On a recent, rainy, Wednesday, more than 500 milled about on a concrete slab without walls and peered up at a grid of reddish-brown steel roof beams destined to become a new East Manatee landmark.
What made the moment remarkable isn’t just that it represented the first “unofficial” service at the new, multi-million dollar, 55,000-square-foot Bayside Community Church a bit east of Lorraine Road on State Road 64, but it also highlighted a church building boom that’s going on despite down economic times.
Besides Bayside, which is scheduled to open the first quarter of 2010, other churches knee-deep in construction include Risen Savior at Lorraine Road near 59th Street, Harvest United Methodist at 14305 Covenant Way and Bible Baptist Church on Morgan Johnson Road.
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At least two others — Cornerstone of Lakewood Ranch on Covenant Way and Tabernacle Church off University Parkway — are finalizing construction plans.
So, how is it that bulldozers and dump trucks are silent elsewhere but spewing diesel smoke on church campuses?
Rebecca Campbell, who attends Bayside and was one of those visiting the half-finished church earlier this month, has an answer as to why local congregation.
She believes it’s because people of faith understand they can turn to faith for their prosperity.
Campbell, a personal trainer who lives in Mill Creek with her UPS-employed husband, Jeff, and children, Marissa, 16, and Garrett, 14, said her family made two financial commitments to Bayside’s building fund and got more than what they gave back.
“When we finished the first commitment, we got an inheritance we hadn’t expected,” Rebecca Campbell said. “Also, I was in the hospital in February and they thought I might have had a stroke. I couldn’t walk for three days. Now, I am walking. When we put our lives in God’s hands, he looks out for our spiritual, physical and financial health.”
“The reason all these Manatee County churches are building is that their members realize they can no longer get a quick fix from the world,” Campbell added.
The Rev. Daniel Witte of Risen Savior agrees with Campbell’s reasoning, but says it in a different way.
His church plans to be in its first brick and mortar home at the beginning of August.
“I think when times get tougher, God gets more credit than when things are going gangbusters,” Witte said. “When we are feeling flush and we build, it’s easier to take credit ourselves for our supposed foresight and prowess.”
Bayside is a good example of a church’s ability to weather the tough climate because its members are looking to their faith for their actions.
The church, which has been meeting at Freedom Elementary School on State Road 64 since 2003, had hoped to build a sanctuary of more than 100,000-square-feet, said Dave Neiman, administrative director.
Economic stress cut the plans in half about a year ago. But the times didn’t cut the plans down to zero.
“We recognized what was happening to the economy and we certainly made some concessions,” Neiman said. “We made the decision to scale back the project and I think that’s us being good stewards. But I think our members certainly have a strong interest to get the building built and move out of the school into a permanent home.”
Bayside attendees — the church averages about 2,300 for four weekend services — probably sacrificed to see that the building would get built, Neiman said.
“Our goal is to convert the uncommitted and unchurched,” Neiman said. “I think our members sensed that being in the building would allow us an opportunity to focus even more on our goals.”
It may also help some of these local churches that they are working with an architect who has a reputation for pinching pennies for them.
Donald Lawson, of The Lawson Group, supplies precise financial terms that usually don’t waver, said Ron Smith, a Lawson Group spokesman.
Lawson is involved with five local churches all at once, including Bayside, Risen Savior, Harvest United Methodist, Cornerstone of Lakewood Ranch and Tabernacle.
Congregations are benefitting from historically low construction costs and interest rates, Lawson said.
“Lawson has shepherded more than 200 churches and they make it an article of faith that a project must come in on budget,” Smith said. “They have a whole system to insure that. Lawson himself is financially oriented. He was one of the founders and is chairman of the board of Bank of Commerce in Sarasota. His company gets praise for turning out very thorough plans that save money in construction.”
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 708-7917.