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Decatur’s Central Church gets ‘shocking’ blessing in relocation to population centercomment (0)

November 6, 2008

By Martine G. Bates

Yellow construction equipment was parked beside the newly paved parking lot, loose dirt spilled over the freshly poured sidewalks and the lights inside had a few issues. Still more than 1,200 excited people filled the sanctuary during the two morning worship services.

It looked like a typical first Sunday in a new church building.

But Pastor Rob Jackson had a different description for the scene Oct. 26 at Central Baptist Church, Decatur. “This is what God does when a congregation is willing to walk by faith and not by sight.”

The Morgan Baptist Association congregation’s journey to a new campus began in 2004 as it was attempting to decide on some needed improvements to the church, which had been in the same downtown location since 1894.

But there were problems.

“We had hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of master plans. Nothing ever came to fruition,” Jackson said. “The church was discouraged because we could not even raise the money needed to remodel the nursery area.” As he prayed and fasted about the direction of the church, Jackson felt as if he was being led in a direction he was not prepared for — “God wanted us to relocate.”

An expensive relocation seemed out of the question. Besides the church had already dealt with the idea of relocating, according to Robert Smith, chairman of deacons at the time. “But I was willing to re-look at it,” Smith said. “I was certainly willing to pray about it.”

He and the other deacons were soon convinced that God was leading the church to relocate.

“The turning point came at a deacons retreat. We have one every year, but this one was very unique,” Smith said. “I was supposed to take the last 15 minutes and put out the option of relocating. It turned into a two-hour discussion and an all-night prayer meeting.”

As the church leadership continued to explore the idea, multiple hurdles presented themselves, according to Jackson. The last fund-raising effort had failed. Little affordable property was available in the desired area. The church would have to sell several parcels of property at its current location in a time of economic uncertainty. Not everyone in the church wanted to move.

Jackson said the next four years “showed God is still on His throne.”

“When churches get on their faces and say, ‘God, what do You want us to do?,’ they can just step back and watch God work for His glory,” he said.

Consultants said the church could raise $2 million in pledges, according to Jackson. A campaign yielded $6 million.
Members were presented with money from unexpected sources after praying for something to contribute.

Perhaps the greatest surprise, according to Jackson and Smith, was the property the church eventually purchased — property that was not available as the leadership searched in the area identified by a Lifeway Christian Resources study as the center of population for Decatur and Morgan County.

The LifeWay study also revealed that within a 15-minute driving radius of the area, there were 36,000 unchurched people.

“LifeWay said, ‘If you could, this is where you need to be,’” Jackson explained.

While looking for suitable property, Jackson drove the architect to a spot in the targeted area.

“That is how I want our new church to look,” he recalled saying of the headquarters of Mutual Savings Insurance, which was well-known in the area for its beautiful landscaping and huge fountain in front of the building.

Smith recalled looking at different parcels of property and saying or hearing, “It doesn’t look like much now, but with the right amount of landscaping, we can make it look like Mutual Savings.”

A phone call from one of the owners of Mutual Savings came as a shock, according to Jackson. “They offered us the buildings with 160,000 square feet total, 29 acres of landscaping that looks like Callaway Gardens and a million-dollar fountain,” he said.

The price was only slightly higher than that for the unimproved property the church had been considering.  

Smith has learned a lesson from the experience. “If God is leading you, He will provide, whether as an individual or as a church. We have had the opportunity to experience it,” he said.

And with the move came anticipation for growth, which is already proving true. On Oct. 19, 42 new members were presented to the church. On Oct. 26, Central Baptist celebrated Miracle Day, inviting the community to an open house and saw its highest worship attendance in many years, according to Jackson. Fourteen people were baptized, including three by Jorge Pereira, Morgan Association’s Hispanic pastor, in Spanish. Several hundred toured the new building following the afternoon dedication service.

“This new growth is exciting the entire body,” Jackson said. “I continually am hearing comments about our second service like, ‘Who are all these people, and where did they come from?’ My answer is they are either visitors or new members and God is sending them.”

Jackson said he likes to ask a question from the book “Experiencing God:” “When was the last time you attempted something that can only be explained by the power of God?”

“We attempted something that can only be explained by the power of God, and we are seeing fruit like we haven’t seen it in a long time,” Jackson said.

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