If you're frustrated with leading your congregation and need a reminder of why you love the body of Christ, you'll want to hear the inspiring story of what's happening at Rolling Hills Baptist Church in Fayetteville, Ga.
Last year the congregation of no more than 100 people was a mere $150,000 away from paying off their $1.4 million property. Their pastor, Frank Mercer, had come from a megachurch in Charlotte, N.C., and envisioned replicating the numerical growth he'd seen there. Naturally, everyone thought that after fully paying off their buildings and 20-acre plot, they'd pat themselves on the back and move on to "bigger and better" ministry.
They have … only in a way few churches are willing to do. On October 5, 2008, with a reeling economy hitting their community hard, the congregation voted overwhelmingly to sell the church property and invest all proceeds into what they believe really matters: people.
“Our motive should not be to fill these seats, but to empty these seats,” Mercer has often stated to a profoundly unified and supportive congregation. But he admits it has taken a transformational journey to embrace a mindset that would rather see local families with roofs over their heads and food on the table rather than the church having a better sound system.
“We had long been considering how to best maximize ministry and missions resources by reducing operating costs," Mercer says. "But the idea of leveraging the value of our buildings and property so that we could begin to invest more deeply in people rather than property still seemed far-fetched.”
After a season in which God prompted the pastor to research more on the idea of a "church without walls," Mercer visited a small congregation in New York making a difference in their community by serving the homeless, hungry, sick and lost. When asked about future plans to purchase property, the church's pastor, Tom Richter, responded with a statement Mercer couldn't shake: "If we become a church of brick and mortar, we may cease to be a church of flesh and blood.”
Mercer returned to Georgia and gradually shared with others what he believed was God's new vision for the church. Within only a few months, 95 percent of the congregation agreed: It didn't make sense for them to spend more than 50 percent of the church budget on a building that sat unoccupied for 90 percent of the time. Rolling Hills members have since become regulars in serving a local homeless shelter, children's home and various other community projects. Once the building is sold, they are considering either renting or building a warehouse-like structure where they could meet for services while also storing clothes and food for distribution.
“At our church we’ve tried to keep up with the Joneses for too long," Mercer admits now. "Churches buy property and build buildings to expand the club and improve the clubhouse. We suffer from steeple envy. We work to attract guests. And the church that has the most people who give the most money wins. We’re tired of playing that game. We no longer want to be like everybody else. And that is not to say that everybody should be like us either. This model is not for everybody." [ajc.com, 7/28/09; christianindex.org, 12/4/08]