APEX — In the kitchen of Peak United Methodist Church, children enthusiastically mixed Chex wafers, chocolate chips, pretzels, raisins and peanuts as part of their cooking class.
Down the hall, six moms sat around a table, swapping parenting tips and reading a book.
These days, some local churches aren’t just for once-a-week worship services and Bible studies. Some offer yoga classes, basketball pickup games, trips for senior citizens and even a group for motorcycle enthusiasts.
Western Wake County has grown so much, and churches are finding themselves in the construction zone to keep up.
But they’re not just expanding their sanctuaries. Some churches are building bigger common areas that can double as community centers.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cary built a counseling center. St. Michael the Archangel Catholic church, also in Cary, launched a fundraising campaign to build a $3 million activity center with a gymnasium and more classrooms for gatherings of up to 600 people.
“I think what happens, especially in an area like Cary where there is a large population, people are looking for a central place where they can find resources,” said Mark Westrick, who leads the social and pastoral care ministry at St. Michael. “It’s also a place where you have common ground. I think a successful church is going to meet the needs of a community.”
Apex United Methodist Church has undergone one of the biggest expansions in the area. The church has several satellite sites such as Peak UMC, 519 Church in Cary and Fiesta Cristiana, a Hispanic ministry.
Apex UMC pegs itself as a church that caters to the whole person. Church members want programs that go beyond worship, said Pastor Gray Southern.
“People want to see the faith made real,” Southern said. “It’s our desire to engage the community. You are incomplete without both.”
To meet the needs of its congregation, the church added more than 17,000 square feet of space at its main campus on South Hughes Street, said Tina Skinner, chairwoman of the church’s building committee.
The $7 million expansion, which included a parking lot, wrapped up in March.
The church added a two-story building that features a lounge for teenagers and classrooms for preschool students. The space also hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings in English and Spanish, Boy Scout groups, cancer-support groups and more.
Another new building has space for the church’s choirs to rehearse.
In July, the Apex Town Council gave the church a Summer Appearance Award.
“The church is modeled after what Christ did,” said Lorah Chalk, a member of the church’s preschool moms’ group. “He went out of the synagogue. He went out into the community.”
Part of the idea is that social programs might bring people to worship services.
For a lot of the mothers in the group, the church’s preschool program was their introduction to the church. After their children began attending school there, some parents became more active in the church and its activities.
“Once you do one thing, you find out about things,” said Gretchen Krueger, a member of the mothers’ group who has led a financial-planning workshop at the church. “I’ve done scrapbooking here after a woman in the church said she wanted to start a group.”