Calabash church project might point way to new ministry
    June 30 2015 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

    Calabash is a coastal North Carolina town best known for its seafood restaurants.
    But lately N.C. Baptist Men volunteers have been coming to this Brunswick County town to help River of Life Church get into a new building. More importantly, this single construction project might be historic.
    It’s the first chapter of a bold new ministry for N.C. Baptist Men to support the planting of new churches by helping them construct buildings.
    Teams of volunteers with N.C. Baptist Men (also known as Baptists on Mission) have been working on River of Life Church’s new building since last year. The partly completed metal building sits in a prime location beside U.S. Highway 17 at Calabash, not far from the South Carolina border. Other teams will help finish the building in coming weeks.
    River of Life is a new church, started over the past two years by church planter Tom Gore, with backing from the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina’s (BSC) Church Planting Team.
    The church has grown steadily, so much that it has outgrown the community club meeting rooms members have used for services at nearby Sunset Beach. But, as for most new churches, finding money for a meeting place was difficult.


    Major breakthroughs

    A major breakthrough came last year when a local developer gave the church a whopping 45 acres of land along U.S. 17, a major coastal road that has seen steady development in recent years. Still, even with land provided, paying for a new building seemed impossible.
    A second breakthrough came when leaders of N.C. Baptist Men wanted to explore creating a new cadre of volunteers to work on construction of new churches –  and use River of Life for a test.
    N.C. Baptist Men teams have constructed church buildings before, but on an irregular basis.
    “We found that when volunteers were working on a church building, if a disaster struck, they would respond to the disaster, leaving the construction, since disaster relief was their main assignment,” said Gaylon Moss, who oversees disaster relief and Baptist Builders for N.C. Baptist Men.
    “We want to determine if we can assemble enough volunteers who would be willing to focus on construction related to new churches across the state, without reducing our disaster relief responses.
    “The River of Life Church project is our first test of this. We won’t know for a while if it will be a viable ministry for us.”

    Shared vision, partnership

    Mark Gray is one Baptist leader hoping the Calabash project will be the first of many construction projects for newly planted churches.
    “This volunteer effort with Baptist Men would be a special blessing from the Lord, because the cost of initial facilities is incredibly prohibitive for the majority of new churches,” said Gray, head of the BSC’s Church Planting Team.
    Gray’s consultants work with 100 to 150 church planters throughout the year, providing limited financial support, training, coaching and advice.
    In 2014 they helped start 103 new churches, which equals starting a new church about every three days on average.
    Collectively, those churches made 111,084 evangelistic contacts, registered 3,513 professions of faith and averaged having 5,300 people in worship services on Sunday, most of whom would not have been in any church apart from the new church being planted nearby.
    Planting new churches is an important part of the convention’s drive to reach North Carolina’s estimated 5.8 million lost people.
    “The average new church plant in America has a worship attendance of 84 after four years of existence,” Gray noted.
    More than half the new church plants are among the more than 300 people groups now calling North Carolina home.
    N.C. Baptists support this church planting ministry through their Cooperative Program giving and their gifts to the North Carolina Missions Offering (NCMO).
     Since both N.C. Baptist Men and the convention’s church planting ministry receive funding through NCMO, a union of the two seems appropriate.

    A promising concept

    So far, the church construction concept looks promising, according to Gerald Williams, a Fayetteville resident and plumber by trade, who has led the River of Life project since last year.
    “I’ve had no trouble getting volunteers,” Williams said in late May.
    “We’ve had teams coming from across North Carolina, plus from Georgia and South Carolina. We just had an eight-man team from Blue Ridge, Ga., who put in 460 feet of sewer and water lines.”
    River of Life is paying a construction company to erect a metal-walled, steel-framed building, using a loan obtained through the N.C. Baptist Foundation’s church loan program. But the church is counting on volunteers to frame in the rooms and other work needed to get the building useable.
    Volunteers can definitely save money. For example, a sewage lift station for the new building, required for pumping waste, would have cost $18,000 for a local contractor to provide and connect.
    “We bought it for $11,000 and did it ourselves,” Williams said.
    A six-man team began the project by clearing six acres of the River of Life site for the building. They cut a road and cleared six acres of trees in a week, leaving the ground ready to be graded.

    Blessed by God

    To Williams, having so few workers accomplish so much in so few days was just another indication that River of Life Church has been blessed by God.
    “The church can only succeed. There’s no way it’s going to fail,” Williams said. “So far, every step has been doubted, but each time it worked out.”
    Several area churches have given support, such as housing volunteers who come to work.
    True, the project has had the usual sorts of delays that slow construction projects, such as an unusual string of bad weather, plus delays in permits and architectural plans.
    Volunteers started framing in the rooms at the beginning of June, after the building, steel work and insulation was completed at the end of May. As the metal shell for gatherings has taken shape, Gore has focused on getting the actual church – the members – to also take shape.
    Members teamed up with an outreach ministry earlier this year to make evangelistic visits, talking to people around Calabash about Jesus and handing out 975 Bibles. Twenty people prayed to receive Christ as Savior. Visitors are still dropping by to check out River of Life’s services because of that outreach, Gore said.
    An ongoing ministry at a local school has also flourished. Five people who teach or work at the school have joined River of Life in the past two years, he said.
    Gore tells of individuals and families he has met with, prayed with and led to faith in Christ.
    He believes many people are just waiting for the new building to be ready before they start attending.
    “We expect growth to pick up even more,” he said.
    Gore dreams of partnering with a nearby group to establish a pregnancy crisis center on the church’s new site. And he’s already counting seats.
    “The new sanctuary will seat about 220 or so, depending on how we arrange them,” he muses.
    Going to two Sunday morning services may come sooner rather than later, he thinks. A series of miracles have gotten River of Life to this point, and Gore is counting on more of the same as the church grows.
    (EDITOR’S NOTE – Mike Creswell writes for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.)

    6/30/2015 12:20:35 PM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments
    Filed under: Baptists on Mission, Calabash, church construction

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