Church gives up its building; movie theater new ministry HQ

The congregation of Rolling Hills Baptist Church posing after their last Sunday service in the building. Photo/Ben Nelms.

“I don’t care how many buses you’ve got or the size of your sanctuary. I don’t care how steep your steeple is ...,” sang Don Francisco in “The Steeple Song.” For the congregation at Rolling Hills Baptist Church, the steeple, and the entire church building, has become a thing of the past.

The congregation held its last service at the Redwine Road property Sunday and will begin holding services at Tinseltown Theaters in Fayetteville as part of a new focus on local, regional, national and international mission efforts.

“The church has left the building” was the slogan printed across the front of t-shirts worn by the congregation after the March 21 service, the final one to be held at the location after 17 years on Redwine Road south of Fayetteville. And for the congregation, it was a time for celebration.

“Jesus came to start a revolution of grace and generosity. We decided that we were not supposed to cater to consumers with all kinds of different programs and bells and whistles,” Pastor Frank Mercer said last week, noting that while only a limited number of people would know about the church with its location on Redwine that the situation will be very different once the church takes up residence at Tinseltown theaters this weekend.

A trip a couple of years ago to Queens, New York and New Hope Christian Church and its multiple ministries gave Mercer, missions ministry head Dave Lebby and others in the church the idea that the usual way of operating a church was not necessarily the best way. In keeping with that perspective, Mercer in his words to the congregation Sunday said they were in the largest English-speaking mission field on the planet.

“We’ve tried to maintain the property and attract people for the 17 years we’ve been here. We have events and hoped people would come,” said Mercer. And they did come.

While not a mega-church, Rolling Hills has about 100 members. “We’ve been competing with churches working off the same model. It’s like keeping up with the Joneses. If people come for bells and whistles, they’ll leave for bells and whistles. As a pastor you start pounding your head on the wall.”

The approach they saw in New York, combined with Lebby’s idea for a book about a church in Fayetteville willing to surrender everything, was one that later led to the decision to sell the property and branch out further into various missions efforts.

“He didn’t write the book but we were living the book,” Mercer said of the conversations that began with the congregation after the New York trip and soon snowballed into reality. “The property was put on the market in October 2008 and was listed in January 2009. The sale with Living Faith Fellowship closed Monday.”

Mercer said the sense of urgency surrounding the needs of the missions ministries convinced the church to move ahead with the sale rather than riding out the recession and holding out for a higher price sometime in the future. The mortgage was mostly paid off so the church ended up with net proceeds of approximately $700,000, Mercer said.

As for the near-term future, the church will invest some of those dollars and use another portion for its ongoing missions projects and others that are now under consideration.

Long involved with missions ministries, Rolling Hills will continue its efforts in Mexico, Honduras and Ukraine, with local projects associated with the Real Life Center, Square Foot Ministries and Fayette Samaritans and with other local churches working with the homeless.

Standing in the parking lot after the final Sunday service, Lebby spoke about the upcoming missions efforts that are still being planned and reviewed.

A house on the church property will soon become the temporary home of a Pakistani family who, with the consent of Living Faith Fellowship, will occupy it for four months. Lebby said the ongoing missions efforts will continue, as will other like collecting clothes for the homeless in Atlanta.

Church members are now planning their next steps with missions. They will focus on the international efforts like those in Mexico, Ukraine and Honduras. They will focus on regional needs in the U.S. such as flood relief. They will focus on local needs within the county, including those that partner with other churches and organizations. And they will focus on needs of individuals and families.

The congregation after the last service March 21 stood outside the front door of the church. Everyone was smiling. Nearly all wore “The church has left the building” t-shirts with the soon-to-be-vanished steeple in the background high above them.

“We’ve always had things we wanted to do but couldn’t. So now the sky’s the limit,” Lebby said of the move. “This is about reaching people for Christ. I don’t care where they go to church.”

For more information on Rolling Hills Baptist, visit wheresthesteeple.org.

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