Many members of this unusual church are on Capitol Hill for the same reason as their pastor, Mark Batterson, a one-time University of Chicago basketball player who felt God called him from the Midwest to the District in 1995 to “influence the influencers.”
Batterson, 42, seems to be doing just that.
His seven-site National Community Church is one of the fastest-growing ministries in the city, having ecently purchased $15 million worth of real estate properties — that it owns debt-free across Capitol Hill at a time when it’s rare for a city church to expand. Close watchers of the evangelical pastor scene say Batterson is among the most promising leaders for the next generation.
“I’m not sure if anyone could make a bet as to whether he’ll reach the rare echelon of the top two or three pastors, but he’s clearly putting himself in the hunt,” said David Kinnaman, president of the evangelical polling and research firm the Barna Group.
Batterson’s typical Sunday crowd is hardly typical. In a back row of the movie theater, which the church is restoring, sits an aide to a Republican presidential contender. With the place packed to overflow, as usual, a jeans-clad member of President Obama’s faith-outreach team sits cross-legged on the floor. Leaders of national advocacy groups from across the spectrum dot the audience.
The type of people whose days are jammed with partisan power politics, they love Batterson in part because he has embraced a credo that is gaining popularity among younger conservative evangelicals: Lay off the politics, particularly of the divisive kind.
The no-politics rule
Beyond his no-politics-in-church rule, a key hallmark of Batterson’s is how he blends orthodoxy and innovation.
Raised in the Assemblies of God denomination, he has created a nondenominational megachurch that actually has no church, in the conventional sense. His 3,000 members meet in movie theaters, coffee shops and, he hopes soon, a large concert venue.
As an aspiring filmmaker who came to faith through a movie, he thrives on popular culture, from the arts to the slickest marketing. His staff includes pastors for visual story-telling, or multimedia, and branding. Outreach magazine, which covers growing churches, named the National Community Church one of the country’s most influential.
Walking into church one recent Sunday in jeans, a cowboy-style shirt and a stubbly goatee, the 6-foot-3 former shooting guard hugs people left and right as he walks to the front.