loren Eric Swanson: Bishop McLaughlin / Potter's House Opens Mall

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Bishop McLaughlin / Potter's House Opens Mall

In 2001 I met Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin at the Potter's House (http://www.potters-house.org/) in Jacksonville Florida--an incredible leader whom I wrote about in The Externally Focused Church. This is what I wrote:

If Your Church Left Town, Would Anybody Notice?

In 1988 Vaughn and Narlene McLaughlin moved into a depressed area of Jacksonville, Florida, to begin a church designed to meet the needs of the whole person. Vaughn didn’t grow up going to church, so he was unconstrained by traditional ideas of what a church could be. Vaughn and Narlene soon discovered that beginning an innovative church isn’t easy. As Vaughn expressed interest in purchasing an empty building, he was met with racial hatred, but he courageously pushed forward. Praise God he did. Today the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship is a vibrant church of over three thousand people.
Vaughn had dreams, but he wanted to help others realize their dreams too. Recognizing that most new businesses fail because they are undercapitalized, the Potter’s House does what it can to help potential businesses during the critical incubation period. Today their converted Southern Bell building, called the Multiplex, houses nearly twenty for-profit businesses begun by budding entrepreneurs from the church. The Multiplex is the home of the Potter’s House Café, a credit union, a beauty salon, a graphic-design studio, a shoe-repair store, a travel agency, a Greyhound Bus terminal, and several other business, all started by church members who lacked capital but had a dream. Recently they purchased and are in the process of restoring and rebuilding the Normandy Mall, Jacksonville’s first indoor shopping mall. In addition to a large auditorium, the new facility will house social services, incubating businesses, and retail stores. In 1999, because of his proficiency in economic development, Bishop McLaughlin was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Florida State University.

The Multiplex also began and houses a Christian academy attended by five hundred students. The campus includes a dozen state-of-the-art basketball courts that attract young people from all over West Jacksonville for midnight basketball. In addition to economic empowerment and education, they support a prison and jail ministry, a nursing homes ministry, a youth ministry, Big and Little Brothers, and free car-repair services. They also have a team of 250 volunteers who “look after things in the city,” even if that means simply sweeping the streets of Jacksonville.

Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin is an outstanding preacher, but he believes that ministry is always what happens outside the church. In his words, “If you are not making an impact outside of your four walls, then you are not making an impact at all.” He challenges those he mentors by asking them, “If you picked up and left, how would the city feel? Would your city weep? Would anybody even notice? Would anybody care?”

Bishop was one of our keynote speakers at the Externally Focused Church Conference in May and will also be speaking at two regional EFC events in San Diego and Baltimore in November (www.externallyfocusedconference.com). Below is the article in the Jacksonville Newspaper:

The Mall God Built
The Potter's House Christian Fellowship will take profits from the center to pay for missionary projects
By DIANA MIDDLETON, The Times-Union
http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/090207/bus_196150808.shtml

The mall has always been a temple for dedicated shoppers, but a new Jacksonville shopping center is taking that concept and making shopping a tangibly religious experience.
The Kingdom Plaza at the Normandy Mall is part shopping mecca and part Christian mission. The freshly refurbished mall is owned by the Potter’s House Christian Fellowship, a non-denominational mega church on the Westside. The for-profit mall is geared toward religious fundraising: any profits left over after paying mall expenses will be rolled over into the church’s missionary projects.
Spinning off nonprofit entities linked with for-profit businesses is increasingly common, according to industry analysts, but the scope of this venture is a rarity.
The mall’s stores are a mix of local and national tenants, but the place has an overwhelmingly Christian vibe, including a Rite 2 Life nutrition shop (slated to open in October) and the Kingdom Kuts barber shop.
The church itself owns three of the biggest tenants: a bowling alley, the mall’s sole eatery and a gym, complete with inspirational scripture painted on the walls above the treadmills.
The marriage between religion and retail is nothing new. Churches and religious charities have been raising money with thrift shops and bake sales for years. But the Kingdom Plaza is augmenting that concept into a full-scale, for-profit venture.
Kingdom Plaza is nestled in the former Normandy Mall, a shopping center that was vacant for several years until Potter’s House purchased the property in 2003 for $4 million and commenced $7.5 million worth of renovations.
Inside, the mall’s interior looks like any other indoor shopping center. There’s a fountain babbling in the center, the smell of food wafting through the walkways and diamonds glittering on cushions in one shop window. But then there are the tinges of religion: The mention of a “King” in shop logos, the pictures of the cross in a jewelry store.
Plus, the mall is literally within steps of the Potter’s House church, a building so large, its main sanctuary fits more than 4,000, and the children’s church seats 600.
The next-door mall was the brainchild of the local leader of Potter’s House, Bishop Vaughn McLaughlin. He has a dual vision of the mall, conceptualizing it as an extension of the ministry where people can have a “clean and decent” time and troubled folks can find employment.
To him, “keeping busy” and doing commerce is what God intended parishioners to do while they are waiting for judgment day.
“We are creating synergy between the mission and business,” he said. “They shouldn’t be separate. Business is human nature; it’s what we do.”
McLaughlin sees the mall as a potentially profitable enterprise, one that can compete with local malls and bankroll future ministry-related projects - while perhaps enticing potential new church members. He often plugs the mall during his sermons.
Kingdom Plaza is taxed
While it’s common for religious entities to expand into enterprise, this project seems uniquely aggressive, according to Dan Busby, vice president of Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, an organization aimed at guiding Christian organizations toward sound and ethic financial standards.
“I haven’t heard of anything exactly like that,” he said. “It’s fairly common for large churches to have bookstores or other enterprises in town that might generate some funds. But by leasing space to a lot of businesses, this sounds like an expansion beyond what many mega churches would have.”
Kingdom Plaza is taxed like any other business, unlike its parent, the Potter’s House. The spinoff enterprises are usually created as for-profit corporations in order to control taxation, Busby said.
“The aim is to clearly pay taxes on what should be taxed, and not have any issues from the business income that would negatively impact the church corporation,” he said.
As money for nonprofits become increasingly difficult to obtain, many are opting to start outside businesses (an activity dubbed social enterprise), according to Rena Coughlin, chief executive officer of the Nonprofit Center of Northeast Florida.
“More and more tax-exempt organizations seek to diverse their revenue streams by developing enterprises, most of which are loosely linked to their mission,” she said. “With tougher and tougher budget cuts, I think that everyone is looking at diversification. It’s dangerous when you are over-dependent on a revenue stream, particularly on the whim of political decision makers.”
Grand opening in October
The center will be at full capacity when it has its grand opening in October. A real estate agency, luxe spa, and a trendy shoe shop are all slated to open. (Not welcome: lingerie shops or stores retailing golden “grill” teeth.) It’s also attracted at least one national tenant, cell phone retailer Clear Talk Communications.
The connection with a religious organization wasn’t controversial for the brand, according to store manager Juan Queeley. He does admit that church administrators have asked him “many, many” times to become a member of the church.
The mall could be a shrewd move for national retailers.
For one, there seems to be a built-in audience. The church has several weekly services, and McLaughlin hopes parishioners flood the mall afterward.
He also plans to juice the profit by placing related businesses near each other. For example, the bowling alley is near a party supply store for bowling party supplies, and if church members are getting married in the nearby sanctuary, they can rent or buy formal wear in the mall’s bridal shop.
When shopping at Rich Carmichael’s custom-printed T-shirt shop, you may get a side of spirituality with your order. He often whips out his Bible to minister to customers who stop at Glorious Tee’s and Totes for custom heat-pressed religious shirts. He says the mall was the perfect home for his business because the rent is reasonable - and he can proselytize to his heart’s content.
“I can read the Bible when I take a break, and then get back to work,” he said. “And nobody here will tell me I can’t.”
Linking the message with the merchandise is the best way to ensure such a project’s success, nonprofit expert Coughlin said.
“The toughest time in terms in sustaining themselves and having meaningful income are the ones that go outside their mission statement,” she said.
“God created the business model,” said Narlene McLaughlin, the bishop’s wife and an administrator with the church. “Some people say religion and business should be segmented and separate, but that’s just not true.”

4 Comments:

At Thursday, September 06, 2007 8:56:00 AM, Blogger Secret Rapture said...

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At Tuesday, September 25, 2007 9:40:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Eric,

Great story about Bishop McLaughlin. I found your blog after reading your book. I pastor a church in Texas that is moving its focus externally.

I met you years ago on CCC staff back when I was on staff in the late '70's. We played touch rugby at CSU in the early mornings.

Thanks for prodding the church to look outward.

Woody Woodward

 
At Wednesday, July 01, 2009 7:32:00 AM, Blogger Candice said...

Great article about Bishop McLaughlin. I am a product of Jacksonville and now living Alpharetta Ga. I started a blog about our cultures' successful men and wanted to do something about the men of Jacksonville and Bishop Mclaughlin was first on my list. Please keep up the awesome work...and stop by my blog sometime.

 
At Saturday, April 08, 2017 4:22:00 AM, Blogger Hill said...

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