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Big plans at First Baptist
$11 million expansion planned for new sanctuary
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First Baptist Church pastor John Waters and Administrative Pastor Keith Hagan, left, stand in the future site of a multimillion dollar expansion. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

       Since 1882, the First Baptist Church of Statesboro has been a fixture on North Main Street with a very active and vibrant congregation. This Sunday's groundbreaking ceremony for the church's new sanctuary will mark the most recent chapter in the church's efforts to meet the needs of its constituents while augmenting its ongoing commitment to reach out to the community.
       "In 2000, the church conducted a church wide spiritual vision weekend," said First Baptist pastor Dr. John Waters. "I wasn't here at the time, but I know serious consideration was given to moving the church to a different location. Ultimately, the congregation and its leadership felt like the heartbeat of our community was downtown. The church wanted to remain in the center of our community and serve it from there. In retrospect, I think most feel it was the right decision."
       The result of that decision has been the construction of a new pre-school/children's building and fellowship hall completed in 2003 measuring just over 54,000 square feet. The next phase of construction will be the larger sanctuary that will measure 41,743 square feet upon completion just 16 months from now.
       All told, when the sanctuary is built, the church will have invested almost $20 million in capital improvements over a period of ten years. This has been and will be a major investment in downtown at a time when the majority of the growth in Statesboro has been around its perimeter.
       Statesboro resident Frank Hook has been chairman of the Facilities Leadership Team at First Baptist since 2000.
      "Even though we did need a new sanctuary back in 2000, the church decided it was best to complete phase I which featured the pre-school/children's building and fellowship hall, now named the Perry Fellowship Hall in honor of retired Pastor Dr. Bill Perry," Hook said. "We moved in that direction because we needed to meet the need for the number of young families with children who were coming to the church. The sanctuary is now our phase II effort to provide for a growing church community brought on by so many young families now attending First Baptist."
       Right now, First Baptist conducts three 11 a.m. services each Sunday morning. The Korean ministry uses the small chapel, the college service is in the North Main sanctuary, and the church wide service is conducted in the Perry Fellowship Hall.
       "Our general service outgrew the sanctuary, so we readjusted and moved it to the fellowship hall," Waters said. "Once the new sanctuary is completed, we will relocate both the 8:30 and 11 a.m. services to it. The Korean service and college service will remain where they are being conducted today."
       The sanctuary is going to be an impressive structure with an ultimate seating capacity of 1,200. In addition, it will have an expanded choir loft, a balcony, as well as enhanced capabilities for television and music ministry. While the building may address an immediate need, Waters said its purpose goes far beyond that.
       "We're not in the building business, we are in the people business," he said. "Our mission is to invest in people's lives, not in buildings. One day these buildings will crumble, but until that time, our hope is that they will be used to reach people, to reach families, to give us the tools to reach as many as we can."
       Krista Branch and her husband Jim moved to Statesboro four years ago. "We have attended First Baptist since moving here," Krista Branch said. "To build and expand the ministry of the church is very exciting to us. We are behind the expansion 100 percent, and our children are even excited. We really believe that this will help the church touch more people and grow its ministry."
       Lawrence Corley, senior principal of CTSM Architects, Birmingham, Alabama, has served as the architect for all three buildings.
       "This basically is a custom sanctuary on a modest piece of land," Corley said. "It is colonial in design, but has ministry features that place it on the cutting edge of worship. It contains a very large gathering area with a number of entrances into the sanctuary. The choir loft, balcony, and sanctuary will be fully accessible for the disabled. Even though it is much larger than the current sanctuary, no seat in it is farther from the pulpit than 76 feet which is just two feet farther than the current sanctuary. This building is designed to last for hundreds of years, and will function as the heart of the campus."
       The cost of the new sanctuary including grounds improvements is just shy of $11 million. The church entered into a capital campaign titled "God Is Faithful" during the month of May to raise funds for the project. It was determined that $4.4 million in pledges (to be paid over a three year period) had to be received by midnight on May 30 for the project to be approved. According to church officials, it was during the final hour of the final day that pledge totals reached the predetermined amount.
       "We were over a million dollars short on that Sunday," Waters said. "We collected offerings on Sunday, called on folks that afternoon, emailed, and even used Facebook. At the very end of the day, literally, the goal was met."
Waters said it was very important that the church demonstrate fiscal responsibility where additional building was concerned.
       "You cannot stand there and tell people that they need to manage their money appropriately and adhere to the teachings of the Bible where financial matters are concerned if as a church, you aren't demonstrating that same responsibility," he said. "That is why we wanted to raise a significant portion needed prior to construction. Our goal is to retire the remaining debt over nine years. Hopefully, we can do that sooner."
       Aside from the pledges that have been made, the remaining portion of the construction is being financed by the Sea Island Bank. "We looked at a number of avenues for financing, but we are happy to say that we were able to meet our needs here in our community, and not use a financing source outside of Statesboro," Waters said.
       The footprint for the new building will cover approximately one acre on the front left portion of the church's property as you face the campus from North Main Street. No structures are being torn down to make room for the sanctuary.
       "We are the church we are today due to the people that came before us," Waters said. "They sacrificed so much. Now it is our turn to build that bridge to the future, to put into place what will be needed to serve future generations. That is what this is all about. I know these are tough times, but we are optimistic about the future. Christianity gives us that hope and that faith to continue to build on what we have. This building reminds us that we serve a great God who gives us hope and strength during difficult times."
       First Baptist Church is located at 108 North Main Street. To learn more about the First Baptist Church of Statesboro and this Sunday's groundbreaking ceremony, you can visit their website at www.fbc-statesboro.org.