When Toney Salva and his wife, Stacie Salva, moved from Boston, MA, to Cranberry Township in 2003 to start Discovery Christian Church, their congregation met on the rear deck of their Cranberry home during the summer months.
What a difference seven years makes.
Today, Discovery's Sunday services attract more than 500 people to a rented space at the Regional Learning Alliance, a conference center in the Cranberry Woods business park. Prior to that, the church met in an auditorium at what was then Carmike Cinemas (now Cranberry Cinemas) in the township before outgrowing that building.
With membership continuing to swell, the church once again is about to spill over its confines.
During the holidays, Salva said, almost 600 people attended its December services in Cranberry. The church also holds services in the South Side and Troy Hill.
"We're going to run out of space where we are now if we continue to grow at the pace we've been on," he said. "We were going to be in trouble pretty soon, so we wanted to be proactive."
Being proactive meant finding a permanent home to accommodate the group. In late August, the church purchased 22 acres of property owned by Fred Hespenheide along Route 228 in neighboring Adams Township.
"We're pretty excited," Salva said. "It's been kind of a long process."
A native of Colorado, Salva said the nondenominational church, which is part of the Restoration Movement network of Christian churches, had been searching for property on which to build a new home for more than a year. The Restoration Movement seeks to unify church denominations under the common moniker of Christian.
"When we started out, we didn't bother with the whole property thing," Salva said. "We wanted to put money into the community. The larger we became, the harder it got."
Bryan Gratton, Discovery's pastor of adult ministries, said administrators wanted to keep the church in the Cranberry, but finding available land in the community proved hard to come by.
"This was the closest patch of land we could find in the area," Gratton said of the Route 228 property, which borders Cranberry Township. "We wanted to be close to Route 79 and the Turnpike. Cranberry is easy to get to, so we wanted to be in this area."
They found it in the Hespenheide property.
Salva said Hespenheide approached Discovery about purchasing his land.
"He heard we were looking and he asked us if we'd consider his farm," he said. "It turned out to be a good piece of property for us, and also for him."
Through the deal they worked out, Salva said, Hespenheide will continue to live in a house on the 22-acre parcel of land for the next decade. At that time, Salva said, the church will make a balloon payment for any amount remaining on the loan the church took out through S&T Bank to purchase the property, which Salva said is worth about $4 million.
The church also is in the midst of a three-year capital fundraising campaign for a new home. The goal, Salva said, is to raise a million dollars. So far, the congregation has come up with about $700,000.
"This April, we launch into the third year of the campaign," he said.
Salva said it was important to find a permanent location for the church. Right now, he said, Discovery pays between $1,600 and $1,700 per weekend to rent the space at the Regional Learning Alliance. Sunday also is the only day the church can meet at the center, which is open for business the rest of the week.
"We started to see money go down the drain to rent the places we had to rent," he said. "It just got to be an expense that we didn't think was a good use of funds."
Not only that, Salva said, but volunteers spend hours Sunday morning setting up the learning center for the church's two services, which are held at 9:30 and 11 a.m.
Discovery – which Salva said uses technology and current music to connect with parishioners – also has two trailers full of video and sounds equipment, screens, chairs and various other items that get hauled in and out of the center each Sunday.
"It takes about 100 volunteers to help do what we do," he said.
They'll have plenty of space to stretch on the new property, which also comes with a duplex.
Salva said church members are in the process of turning one side of the duplex, which has seven bedrooms altogether, into an administrative office for the church. The remaining space will house a teen center for the church's younger members.
"The other side will be a hangout place for high school students," Salva said. "It will be a little coffee shop area, with a ping-pong table and video games."
They have plenty of work ahead of them.
Salva estimates the duplex is more than a century old. Over the years, it has had many additions, including a groovy shag carpet and other '70s-era fixture. The congregation boasts a few engineers and architects, who, Salva said, have had fun trying to guess the date of each addition.
However, at moment, it's hard to tell just about anything.
Volunteers have torn up the carpets and started removing the kitchen cupboards. Salva said he hopes to move the church offices, now located in a rented space on Freedom Road, to the new property sometime in February.
"That's the goal," he said. "But it depends on different things."
With so much property, Gratton says, the church also plans to add soccer and other athletic fields that will be open to the public.
"We want the new center to be a community center, not just a space that's used on the weekend," he said. "We don't want it just to be a Sunday-morning type of thing.
"Green spaces are always hard to come by," he said. "So we wanted to give back to the community instead of just taking up space."