Published April 5, 2012
GRAYSON — Long ago a boy was introduced to Jesus through a recreation ministry. His thankful daddy gave a gift, which led to a gift, which led to a gift.
The most recent incarnation of that act came Feb. 26 as a big check (literally) for $250,000 was presented from First Baptist Church in Grayson to Woodlake Baptist in Walnut Grove.
Founded seven years ago with Jerry Grey as pastor, Woodlake has been meeting in warehouse space about two miles from an undeveloped tract of 45 acres it owns near the heart of Walnut Grove. “We paid the land down from $935,000 to about $360,000,” said Grey, “but the value of the land had dropped so much we were about $250,000 away from using the land as collateral to build.”
So, Woodlake became another passenger in a boat loaded with churches intending to build but having those plans put on hold when the Great Recession hit. Churches joined others in sketching out designs for new buildings and additions to old ones, but 2011 saw a record number – 138 – of church buildings sold by banks, according to the real estate information company CoStar Group. Those numbers are only expected to increase in 2012. As more churches join the boat, the threat increases they’ll collectively sink.
Church foreclosures have hit every demonination and ethnicity, reorted Reuters, but small- to medium-sized churches get it the worst. Many of them end up being purchased by other churches. Banks gave houses of worship a little more leeway in the nationwide financial crisis, but that goodwill has run short.
Churches typically take out commercial loans that normally come due in full after five years, noted Slate Magazine. While banks would usually refinance those loans, the economic environment has changed the amount of grace given congregations.
“Churches are among the final institutions to get foreclosed upon because banks have not wanted to look like they are being heavy handed with the churches,” said Scott Rolfs, managing director of Religious and Education finance at the investment bank Ziegler.
While Woodlake hasn’t been to that point, it was in the position of having a desirable piece of land close to several schools and residential areas but without the capital to build facilities to take advantage. It took a great effort on the part of the church to pay down the property so the gift from First Grayson could help the construction process, said Grey.
But even that wouldn’t have mattered had a little boy not been impacted at Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist in Atlanta a number of years ago through the church’s recreation ministry. His father gave a substantial gift of $250,000 to Wieuca Road Baptist in Atlanta, a church plant of Second Ponce’s, to complete that congregation’s own recreation building. That amount has now been matched twice in similar pay-it-forward respects.
“Wieuca Road gave First Grayson the amount at least 15 years ago,” said First Baptist Pastor Tim Brogan, who arrived at the church in 2007. “The Sunday that I came in view of a call as pastor the church had just finished raising the $250,000. From there we began the process of identifying churches we could help.
“We started with 10 or 12 congregations. Praying through the process was really important.”
“We got some names of churches in the area through the North American Mission Board and Georgia Baptist Convention,” said Craig Stone, First Baptist minister of education and administration. “Fairly-new churches looking to build a multi-purpose building were high on our list. They didn’t necessarily have to be a church start but one looking to take the next step.”
Fourteen miles south, Woodlake Baptist was ministering as best they could out of a warehouse in a subdivision.
“At one point it appeared we had the loan secured to build but that fell through,” Grey recounted. “It was discouraging. Money had gotten tight.
“We have about 320 members and were out of space,” he added. “We’ve already built a pavilion on the property and are in the process of constructing a Frisbee golf course. I have a vision for our church to add facilities for hospice care and adult daycare, missionary homes for those here on furlough, and space for Upward sports ministries.”
Woodlake held a March 31 Easter celebration on the property, an open field jutting up to an adjacent horse farm.
Grey is excited about future possibilities as Walnut Grove gets bigger. “The city is small right now, but a town square is in the planning stages. The idea is to try and build around that with shopping options. The church will be sitting right in the middle of it all,” he added.
In meeting with Grey and others from Woodlake, Brogan had four conditions that went with the monetary gift. In addition to it being used toward a multipurpose facility, he asked for an invitation for his church when that building was dedicated. Also, First Baptist would like to join with Woodlake in missions sometime in the future. Finally, when they were able it was expected that Woodlake would bless another church with the same gift.
Grey is eager for that day to come.
“I’m amazed how the man who first gave that amount to Wieuca Road started this. Through the years, people gave money to help with no idea how it would affect the kingdom of God,” he said. “In these terrible economic times it’s going to allow us to dream a lot sooner.”
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