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Ashby Baptist uses demographic studies to plan building around area growthcomment (0)

March 23, 2006

By Grace Thornton

The clearing where Ashby Baptist Church, Brierfield, in Bibb Baptist Association once sat tucked in the woods is now clearer than it’s been in nearly a century.

With the ashes and debris from its sanctuary and educational space cleaned up, the site a quarter mile off Highway 139 almost betrays the memory that a white wooden church was ever there. To neighbors who — out of habit — still expect the 87-year-old church to be there when they pass, they find it strangely blank.

The church’s long-range plan is also blank now that the Feb. 3 spate of arsons in Bibb County made its facilities a total loss, according to Pastor Jim Parker.

But, he added, a blank slate is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it’s a challenge church members are getting more excited about all the time.

“For a lot of the folks here, losing their church building is like losing an old friend or friend of the family. You process it like you do death,” Parker said. “But as the healing process has gone on, the people are getting ready to move forward. And there are so many options on where to go from here.”

A wide spectrum of vision casting has already begun in Brierfield, a small community nestled in the top easternmost corner of Bibb County. The area has recently caught some of neighboring Shelby County’s population shift, and the church’s new direction includes adjusting to reach more of those people, said Gary Swafford, director of the office of associational missions and church planting for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM).

“In building their new church, they are talking about redreaming their dream and adopting a new vision to go with the new building, which is a good idea,” he said.

When representatives from the SBOM visited the first five damaged churches just after the fires to offer monetary and prayer support, Swafford was in the background, offering demographic studies and church-building guidance for whenever the churches felt they were ready to start rebuilding.

Ashby Baptist quickly took him up on his offer.

“We got the demographic study done, and we used the projections to go ahead and extrapolate a number we believe we will have in each age group,” Parker said.

He said currently the trend is that nearly all 150 church members will appear in the church at some point during the month, averaging out at about 90 in attendance for each Sunday’s morning service.

The new building is already being planned for 300, and the congregation is considering moving from its current site in the woods to a more visible lot on the highway, Parker said.

“We figure that based on the demographic projections, in the next three to five years, we’ll double,” he said. “We trust the Lord on that. We have seen a lot of growth even in just the last six months, and we believe He wants us to grow.”

Before the fire, the congregation of Ashby Baptist was already weighing the decision of whether to relocate or add on to their current facilities.

“The Lord answered that question for us,” church member Debbie Crocker said with a laugh. “There have been trials but we are making the best of it, and it is turning out to be a good thing.”

Swafford said church members seem thrilled about being able to plan their new facilities specifically toward reaching these new people moving into the area.

“This established church is wanting to take a different, inclusive, intentional stance to incorporate new people into their congregation,” he said. “And yes, now is definitely the perfect time to do it.”

The next step may be canvassing the neighborhoods for more studies or working on the drawings for the new facilities, Parker said.

The church has had offers of free architect services, part of an outpouring of help and donations from people all across the state and nation that Parker said he never would have expected in a million years.

“I never would have imagined it would be this way. So many people have poured out so much,” he said.

And the mobile chapels the church is using on loan from the SBOM have been an incredible icing on the cake of instance after instance of help from state Baptists, Parker added.

“We are so grateful to our Baptist brothers and sisters — they have taken such good care of us.”

The church had its first service back on its site in the chapels March 12. It was so well attended by both members and media that they barely squeezed everyone in, Parker said. “Everyone was just so excited to be back — the spirit was great.”

The spirit is also great at nearby Rehobeth Baptist Church, Randolph (near Lawley), in Bibb Association, according to Pastor Duane Schliep.

Rehobeth Baptist, which lost its sanctuary to fire the same night as Ashby, was set to have its homecoming March 19 in its fellowship hall.

“Good things are happening and we are hoping to get some drawings (for a new sanctuary) in the next couple of weeks,” said Schliep, whose church also received demographic studies from the SBOM.

“Everyone is thankful (now that suspects have been taken into custody) that we can start building without looking over our shoulder with the fear of this happening again.”

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