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Church launches 3 congregations in once-rural, fast-growing county

BLUFFTON, S.C. (BP)–As members of First Baptist Church, Bluffton, S.C., realized God had brought thousands of people into their once-rural community, they decided to establish three new works just to catch up with all the action.
“Everybody here is so attuned to the growth, they just know this needs to be done,” says Dennis Wilkins, pastor of the small-membership church only since last December.
Beaufort County is the fastest-growing county in South Carolina, outpacing even the industry-rich Greenville/Spartanburg area. Well-to-do retirees are flooding the resorts of Hilton Head and Del Webb’s private community, Sun City. Tourists are putting down roots. And those who service them — the developers, real estate agents, retailers, construction companies, to name a few — are moving in as well.
“Sun City has 5,600 acres and 8,000 homes. It’s a homogeneous community growing at a rate of 600 to 1,000 people a year,” Wilkins explains. “It’s a given that there needs to be a church in the proximity of Sun City.”
Wilkins should know. Until the middle of last year, he was corporate senior vice president and general manager of Sun City Hilton Head — a private community for people ages 55 and older. It was a position that revealed clearly to him, as a Christian layman, the need for a church for this growing and unique population segment of Beaufort County.
“Sun City alone brought 1,400 construction jobs, and for every person who moves in, you need one person to service them — and that’s a different genre of people.”
Hence, on Start-a-Church Commitment Day in March, First Baptist, Bluffton, signed a covenant to begin three new works — one in the Pritchardville area, one near Sun City and one contemporary church that would begin in the current facilities. God was bringing people into their area, and they wanted to be involved.
First Baptist agreed to begin and support the three new works through limited finances, office space, prayer support and guidance. Additionally, the committee charged with overseeing the effort is handling the search for three bivocational pastors to lead the new church starts, “because we can’t afford to call full-time pastors [in] starting three new churches from scratch.”
Tommy Karn, director of missions for the Savannah River Baptist Association, noted the church, along with the association, the state convention and the North American Mission Board, “have worked together to design a plan for this effort.”
For the first new church, contemporary worship services began in March. Almost 100 attend this new service, only 20 of those from First Baptist’s membership.
The second new church will be located in the Pritchardville area, a mostly middle-income and blue-collar community about six miles outside of Bluffton. One family from the area had converted a barn on their property into a retreat center for youth and has offered it for the new Pritchardville church.
For the third new work, in Sun City, Wilkins has been leading a Thursday morning Bible study, which averages about 40 in attendance.
Meanwhile, First Baptist stays busy with its existing membership and facilities. Since Wilkins’ arrival, they have remodeled the sanctuary and fellowship hall, are paving the parking lot, have upgraded their sound system and have installed a large projection screen.
“Dennis has led First Church in some remarkable changes,” Karn says. “He has helped the church get a vision of what kind of church they want to be, re-envision their mission. He’s helped them look beyond who they are as a small village church to see that they’ve got to become an area leader church. He’s helping them see they’ve got to make an impact on the changing community.”

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  • Amanda Phifer