dollar project, which is expected to be completed by the end of this summer.
“It’s going to happen,” says Pastor Dickie Spargo about the next public health scare. “There’s going to be a COVID-32, a COVID-45. That’s just the way it works. It’s called a virus.” Although there’s “nothing we can do” about the current COVID-19 situation, the pastor adds, “we can…adjust” for the future.
City Church’s 75-acre main campus includes a six-acre lake, so Spargo says it makes sense to take worship outside. “We want to make sure that people’s health is safe [and] secure,” he tells a local news channel. “And everything in life is usually better outdoors.”
City Church Pastor: ‘Don’t panic or get anxious’
Far from being a gloom-and-doom move, building the amphitheater seems to be a proactive step on the part of a positive-thinking church leader. Last March, when City Church quickly moved to online worship services and events, Spargo told a reporter about “the beauty” of digital platforms such as livestreaming. “We can actually reach people who will never come on our campus,” he pointed out.
Amid all the uncertainties when the coronavirus began spreading last March, Spargo told a reporter, “What we want people to do is to choose what your attitude is going to be toward this. We’re going to make it, so don’t panic or get anxious. That’s what the Bible tells us: ‘Don’t live in fear or worry.’”
Community Can Use the City Church Amphitheater Too
The amphitheater will be a first for the area—and one of just a few church-owned amphitheaters in the country. The plan, says Spargo, is to let community groups rent out the facility at affordable rates. “We feel like it’s going to be multifunctional, not only for our church but, we believe, for our whole county,” he says. Possible uses that he cites include corporate events, community concerts, and high school graduations.
“We want [the amphitheater] to be used for our community because this land doesn’t belong to us,” adds Spargo. “This land belongs to God. This building doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to God. And so we’re excited about the opportunities we’ll have even this summer.”
During future pandemics, says Spargo, an amphitheater will provide space for outdoor worship services as well as for important community gatherings. The pastor also acknowledges that meeting online can’t replace the experience of worshiping together in person, so having an outside space is key.
One possible disadvantage to meeting in nature, warns the pastor, is birds. “They’ve got to go,” he jokes, so “you’ve got to be careful.” Spargo adds, “We might want to bring back those Sunday hats we used to wear.”