Only three people showed up at our first Sunday service on January 7, 1996 -- my wife, Lora, our son Parker and me. This Sunday was also the day of a record-breaking blizzard that blanketed Washington, DC! Most church planters don’t experience 600-percent growth the week after they launch, but we did. Nineteen people came the next week for our service at the Giddings School located near the Capitol Building in Southeast DC.
Nine months later, the school was closed due to fire code violations -- effective immediately. With an average attendance of 25, we didn’t feel like a church yet, and we were about to become a homeless church. After a prayer walk around Capitol Hill, God opened an amazing door of opportunity to hold services at the movie theaters at Union Station.
By mid-November, 1996, we had found our new home -- complete with sticky floors, spilled popcorn, and even a few misplaced moviegoers. Few churches could claim their building welcomed 25 million visitors each year, had its own bus and metro stops, train station, shopping mall, food court and parking garage. We attracted a wide variety of people as we were located four blocks from the Capitol and four blocks from the largest homeless shelter in the city.
Several years later, we experienced our biggest jump in attendance when The Washington Post ran a front page article on NCC. People from all over the city began finding us at Union Station. We added additional services, but still had vision to reach more people in the DC metropolitan area. On September 21, 2003, we launched our second location in the Ballston Common Mall movie theaters just over the river in Northern Virginia.
Doing church in the middle of the marketplace had become part of our DNA and we began dreaming of new ways for the church and community to intersect daily. One of the crazier dreams we began circling in prayer was to purchase an abandoned building one block from Union Station that was once a crack house and build a coffeehouse.
In the spring of 2006, construction was completed on Ebenezers Coffeehouse®. The driving motivation behind building a coffeehouse was the fact that Jesus hung out at wells. They were natural gathering places in ancient culture. Ebenezers is a postmodern well that has served more than a million customers—neighbors, business people, and congressmen alike.
By October 2009, we had launched services at movie theaters in Georgetown in DC and Kingstowne in Virginia and were continuing to grow. Then, I got a phone call that the Union Station movies theaters would be closing immediately. Our three Sunday services at Union Station had nowhere to go, so we crammed into the performance level of Ebenezers for what we hoped would be a temporary solution. Over the next few years we launched our fifth and sixth locations at the movie theaters at Potomac Yard in Northern Virginia and in Northwest DC at the GALA Theatre.
It was right after the Union Station theaters closed that I met a pastor who had a church on the other side of Capitol Hill. Founded by his father in 1963, Michael Hall had pastored The People’s Church for decades. After years of meeting in a turn-of-the-century movie theater across the street from the Marine Corps Barracks, the majority of The People’s Church had migrated to the suburbs. Pastor Hall had considered selling at one point, even looking at an offer from a nightclub. But the People's church believed that the building would always be used for God’s purposes. Knowing that they had at one point considered selling and moving out to the suburbs, I prayerfully asked Pastor Hall if we could make an offer. That led to a double miracle that answered prayers for both our congregations.
Pastor Hall would later share a vision he had of young people filling the building and praising God. “At the time,” he said, “I thought the vision was for us. Now I know it was for you." Renamed "The Miracle Theatre", NCC has restored the building's rich history as a Vaudeville theater and hosts four weekends gatherings at its newest location.
We are always looking for new ways to do church. As we continue to grow, we desire to start new locations in creative places throughout this city and beyond.
-Mark Batterson, lead pastor