by Barbara A Oliver, Managing Editor
VILONIA, Ark. (BNc) — The Vilonia congregation celebrated its two-year anniversary in their new barnitorium, as Marty Knight, one of the three elders, dubbed it Sunday morning, Nov. 8.
The new Ministry Center was started the week before. Using the metal exterior from an old horse barn, they built a new 36×36 structure to serve as a temporary meeting place until they can build a new building.
When asked why they decided to use the old barn, the elders replied, “It was there and it was cheap!”
They had been meeting in a house on the property that accommodated 50 people.
The original Vilonia church-plant team met in the Knight’s living room, with 19 people, on Nov. 11, 2007. The congregation has grown to 78 members (and children). The average age of its membership is below 50, with 12 babies or preschoolers.
Placing an emphasis on identifying and restoring Christians and families who have fallen away, Knight said, “I can’t begin to describe how great it is to see brothers and sisters taking on responsibilities that they never dreamed possible.”
The congregation has also had six baptisms as a result of their outreach into the community.
Besides the three elders, Knight, David Koone and Kenny Henderson, the congregation also has two deacons, a part-time youth minister and a part-time preacher.
Vilonia has strong congregations in the area, but there had never been a congregation in the city proper. Considered one of the fastest growing cities in the state of Arkansas, the church has physically positioned itself in the middle of five of the largest housing developments in the area.
The Ministry Center represented phase one of a two-phase building project. The ground-breaking on phase two, a 3,600 square-foot multi-purpose building that will include a 150-seat auditorium and six classrooms, will start in a few weeks.
When completed, the Ministry Center will be used for church family activities and extra classrooms. When asked if they were going to depend on volunteer work for phase two, the elders agreed emphatically that it would be contracted. Knight said laughingly, “I am not sure that we could all survive another event such as the one we just completed!”
The barn was constructed in only six days. Contractors poured the slab, but the vast majority of the work was done by volunteers, the bulk of which was done during a three-day event on Nov. 5-7.
Volunteers came from nine congregations and three states to help. Work started every morning at sunrise and ended at about midnight.
Although there was still some interior painting and lighting work to be done, the church was able to meet in the new building for worship.
“The most amazing part of the project, from my perspective, is that we were able to build this structure for around $20 per square foot, and we are thankful to our volunteers and those who helped through donations,” said Knight.
When asked what they wished to share with other brethren about the goals and dreams of their congregation, the elders had this to say:
“On many occasions the Vilonia church has thought that our task would have been much easier had we been ‘sent’ to do this work instead of launching out on our own. But the concept of church planting is so rare in the Bible belt today that we struggled to gain identity. Some of our brethren could not imagine that we were doing this for the right reason. Most church plants in the last 30-40 years have been the result of a split. Our motivation was not dissension or division, but growth of the Lord’s church. We hope that we can do our small part in changing the mindset of today’s church back to the very Biblical concept of church planting.
“A good source of data for us during our early planning was the Faith Communities Today (FaCT) study completed about a decade ago with churches of Christ represented by two men from Abilene Christian University. It was a comprehensive effort that surveyed the majority of churches of Christ in the U.S. They found that more than half (52%) of the churches in the U.S. today were established during a 40-year period between 1940 and 1980. We are not sure what happened in 1980 to make us decide that planting new churches was a bad idea, but it is certainly a trend we should reverse.
“The elders are so proud of the congregation for two things. First, we’re proud of the way that they pulled together to make this Ministry Center happen so quickly and at such low cost. One of the volunteers who helped us said, ‘I have helped over 20 churches build buildings through volunteer efforts and I’ve never seen such a close, hardworking, effective group of people.’
“Second, we’re proud that the congregation understands that the church is not the building. These buildings are only tools to be used by the church in accomplishing the two goals Paul set forth in Ephesians 3 – making the manifold wisdom of God known to all and bringing glory to our Savior.”
More information and pictures can be found on the Vilonia church website.
Barbara has been involved in missions for over 25 years, both in the field and in publishing.