The 440,000 Sq. ft. Methodist Ministry Mall

Posted on April 2, 2012


Artist's rendering of the Windsor Village United Methodist Church's 7,000 seat worship venue. It will be built adjacent the existing 183,000 sq. ft. Family Life Center in Houston, Texas. All together, the Kingdom Builders Center will house 440,000 square feet of ministry space.

Everything is bigger in Texas.  You can get a two-foot-long hot dog at Texas Ranger’s games.  Five of the top twenty largest cities in the United States are found in Texas:  Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin.   Church buildings in Texas are among the largest:  Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston offers 606,000 square feet and the Southlake (Dallas) Gateway church offers a staggering 1.2 million square foot edifice.

While in Houston recently, I visited one of United Methodism’s largest churches, Windsor Village United Methodist Church, an empire that includes a 104,000 sq. ft. former KMart which is now called the “Power Center,” a 183,000 sq. ft. “Family Life Center, ” and a more modest, traditional church building in which pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell grew his congregation from 25 to 18,000 from the mid-1980’s to now.   Read a more thorough inventory of Windsor Village properties HERE.

I visited the gigantic Power Center and then the massive Kingdom Builder’s Center on Thursday,  (See pictures and commentary below).  I visited the diminutive Windsor Village United Methodist Church chapel for worship on Saturday.  You can read a review of the worship service HERE.

In my review I have a strong, positive, reaction to the choir’s presentation of the song “Don’t Be Discouraged” which contains the beloved image of a healing balm in Gilead.  But I have an equally intense, negative, reaction to Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell’s speech in the same service.  He wasn’t on schedule to deliver the message.  No, he simply showed-up not to help us place the recent death of Treyvon Martin in some kind of theological context or to offer pastoral care for wounded souls, but to promote yet another strategic milestone in the growing empire/kingdom that is Windsor Village…and “bigger is better” Christendom in Texas.


The Kingdom (Building Center) Has Come…

View of the Kingdom Builders Center Windsor Village UMC campus from the street. A massive sanctuary will be built to the left of the pictured building and the a Prayer Center will be built next to that. To the right of this picture, off camera, is an elementary school and a YMCA, both built by the church's community development corporation called "Pyramid Residential Community Corporation."

The preschool play room features soft foam figures that are great fun on Sundays, but the KBC also rents-out this area for birthday parties.











A play room for older kids, similar to the tube structures so popular in Children's Museums around the country. Like the church, museums have learned that traditional offerings are less marketable than these play things. They both learned this from McDonald's.

Even traditional stairs have been transformed into fun space for children at the KBC Houston.

The Senior High youth area. According to my guide, this space offers a dance club atmosphere important to youth. Notice the DJ platform in the center.












The rather lackluster exterior to the Kingdom Builders Center, offering 183,000 sq. ft. of area for basketball courts (set in a space that meets NBA specifications should the Rockets and Mavericks choose to offer an exhibition game), high school, head start classes, a book store, a print shop, and numerous conference rooms.













Windsor Village created a community development corporation to create over three-hundred homes, 80% of which are below market value, at Corinthian Pointe. The neighborhood joins Taco Bell, a CVS Pharmacy, a CDC-built YMCA and Elementary School and the 450,000 sq ft. Kingdom Builder's Center on 234 acres of church-owned land.


















I respect Windsor Village UMC and admire the Power Center, The Kingdom Builders Center and Corinthian Pointe Subdivision.  This is masterful planning built on Kirbyjon Caldwell’s value of “Holistic Salvation:”

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? (James 2:15)

These houses are are literally and figuratively built on “James Street.”  In his letter to the early church, James advocated holistic ministry.  Maybe the Prophet Isaiah was mindful of such visionary pastors and churches when he promised “They shall repair the ruined cities and restore what has long been desolate” (Isaiah 61:4).  Windsor Village is converting 234 acres East Texas pasture into a community complete with a community medical building, a bank and credit union, multiple options for education including entrepreneurial internships within the bookstore/florist shop, and there are plans to build a nursing home and, in addition to the gigantic sanctuary and a fantastic sounding Prayer Center.  There is little doubt in my mind that Windsor Village is a kind of “Balm in Gilead” that heals the wounded soul.

But  “Balm in Gilead” refers to a sap-like curative (balm) that was exported from the Biblical area called Gilead and distributed all along trade routes in the Middle East.  People were not taken to one gigantic source of healing; the healing came to them at various small points along the road…

Do we need two-foot-long hotdogs or 450,000 square foot ministry facilities in order to be fed or healed?

The Gospels of Mark and John recall that Jesus “cleansed” the Temple, driving “money changers” out, claiming “This is a house of prayer but you have made it a den of robbers.”  I imagine Jesus looking something like the modern Reverend Billy who enters stores like Starbucks, WalMart and Disney with a bullhorn and the “Church of Stop Shopping” gospel choir to raise a ruckus (and consciousness).

With Jesus’ activism in mind today, I ask myself how he might respond to the size and scope of ministries in Texas and elsewhere in the South.  Take a look at the portfolio of the architectural firm responsible for the construction of numerous multimillion dollar church buildings across the Southeast, R. Messner Construction.  Just visit this site for a moment and watch the slide show at the top or scroll through the samples on the right side.  The firm is building malls of ministry!   In the fairness of full disclosure, I live in the Northeast which is dotted by hundreds of small, anemic congregations which I suspect might annoy Jesus and R Messner architects equally.  If we in the Northeast are starving the population, are churches in Houston overfeeding  them?

While in Houston I picked-up a book entitled The Absolutely Worst Places to Live in America by David Gilmartin in which he listed Houston, Texas, as one such place. He objects to the sweltering summer heat, the endless sprawl of chain box stores and restaurants, and even a culture that demands endless sprawl.

Houston social life, if you can call it that, tends to revolve around two choices:  the mall or barbecue.  Mall…or barbecue.  The local barbecue specialty is super tough, overcooked meat, accompanied by beer.  Barbecue is just an excuse to drink beer, really.  So the choice actually boils down to: mall or beer.  It must be all of the Methodists keeping the malls in business” (144).

In fact Methodists are building their own malls!  I suppose this is nothing new.  Each time the historic Temple in Jerusalem was rebuilt, they went bigger.  Just a decade or so before Jesus’ birth, Herod doubled the size of the Temple.  When Jesus visited the Temple that last time before his execution, the Temple had become a one-stop ministry mall.  In years past, religious pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem could find numerous sacrificial animals like lambs and doves offered in roadside shops along the way.  But the High Priest Caiaphas believed a centralized market within Jerusalem made more sense.  Offering the animals in the Court of Gentiles of the Temple itself would give the Temple priests greater control over the quality of animals offered as well as a percentage of the revenue raised from selling them.  I believe Jesus entered the Temple one fateful day for the purpose of delivering a speech about the new covenant and kingdom on earth as in heaven, but that he could not be heard over the bleats of sheep and the machinations of the market.  Enraged, I believe Jesus used his foot to kick sheep shit off of the marble tile and perhaps a rope to drive sheep dealers out of the Temple!

It seems to me that pastors like Kirbyjon Caldwell and their development boards first need to discern sheep shit from marble tile.

  • Place to worship?  Marble tile.
  • “Worship Arena” seating 7,000?  Sheep shit.
  • Power Center for job creation?  Marble tile.
  • Power Center for revenue enhancement?  Sheep shit.
  • Low income housing?  Tile.
  • A planned community with 20% income producing spec homes?  Poo.
  • A tube slide?  Poo.  Rental rooms for birthday parties?  Poo.

Then I think pastors and boards need to discern whether a plan embodies Jesus, who journeys the pilgrim way, or Herod, who believed bigger is better.  Honestly, would Jesus walk in to some of our massive structures and affirm us for dutifully fulfilling the great commission or become enraged because we can’t hear his response over the splattering sounds of the fountain or the grinding hum over at the espresso counter?  Are these monolithic structures healing souls more than they are placating consumer boredom?  Are they offering the two foot hot dog to spectators who need to eat the apple instead?

Instead of spending millions to expand the Kingdom Builders Center, is it not possible for kingdom builders to live, gather, worship, study and serve from those Corinthian Pointe homes on James Avenue?  Or have we learned that the only way to fund ministry in the present day is to bring the lambs and doves and slides and all manner of money makers into our courts?


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