BIRMINGHAM (BP) — The donation of a 203,511-square-foot, six-story building and parking deck did not change plans for the Scott Dawson Evangelism Association (SDEA) to establish a “trade school” for youth pastors, but expanded its ability to address something the organization’s namesake calls “a crisis.”
“I have currently 38 churches looking for full-time student pastors,” Dawson told Baptist Press. “We have seen a shift to encourage people to become church planters, which is a great need, but it has come at the expense of student ministry.”
Dawson is a well-known evangelist and conference speaker with more than 35 years of experience working with student ministries. He started SDEA as a student at Samford University and has hosted conferences for more than 30 years. The Strength to Stand Conference takes place in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and is joined by a summer camp and missions opportunities.
Earlier this year the SDEA began looking for a larger operational space, communications director Jordan Cox told BP. They were soon connected to Patriot Equities, which owns a former bank training complex that includes 1,600 parking spaces.
Patriot Equities approached the SDEA late in the summer with the proposal of gifting the organization the property.
“We were in a unique position to do something creative with the building, something that wasn’t part of the original investment thesis,” said Patriot Equities CEO Erik Kolar in a statement to WBRC News in Birmingham. “…We decided to pivot, and leverage our position for Scott where we could expand their reach dynamically and hopefully provide them with a first class, headquarters-quality facility.”
The SDEA will take on maintenance and monthly utility costs. However, Cox pointed out, the organization has always rented space and so those expenditures aren’t new.
“And it happens that, with the absence of monthly payments on the building, we’ll be able to absorb the monthly costs of the space,” he said.
The Strength to Stand Institute will work alongside traditional avenues of ministry training.
“What we’re really looking to do is capitalize on all of them – theological education, close mentorship and real-world experience in an expedited manner that gets students out of the classroom and into the local church,” Cox said.
Dawson put forward that the Institute was “designed by youth pastors for youth pastors to be youth pastors in the trenches at the local church.”
An advisory team of youth pastors for the STS Institute will remain active in the training process. That includes talking to churches interested in STS graduates “to make sure it’s a good fit,” Dawson said.
“The first experience of a youth pastor is often what dictates the rest of their ministry,” he said.
Plans are already in place for the bottom three floors with expansions anticipated for the top three, Dawson told WBRC.
Cox said that in addition to being the home of SDEA ministry operations and offices, there will be the possibility of hosting other ministries and non-profits. The SDEA is also open to potentially using the space for hosting large-scale training opportunities, pastor meetings and other community events.
Moving-in phases are expected to begin later this month.