Squint and look past the swivel seats, beer taps and neon-lit Budweiser signs and you might be able to spot the potential that parishioners see in Stack's Bar.
For nearly 50 years the Springfield building had been a popular watering hole, a place where people played darts inside or volleyball outside while tossing back a few cold ones. Now one group wants to capitalize on the communal feel of the neighborhood bar and turn it into something else entirely: a Baptist church.
“It really kind of fits us and what we need right now,” church administrator and co-founder Lee Smith said.
It might sound like an unorthodox choice for a place of worship, but stay with Smith. At 2,200 square feet, the building has plenty of space and parking, and the locals know where it is. It needs a little elbow grease and imagination, but pews can substitute for chairs and even the bar itself can serve as a banquet space during church potlucks.
“Eventually we'll remodel it and it'll be nice, but right now it's good enough for us to meet and worship in,” Smith said.
The Springfield Baptist Church requested a conditional use permit on June 7, asking the city for permission to operate a church out of the Stack's building on Locust Street. The Planning Commission has already recommended that the permit be approved, and the City Council is expected to take a vote at Tuesday's council meeting.
Kelly and Jeff Stack are winding down operations after selling the bar to the church several weeks ago.
“It's not every day when you have a church move in and replace a bar,” Springfield Mayor Mike Dill said.
A satellite church born out of the First Baptist Church of Bellevue, the Springfield branch was established in 2010. For the past three years, it has held Sunday services in the gym at Springfield Elementary School.
The temporary locale has allowed the church to save money by not having a mortgage, but church leaders were looking for something more permanent and visible.
“Unless you have a building of your own, people in town think you're fly-by-night,” Smith said. “Hopefully they'll think we're here to stay.”
The church has known for some time that it needed more space for Sunday school, services, Bible studies, weddings and funerals. But a bid to move into a different building on Main Street collapsed last year after council members denied the application amid concerns that there wasn't enough off-street parking.
“We were running out of options as far as buying land or a building in Springfield,” Smith said. “You have to pay a ton for farmland to build on, and we can't afford that right now. We saw land selling for $60,000, $65,000 an acre.”
The bar, somewhat surprisingly, doesn't need much work to make the transition to a suitable worship space, Smith said. The Stacks will clear out the liquor, TVs and other bar trappings. Church members might redo the sidewalks, make entrances more accessible to the disabled and save up for a more extensive renovation later on, but for the most part, Stack's is move-in ready.
The church bought seating from an Iowa church that was closing and has some equipment ready to move in as soon as the congregation gets the green light from the council.
The humor of setting up shop in a former bar isn't lost on churchgoers, Smith said.
“We keep joking we'll keep the sign out there, and when people come in, we'll charge them a cover and sit them down for a sermon.”