Churches experiencing a building boom

December 09, 1997

Churches experiencing a building boom


Staff Writer, Chambersburg

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Some churches in the Tri-State area are finding they have to pay for room to pray.

Nearly a dozen churches in Franklin County, Pa., are spending millions of dollars on expansions to hold ever-growing congregations.

"We can't grow any more," said the Rev. Jimmie Knox, pastor of Chambersburg Baptist Church.

The church's Sunday school classes, where crowding is most evident, have been divided, reshuffled and moved around, Knox said.

The 100-member congregation is looking for about five acres for a new church that would serve them for at least 25 years.


But bigger sanctuaries aren't the only plans on the drawing board.

Churches are adding recreation areas for the community, social gathering places for teens, day-care services for the public, and food and clothing banks for the needy when they plan new buildings.

"That's the trend nationally. Very few churches are building super-big worship centers," said the Rev. Ron Larson, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

Covenant Baptist is building a $5.2 million multi-purpose center that can hold 1,200 people and will have soccer fields and tennis courts outside, Larson said.

The church already offers children's karate classes, girls gymnastics, arts and crafts instruction, and other recreational programs. An after-school program will begin once the addition is finished.

"Recreation tends to be what's drawing people back to the church. Churches finally realized that they need young people and they need to make adjustments to bring in the under-50 crowd," Larson said.

In just over 11 years, Covenant Baptist has grown from seven families meeting in a home to 900 people attending four services on Sunday mornings.

Pastors in Washington County said congregations seem to be holding steady there, but elsewhere in the Tri-State:

* St. Leo Roman Catholic Church in Inwood, W.Va., is expanding.

* St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Shippensburg, Pa., is raising money for a new building.

* Chambersburg's Brethren in Christ Church is planning an addition.

* St. Mary's Orthodox Church plans to build at the corner of U.S. 30 and Main Street in Fayetteville, Pa.

"It seems to be a phenomenon across the country," said Dr. Ray Anderson, chairman of Wilson College's philosophy and religion department in Chambersburg.

He called the growth an "understandable reaction" to the country's focus on crime and violence, combined with society's preoccupation with technology.

Franklin County residents historically have made church relationships an important part of their lives, said the Rev. William Harter, pastor of The Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring in Chambersburg.

The county has more than 300 congregations, and up to 100 other religious groups that meet in homes or rented buildings.

"It's a function of a welcoming community. People are looking for programs and opportunities of worship that are spiritually fulfilling," Harter said.

The growth in local congregations also is a reflection of growth in the county as a whole, some pastors said.

King Street United Brethren Church in Chambersburg is averaging 925 people in two services every Sunday, up 120 from three years ago, said the Rev. Patrick Jones, senior pastor.

The church is planning a new sanctuary that would seat up to 1,200 people.

Once the expansion is finished in about two years, the church wants to reach out to Chambersburg's growing Hispanic community and try to meet other needs in the area, Jones said.

Operating a food and clothing bank out of the new Waynesboro Church of God, which broke ground Oct. 10 in Zullinger, Pa., is one of the goals of its growing congregation.

"We want to be more than just a church. We want to serve the community," said the Rev. Roger Cales, pastor.

Expected to open in April, the church's sanctuary will hold 500 people and have eight classrooms, each big enough to hold 25 to 30 Sunday school students.

The Presbyterian Church of Falling Spring just finished a two-story, 26,500-square-foot addition to the tune of $2.4 million. The addition includes classrooms and a family life center to serve the church's 850 members.

The bill for construction of the new St. Paul United Methodist Church on a hilltop at Fifth and Norland avenues in Chambersburg will come to $6 million when it's finished in January.

More than half of that is financed with an insurance settlement of $4.2 million from a fire three years ago that gutted the original church on the corner of Second and Queen streets.

The church's 800-member congregation pledged $1.2 million to construct the impressive 46,000-square-foot structure, which features a two-story Sunday school building with classrooms wired for computers, a library, youth center, child-care facility and a family life center big enough for a full-court basketball game.

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