Published January 26, 2012
STATESBORO — First Baptist Church of Statesboro, constituted on Sept. 3, 1882, continues to be a dynamic church after 129 years of ministry in Bulloch County. In fact, under the leadership of Pastor John Waters the church recently moved into a sparkling new $11 million worship center. The dedication service for the new building was on Sunday, Nov. 6.
Waters commented, “More than a construction project, this season in the life of our church has been a spiritual journey. We have learned so much about the Lord and about one another. God has blessed our multi-faceted congregation with a sense of unity throughout this process, as members showed humility and deference for one another in respectful and honest ways.”
For weeks prior to the groundbreaking on July 18, 2010, First Baptist members were directed to remember God’s faithfulness through the years. Reflecting on the past, the church sang “We Will Remember” and the church’s media team prepared videos and historic photographs to help the church recall the past in preparation for the future.
Waters explained, “God is not finished with First Baptist Church and I am so honored to be a part of what He is doing during these days.”
To reach, love, serve
The groundbreaking was a milestone in the life of the church. On that historic occasion Waters commented, “In every corner of Bulloch County and throughout this region, there are hurting families needing to experience the love and grace of God, and our growing community is filled with people for whom Jesus gave His life. That is why we build a new sanctuary – to reach, love and serve the people all around us.
“Five years ago, we had to relocate one of our morning services to our fellowship hall because the attendance had outgrown the available space, so this new building allows us to hold all of our services in the same location once again.”
Bill Coen, the church’s minister of music, added, “When the 1951 sanctuary was built, no one could have remotely conceived of the evolution of worship styles in the 21st century. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, but the tools of worship have changed.
“We’ve been ‘retrofitting’ for years. The new worship center was built for today, but has built within it flexibility for the future. We don’t have a clue how they will be doing things in 50 years. We do know, however, the focus of worship and lifting up Jesus will eternally be part of First Baptist Statesboro, whatever the musical style and however technology develops.”
Coen added, “As much as I love beauty that glorifies God, my focus is always on function; how can we use this building as a tool to minister and reach people?
“We worked hard to make the room accessible and bright. It is designed with excellent sound and lighting and accessibility. People participate, sing, read the Word, and fellowship best in places that are bright and where they can hear and understand. We can’t make people worship, but we can create an atmosphere of worship.”
On Sunday evening, June 19, the church gathered for a Scripture signing service. Scores of families, both young and old, entered the partially-completed building to write their favorite Bible verses. Mary Bennett Smith, the wife of former pastor J. Robert Smith, donated her husband’s Bible, which was placed in the floor below the pulpit so that whoever preaches on that spot will truly be standing on the Word of God.
First Baptist’s new 41,000-square-foot worship center has a seating capacity of 1,244. The construction budget was $10,977,909 and on the Sunday of dedication Waters indicated the church has already paid cash for 40 percent of the construction cost.
The dedication of the worship center was attended by more than 1,500 members and guests and accented by a baptismal service, great music from the choir, orchestra and congregation, a testimony of God’s faithfulness through the years by chairman of the Facilities Leadership Team Frank Hook, and a sermon from Waters entitled “We are God’s Building” from I Corinthians 3:9-13.
Waters proclaimed, “The story of First Baptist Church is a story of grace. All that we are, all that we have, all that we can do is because of God’s grace to us. From the first day of this church in 1882 to this historic day in the year 2011 it has been all because of God’s great grace.”
Waters, who was elected president of the Georgia Baptist Convention just nine days after the dedication of the worship center, explained to The Index, “I told our congregation from the beginning of this project that the focus of our ministry is not on brick and mortar, but upon the hearts and lives of people who are unchurched, living all around us.
“One day, the buildings we build will crumble, but the changed hearts and lives of people who encounter the Gospel will last for eternity. We celebrate the completion of this major construction project, of course, but our primary business is to be busy with the Father’s business, pursuing the Great Commission here at home and to the ends of the earth.”
Hook testified, “God has blessed me and I count it a real joy to see the completion of this building in my lifetime. Many fine folks have poured countless hours into this project and we look forward to experiencing God’s best in this place for many years to come.
“First Baptist Church Statesboro is blessed and has stood strong for more than 125 years, touching thousands of lives through the Great Depression, recessions, wars, and times of uncertainty as well as prosperous times. Throughout our history God has been found faithful.”
Hook added, “Now it is our time to be faithful and set about to bring many others to experience His love and hope at First Baptist.”
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