A rapidly growing church in the East Valley wants to move from an auditorium in Gilbert to a huge worship center in Queen Creek.
Rock Point Church, a nondenominational Christian church said to have one of the fastest-growing congregations in the nation, plans to build a 170,000-square-foot worship center at Cloud and Power roads that's capable of accommodating 3,000 people.
That would make it the largest church in Queen Creek's town limits, according to town officials.
In size, the church would also overshadow Gilbert's new 122,000-square-foot Macy's department store and be nearly half the size of the 380,000-square-foot Cornerstone at Queen Creek shopping center. Some of the planned amenities include a softball field and gymnasium.
Pastor Bill Bush said the congregation is outgrowing its current facilities at Higley High School's 1,200-seat performing-arts auditorium. Attendance on Sunday fluctuates between 1,300 and 1,600 worshipers.
Church officials conduct two separate services on Sundays, but the children and youth services are at their maximum capacity.
"It's starting to get difficult," Bush said.
The church has grown at a break-neck pace since its formation seven years ago.
John Vaughn, founder of Church Growth Today and author of several books, including "Megachurches and America's Cities" and "The World's 20 Largest Churches," listed Rock Point among the 100 fastest-growing churches in the country. Vaughn gathers his attendance figures from church officials.
Bush said Rock Point's attendance totaled 600 people after its first year of operation. By the third year, that number reached about 900, and by the fourth year it was roughly 1,200, he said. By its fifth year, Bush said the attendance was about 1,500.
Although Rock Point has yet to reach megachurch status - defined by the Connecticut-based Hartford Institute for Religion Research as those with a regular attendance of at least 2,000 - it likely will soon, Bush said.
Church officials expect the church to grow 50 percent, to about 2,200 in average attendance, within the first six months to one year of opening the new building, he said.
Bush said Rock Point Church's new center could be built in as many as six phases, adding that officials may instead choose to establish multiple campuses rather than reach the 170,000 square feet currently planned.
"Basically, we have not committed one way or the other," he said.
He said he hopes to break ground on the initial phase - an $8million, 32,500-square-foot portion able to fit 1,500 people - in late October. He said he hopes the church will open in fall 2010.
If completed according to the current plans, the church's size would be unprecedented for Queen Creek.
"I think it's pretty safe to say that we estimate this to be the largest," said Marnie Schubert, the town spokeswoman.
Vaughn said a new megachurch emerges every two to three days in the United States.
"It is an amazing number, and it's happening globally as well," he said.
He said some people are attracted to the larger churches for a number of reasons, including their openness to strangers and greater resources.
Judy Johnson, a Rock Point member and church employee, said she thinks Bush's leadership abilities and compelling speaking style during his sermons, which are often interwoven with personal stories and humor, attract people.
"I could just sense that Bill spoke the truth," she said of her own experience joining the church over two years ago.
She said he has an ability to make an individual feel like he's talking directly to him or her during his sermons.
"He just really has a gift," she added.