Church In a Bowling Alley?

“You can’t do church in a bowling alley.”

That’s what the local banks said when Life Bridge Church approached them for a loan. They wanted to turn Taylor Lanes, a locally renowned 48-lane decommissioned bowling alley, into a house of worship.

The banks didn’t share Life Bridge’s vision. They couldn’t see the value in the building God had set on their hearts.

They couldn’t see the value in the building God had set on their hearts.

But the banks were wrong. Life Bridge recently celebrated their first service in that same bowling alley—and God has grown their weekly attendance from 700 to 1,200.

Here’s how it happened.

A mobile church plant

Life Bridge began in 2012 as a mobile church plant with a heart for people who don’t normally go to church. By 2016 the young church had 700 regular attendees cramming into a 20,000 square-foot building they were leasing in Taylor, Michigan.

They were ready to buy a permanent location. Their current space was both too expensive and too small, so they knew they needed to move in the near future.

Nearby a bowling alley was for sale. Taylor Lanes was a local icon—in the past, it hosted televised bowling tournaments. At first the Life Bridge staff didn’t want to consider it. Instead they looked at more conventional buildings, like a shuttered car dealership and a closed Kmart.

But again and again, the doors closed on location opportunities. Those buildings weren’t right for their church.

The last resort

Running out of options, the staff reluctantly looked into Taylor Lanes. Under closer examination, Life Bridge realized the bowling alley’s massive potential.

Bowling alleys don’t usually make sense for churches. They have elevation changes built into the foundation, the ceilings are low, and the buildings tend to be awkwardly long. (You need a lot of space for all those side-by-side lanes.)

But Life Bridge had a growing sense that Taylor Lanes was where God was calling them to do church. Despite being a bowling alley with more than 40 lanes, the building had a similar layout to the space they were currently leasing and more than twice as much room.

More importantly, the building had tremendous outreach potential. Life Bridge leadership envisioned keeping a few lanes open so that unchurched people in the community could show up and bowl a few rounds for free.

Who would help?

After the local banks turned them down, the leadership took their vision to another lender that said Life Bridge’s plan was too risky. That lender said that, generally speaking, bowling alleys don’t become churches.

To the untrained eye they’d be right.

Which is why Life Bridge came to CDF Capital for a second opinion—and when it comes to church construction issues, Chris Davenport, senior director of construction and planning, has an eye for potential.

Life Bridge showed Chris the plans. Where other lenders saw a problematic building type, Chris saw high ceilings and only two-floor levels—unusual traits for a bowling alley.

“The bones of the building were ideal for how Life Bridge wanted to do church,” Chris remembers.

While many lenders simply look at a church’s financials and a building’s risks, CDF brings in specialists like Chris who can analyze building plans, work through details with contractors, and navigate the construction process to minimize risks.

As CDF analyzed Life Bridge’s budget, Chris saw that the renovations the church wanted couldn’t be done without an army of volunteers—and that was exactly what Life Bridge had. Life Bridge looked through the contractor’s list of tasks and quickly crossed off the jobs their volunteers could handle, like demolition work and painting the ceilings. A retired electrician even volunteered to wire the building. As the contractor list shortened, the budget became more feasible.

Thanks to the church’s unified leadership and committed team of volunteers, they were able to complete construction on the church and preserve six bowling lanes for the community to use for recreation.

Vision became reality

“There are plenty of places looking for business transactions,” Chris says. “We’re looking for ministry partners.”

The team at CDF Capital asked challenging questions about how Life Bridge planned to maintain its growth and keep new people coming back—a new building alone wouldn’t do that. For the first time in its young history, Life Bridge hired an executive pastor.

In March Life Bridge held their grand opening, drawing in 1,500 people—more than twice the attendance they had in months prior. They invited local social organizations to come share what they do and explain how the congregation could get involved. Even the mayor attended, christening the six remaining lanes by bowling the first ball.

Three nights a week Life Bridge opens their bowling lanes to the public for free, attracting local residents who otherwise wouldn’t set foot in church. A team of volunteers runs the event, providing tours and introducing the community to the church’s welcoming environment—including their state-of-the-art children’s ministry space. On a given night, up to 40 unchurched people show up to bowl—and about 30 of these bowlers will show up again on Sunday.

Before moving into the new building in February 2017, Life Bridge averaged 700 weekly attendees. As of May, the church boasts 1,200 regular attendees—an increase of more than 70 percent. (And 1,800 people showed up on Easter Sunday.)

Nobody thought Taylor Lanes could become a successful church space. Now no one can deny that it is.

CDF Capital provides more than money

God gave Life Bridge an atypical vision. To carry out that vision, they needed an atypical lender.

CDF Capital’s team of specialists came alongside Life Bridge, saw what God was showing them, and gave them the expertise and resources they needed to be the thriving church they are today.

Contact CDF Capital to share your church’s vision and find out how we can help.