Collectivus Church in Calera celebrates four years of worship

Published 1:03 pm Thursday, February 22, 2024

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By DONALD MOTTERN | Staff Writer

CALERA – Those in attendance during the Collectivus Church’s Sunday service on Feb. 11 were met with the showing of a celebration video and cupcakes that served to celebrate an important milestone for the congregation.

On the morning of Sunday, Feb. 11, members of the Collectivus Church’s congregation in Calera took a moment out of their morning to look back and highlight the fourth anniversary of the church’s founding and the long journey their church has taken to get to where they now call home.

“We first launched publicly back in February 2020 and we are a little bit different of a model of church than what you see a lot in the western church world,” said Pastor Ben Nelson of Collectivus Church. “Sunday mornings are a worship experience like you would experience in lots of places with songs, teachings and things like that. But, a lot of what we do is what we call a decentralized model, so things that you often see churches do like missions, discipleship and pastoral care, all of those things are done through what we call missional communities.”

Collectivus Church currently organizes 15 of these missional communities across five counties in the state of Alabama.

“They are similar to what some may recognized as a house church in a lot of ways except for that we still gather together on Sundays all together,” Nelson said. “What this does is offer community for people, helps take the Gospel into not just churches but into neighborhoods and it is also a means of multiplication for us.”

Now comfortably established, Collectivus Church now sees its church missions happening every week through these missional communities, however, the church was not always so firmly planted.

With their first official service taking place on Feb. 9, 2020, Collectivus Church launched without a building of their own and held worship at Calera Intermediate School. In those first days, Nelson and the rest of the congregation had no idea that in little more than four weeks’ time, the United States would begin its first lockdown measures in response to the global COVID-19 Pandemic.

“We had a weird span (getting going),” Nelson said. “It wasn’t bad that we launched as a brand new church, but then COVID happened and we were meeting at the Intermediate School then. (After the suspension of public gatherings at the school) we had to shift to being all-online.”

That shift to online, although something most churches and organizations underwent in the early days of the pandemic, was an especially arduous process for the newly established church. With little notice of what would be required, Collectivus Church quickly gathered and procured the equipment necessary to not only film, but stream and broadcast their early services.

Collectivus Church is a non-denominational and independent congregation that does not lean on any established organization or collected religious group for support.

“It sounds great to say that we are non-denominational but we had no connectivity and no help in getting set up during this,” Nelson said. “We went online, which was good after a while. Then in May we moved to the Calera High School football field and met there all through the summer of 2020, which was as hot as could be.”

While being held in the summer heat, the move to holding Sunday services on the grass of the football field allowed for the return of the personal and relationship forging practice of in-person services during a time when holding one indoors contained intense risks for at-risk members of the community population.

“We met out there so that we could be spaced out and in open air so that we weren’t a part of any problems with COVID-19,” Nelson said. “We stayed there until the school allowed functions back in it with us practicing social distancing.”

Once back inside the intermediate school, Collectivus adapted yet again by spacing out their Sunday service into four separate service times, a practice that limited the number of people inside at any one time. It was a setup that, while presenting its own challenges, served the church well until the latter months of 2021.

Throughout those months, Collectivus Church also pushed forward in the process of forging a home at the former site of the old Baer’s Department Store on Calera’s Main Street.

“Initially, when we were just meeting in homes and before we had officially launched the church, some of the city councilmembers had approached us and said that if we built a building, ‘Would you consider Main Street (as its location,’” Nelson said. “This was in the time before Main Street Calera had really started any of the revitalization that has happened.”

The subject of parking was a main concern early on for Collectivus Church. This was prior to the efforts that have recently greatly added to the number of parking options near the downtown Calera area.

“At the time, what is now the Calera Courtyard contained a house, trees and storage units, so all of the parking availability was just along the road,” Nelson said. “But when we replied with those concerns, the Council informed us of the plans in the works.”

Baer’s Department Store first opened in Calera in 1898 and was a fixture of the local community for more than a century. Despite the establishment’s legacy, the store’s closing in the 2000s saw the store’s closure and subsequent deterioration. When Collectivus came into the picture, the building was serving as little more than storage space and had seen little to no life within its walls for more than a decade.

“At the time it was owned by a guy named Mark Dyer who was using it to store some equipment—sound gear and things like that,” Nelson said. “We talked to him about coming in as a partnership, where we would work to restore the building to make it into an event center for him and (the church) would use it on Sundays.”

However, that original plan began to alter as renovation efforts continued in the face of rising costs spurred by the rise in construction costs throughout the COVID-19 Pandemic.

“With how much money we ended up having to put into the building, it was just better for us to see if he was willing to sell it and he did, he sold it to us for a very fair price,” Nelson said. “We purchased the building and now own those two main buildings.”

Now working in a similar concept as to what was planned with Dyer, the church allows its building to serve as an event space on every other day of the week. On Sundays, the building operates as a church and during other days of the week, it serves the church and the community as an available event space.

The Collectivus Church’s facilities have already served as host to movie nights, weddings, baby showers, parties and corporate and business meetings.

“It’s a fully usable space that has multiple areas,” Nelson said. “We’ve got the large space that we currently use for our worship center, but it is also used a lot for weddings. Then we have a backroom space for the corporate style gatherings and we can house 40 to 50 people in a boardroom type setup there. We also have smaller rooms that are used a lot for the birthday parties and smaller events.”

In a recent expansion of that concept, and to provide an additional space that will house the church’s children’s ministry, Collectivus Church has also leased the former CrossFit building in Downtown Calera and is in the midst of renovations at the property. Currently, one of the largest desired uses for the third building is for it to serve as the site for wedding receptions.

“Right now, if we host a wedding, we have to flip our large space between the wedding ceremony setup and the reception so the new building will give us a nice separate reception space,” Nelson said.

These spaces offered by the church are freely available for use by the city and the city’s schools as well as for approved nonprofits, with the availability for private parties to schedule and rent the event spaces.

“As a church it just makes sense,” Nelson said. “An event space and a church can be very similar. One of my least favorite things in the church world, and I’ve worked in the church world for a long time, is that you have a church—which is this big building with a lot of overhead (costs)—but then it is shut down and empty for five days out of the week. We knew the building could serve as an offering to our community, for our city and schools as a free offering they can use at any time and they do.”

As the Collectivus Church enters its fourth year, it is continuing to grow and with its position at the center of the Calera Courtyard Project, the church has also begun to see the impact brought on by the city’s revitalization efforts.

“We’ve doubled in attendance over the past two years and it has just been great,” Nelson said. “We’ve known the whole time that as this would develop. Our goal was to grow with the city. We have a rule at Collectivus where if the city asks, or if the school asks, the answer is a yes. We want to partner with our cities and we just want to continue to offer a place for people as the city grows to grow in their faith as well.”

Calera has recently added at least two additional parking lots for the downtown area, which has included lot space from the now fully demolished Bobby Bowden Furniture Building. In their completion, that call of welcome has reached a great number of people in the most recent months and weeks, an increase that has resulted, in Nelson’s description, every available parking spot now being filled.

“We have never not grown, but we have noticed over the last few months that we have grown tremendously at the same time as the parking lots going into place,” Nelson said. “I think it’s a combination of factors with the new parking being available but also you can just see the back of Main Street now and that something is happening here. People are taking notice of all the things that are going on.”

With Easter approaching, the Collectivus Church is currently spreading awareness of the fact that they are encouraging everyone in the community to join them in their recognition of the religious significance of the season.

During the week of Easter, the church will host a Good Friday service in addition to Saturday night and Sunday morning Easter services.

“We call ourselves the modern-day expression of the early Church,” Nelson said. “We see a lot of that in what we see in the Book of Acts in the Bible which is kind of the birth of the Church and so we try to resemble that in modern context the best that we can. We do not have any ties to any denomination or organizations. It is just a handful of people who have gotten together who wanted to see church done—we say in a new and different way, but at the same time more of in an ancient way. We keep looking back to how the early Church cared for each other and how they lived out life for each other and we wondered if we could see that happen within our day and our space. It’s been a really good thing.”

Details on Collectivus Church’s Easter programs are and will be made available on the church’s website and social media pages.

Those who would like to learn more on Collectivus Church and their congregation are encouraged to visit their website at

Those interested in learning more about event spaces offered by the church can also learn more by visiting the website