By Tracey Breashears Schultz, Bishop’s Associate for Leadership

Pastor Eric Youngdahl of House of Prayer Lutheran Church in the Clear Lake area of Houston, is hopeful. If you ask him what his church is up to or what matters to his congregation, he will excitedly tell you they “Grow in faith. Make disciples. Serve in love.” I spent a little time with Pastor Eric recently to learn from him about the church’s latest project, something he thinks will help them even more fully live into their mission.

House of Prayer moved into their current facility in 2005. At the time, Pastor Eric was the Associate Pastor, and with (the late) Pastor Marcus Otterstad, helped the congregation discern whether to make the move. Connected to that decision was a dream of starting a preschool. House of Prayer saw themselves then (and still does today) as a place for the community, and this seemed like a natural connection between the church and the neighborhood. After the move, House of Prayer launched a preschool ministry that was successful for nearly ten years, but it was not sustainable. So, the congregation pivoted to the next best thing, as they leased a portion of the building to an outside preschool. This rental income allowed House of Prayer to pay off their mortgage while providing a service to the community. Over time, however, the preschool outgrew the space, and it became apparent that the school would need to move to a larger facility. House of Prayer found themselves again at a place of discernment.

What was God calling them to do? How could this space be used for the good of others? What project could they imagine that would keep their desire to connect with the community central? Through conversations with the church council and informational meetings with the congregation, House of Prayer imagined and then voted to turn what had been a school (four classrooms and two restrooms) into a gathering space.

Currently, when they offer fellowship events for the community, they flip the sanctuary space. They move out worship seating and furnishings and bring in tables. They’ve gotten used to it, but it is hard to make room for others when space is limited. One of their most-attended events each year is Oktoberfest, and although they are glad to invite the community, they often find they are lacking the space to truly be “a welcoming place for all.” House of Prayer is committed to a number of ministries, including Family Promise, feeding people, and responding to disasters by providing resources and shelter. They desire to be “seen as the church in the community that is a compassionate, caring place for our area.”

House of Prayer will break ground on their building project very soon, having fundraised (to date) half its cost. They will gut what was there to create indoor and outdoor kitchens and gathering spaces, a patio, a porte-co·chère, and a glass wall that will allow those inside a view of the outside, and those outside a view in. They imagine hosting Boy Scouts, piano recitals, receptions, and the church’s fellowship events, but they are sure they don’t even know how else God will call them to open the space or to whom, and they’re ready for that.

When I asked Pastor Eric what it would cost to rent the space, he shrugged his shoulders. They hadn’t really thought about it. “This,” he said, “is outreach.”