Growing on the Green
It is not every day that one hears of a church that owns a golf course of any size, much less a 241-acre course that spans three climate zones and has been named the toughest in the world by the Wall Street Journal--but this is exactly the case for the First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu. After five years of searching for a location large enough to accommodate its 1,200 members, First Presbyterian purchased the Koolau Golf Club in August of 2006.
Dan Chun, who holds his MDiv and DMin from Fuller and is also on the Board of Trustees, has served as senior pastor at First Presbyterian since 1994, and sees this move as an example of the church "thinking outside the box." As he explains, "Our new location is multifaceted--it serves as a marketplace, a center of worship, an educational base, and a venue that can accommodate various groups, including other churches and nonprofit organizations." The golf club remains open to the general public, except on Sundays, and all operations continue as before. The only really noticeable changes are that the 110,000-square-foot clubhouse is full of worshippers on Sunday mornings, and that the rates for nonprofit groups to rent space have been made quite affordable.
"With a seven-day-a-week banqueting service, a restaurant, conference rooms, and a golf course, this is a new form of evangelism," says Chun. "While many churches would gladly pay for unchurched people to come to their campus, hundreds of non-Christians flood our campus weekly and pay us to use our conference rooms and food services. When they find out that we are a church, they discover our ministry offerings that might help them and see that a church is not threatening. Now there is no excuse to skip church for golf; people can come to church and still golf!"
For First Presbyterian, this unusual choice of a venue for worship represents the solution to a longstanding need for more space. The golf course's clubhouse-turned-sanctuary accommodates 500 to 800 seats, depending on the configuration, and the new fellowship hall has room for nearly 400 more. In addition, there are 13 other conference rooms. The course's 365 parking spaces are now also available to church members on Sundays; First Presbyterian only had 83 parking spaces at its previous location, and had resorted to renting the parking lot of a nearby high school on Sundays and shuttling worshippers back and forth. The church searched for five years for a more suitable location, examining more than 500 potential sites that were all either too small or too expensive. Finally, when a church member had a dream in which Chun was preaching at the golf course, church leaders began to investigate it as a potential location--and the rest is history.
Even the new location accommodates only a fraction of the church's membership at one time. First Presbyterian holds five services each Sunday, and is now one of the 50 largest Presbyterian churches in America. Its staff has included no fewer than twelve Fuller alumni/ae, four of them women, and is presently looking to add three more pastors.
Although a golf course is hardly a common location for a church, the arrangement is working well for First Presbyterian on several fronts. The golf operation pays for landscaping, property taxes, and utilities, which frees up the church's funds for other uses. A buffet lunch after worship services facilitates the building of community, and the opportunity to golf after the service as well makes it easy to invite friends to church. First Presbyterian is also able to minister to other churches and nonprofit organizations by providing them with the space and services they need. As Chun sees it, "through catering, educational, ministry, and recreational opportunities we are building the fabric of the whole community--not only that of Hawaii, but also that of the whole body of Christ." And for First Presbyterian, the building up of the Church truly has led the way to greener pastures.
Those wishing to learn more about First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu may refer to fpchawaii.org and www.pcusa.org/tenyeartrends/report/GK871P6/all_statistics.jsp, or contact Chun at firstname.lastname@example.org.