It is not often that an established church with a 129-year history gets to experience the excitement of a brand new sanctuary, but the congregation of the First Baptist Church in Statesboro will do just that Sunday, when it worships for the first time in its new 41,000-square-foot worship center.
The new building is quite a contrast to the existing sanctuary in design and capacity. For starters, it is actually wider than it is long.
“Seating in the new worship center is fanned out from side to side and not rectangular, allowing more people to be closer to the front of the room which creates a sense of intimacy,” said Keith Hagan, the church’s administrative pastor. “Because the balcony has gallery seating and stairs that provide easy access to the main floor, there’s not a bad seat in the room.”
Dating back to its inception in 1882, First Baptist has occupied only four sanctuaries thus far. The first two buildings were single room, wood-framed structures, which were lost to fire and storms.
Desiring a more permanent dwelling, the congregation erected a large brick sanctuary on its present location on North Main Street in 1902. This building served the congregation well until 1951, when the church was led by its pastor George Lovell to tear down the sanctuary and rebuild an even larger one. Church records indicate that the present building, which currently sits on the corner of North Main and Sharpe Streets, was built for a total sum of $145,000.
For the past 60 years, that sanctuary has served as the centerpiece for worship at the church.
“If you consider that we have had a morning and an evening worship service almost every Sunday, that would be more than 6,000 services,” said Bill Coen, minister of music. “Add to that the countless weddings and funerals, as well as many special revival services and music programs and you quickly understand the number of lives of people that have been impacted in this room is tremendous. That is why we are so excited about our new worship center, and the opportunities it will provide for years to come.”
Included in the new building is a large foyer that spans the perimeter of the sanctuary. It is a wide open space that allows members and guests to mingle and visit before and after each service.
“Our architectural firm, CTSM Architects of Birmingham, Alabama, did a wonderful job of incorporating space for folks to enjoy while visiting with one another,” said Frank Hook, a lifelong resident of Statesboro and chairman of the church’s Facilities Leadership Team. “God has so blessed me, and I count it a real joy to see the completion of this building in my lifetime. Many fine folks have poured countless hours into this project and we look forward to experiencing God’s best in this place for many years to come.”
To oversee the construction of the building, the church secured the services of the R. W. Allen Company, a construction management firm out of Augusta.
“When we started the planning process for the new sanctuary we knew who we would be working with because both CTSM Architects and R. W. Allen Company helped us with the construction of our Children’s Building and Perry Fellowship Hall in 2003,” Hook said.
Dr. John Waters, pastor of First Baptist, inherited the project when he arrived just over six years ago.
“God was at work here long before I arrived,” Waters said. “This church has a long heritage of Christian ministry that has brought us to this point in time. The faithfulness of generations past is an inspiration to us today to be found faithful in our lifetimes. The accomplishment of such a bold project during uncertain times is an expression of our faith and hope in God. Our prayer is that this project will be a witness to our community about the greatness of our God. From the very beginning, our focus has been on reaching and serving the families of Bulloch County, not just on the 'brick and mortar' or a new building.”
Dedication of the new worship center will begin at 10:30 a.m. Sunday morning with the 140 plus Celebration Choir and Orchestra leading in worship. The service will be broadcast live on Northland Cable channel 2.