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Church’s openness to grow gets architectural support at LifeWay

SMYRNA, Tenn. (BP)–Members of First Baptist Church, Smyrna, Tenn., may have been landlocked, but their sensitivity to God’s leadership has freed them to grow.
With three Sunday schools and three worship services, a facility of 37,000 square feet has crowded the congregation for the past few years. Attendance, more than doubled in a decade, meant the 950 average attendance was likely to peak.
“The option of staying here and continuing to grow did not exist,” said Eddie Mosley, minister of education. “The people are very sensitive to God’s leadership.”
Pastor Ken Hubbard agreed, saying, “God sent us people with good Southern Baptist backgrounds and we began to grow others.”
Mosley credits a new member class and the study of “Experiencing God” with the willingness of members to move in order to reach others. And while the 65,000-square-foot new facility will be very different from the old church building, longtime members are willing to “change locations to add people,” he said. A heritage area will incorporate the historic stained-glass windows and other memorabilia to make the modern facility seem more like home to some.
Mosley laughingly refers to the first-phase facility as a “sancti-nasium or gym-atorium. We want worship to be first, and then if we play basketball there, too … fine.”
Worship capacity for 850 people and classrooms for 1,200 people does not mean a reduction to one Sunday morning worship service and one Sunday school. Plans are for two of each to promote continued growth. Later, a sanctuary and more classroom space is anticipated.
“Only God knows when the next phase will begin,” Mosley said.
God’s timing has been a long-term part of the journey to new land, Hubbard added.
The property they will leave behind was first used by the congregation in 1913.
“A very small congregation of 30 to 40 people built what was for them an enormous building,” Hubbard said. “The original sanctuary featured preaching in-the-round — a very modern concept.”
Over time, the church grew to fill its once-oversized home, and by the time Hubbard arrived in 1988, he sensed the church would grow dramatically to require more space. At the same time, he recalled, “God spoke to me and said, ‘Let your people discover this, too.'”
Within a year, more nursery space was needed. Leaders discussed adding more space for babies, but the city would not allow them to build due to insufficient parking for a larger building. It was then that the people began to discover the need as God had told Hubbard they would.
The following year the church purchased 45 acres of farmland two miles from the old church and near the Nissan Motor Manufacturing Corporation facility, a recent addition to the community.
“Before we finalized our building plan, the property was paid for,” Hubbard said.
A subsequent period of work with an architect proved unsuccessful. A free-flowing discussion between the architect and church members resulted in a project of such magnitude, including a running track, schools and a retirement center, that the cost overwhelmed them. The project was put on “hold.”
The church continued to grow, and three years ago the topic of a new facility resurfaced. A space study conducted by the church architecture department of LifeWay Christian Resources confirmed the need, and Mosley said LifeWay’s staff “made a good impression on our staff.
“They placed ministry first, rather than the architecture,” he recalled. “First, they asked us to list our ministries. That was the first architect I had worked with who had asked such specific questions. They really put forth a ministry mind-set. They fit the building to meet our ministry needs; they sat with each ministry organization and with each minister, and they continue to do that. Our master plan is evolving.
“That is what I found to be the uniqueness of LifeWay’s architectural service,” Mosley continued. “Several churches a month call us for references. I tell them LifeWay has placed a priority on our project and made us feel very important. They put ministry first rather than creating a shrine for architectural abilities.”
Hubbard agreed, adding, “They really understand where we are. They realize we are not a wealthy church at all. The plan and the approach helped our dream come to fruition.”
As an added positive result of the move is that when First Baptist Church moves two miles away in May 1999, the facility they leave will be occupied by Mt. Zion Baptist Church, a black Southern Baptist congregation that has outgrown its space a mile away.
Hubbard reflected on the chain of events that began 85 years ago with those early First Baptist members and declared, “What God has done here is an awesome thing.”

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  • Charles Willis