Two neighborhood churches, one with a great history and one with a promising future, are coming together in 2014.
In what is being seen as a historic move, Woodland Hills Baptist Church will coexist with Fondren Church on the church campus at 3327 Old Canton Road.
The nearly 82-year-old Southern Baptist house of worship voted unanimously late last week to approve the measure that will take effect January 1.
Services for Fondren Church, a non-denominational, non-traditional church who began meeting at Duling School in August 2011, could begin at Woodland Hills as soon as February 1.
Reverend Ty Pigott, pastor at Woodland Hills for almost 14 years, said he and his congregants are excited. “Our mission statement is and always has been ‘It’s all about the kingdom,’” Pigott said. “We haven’t come about this without much prayer.”
Fondren Church pastor Robert Green said the move is about collaboration. “We’re in this together,” he reiterated. “And the more we know each other’s story, the more we can help each other. We want to put a stake in the ground here and this is a good opportunity. For 2014, it’s a win-win.”
Woodland Hills is running 125 in attendance on a Sunday morning while Fondren Church’s explosive growth has put them at over 600 between two services. The issue for Fondren Church is square footage, something Pigott said they have lots of. He explained, “There is plenty to go around.”
In a proposal from Fondren Church sent to Woodland Hills this fall, a Sunday morning could look like a 9:30 am service led by Fondren Church staff in the 1,000 plus seat auditorium. Woodland Hills could hold Sunday School during that time with an 11 am service for their congregants. Or, Woodland Hills could hold a service at 8:30 am with Fondren Church worshiping at 10:30 am.
Green said strategic conversations between January 5-15 will iron out details for the coming year. “What we anticipate, what we have heard unofficially, is that there could be a wing for children’s ministry on the northern end of the property,” he told. Green also noted the size of the worship center would allow his congregants to worship together in one service.
Pigott, who referred to himself as “the elder statesman on the hill” (having had the longest tenure of any pastor between Woodland Hills, St. Luke’s United Methodist, Fondren Presbyterian and Fondren Church), said this idea is nothing new. “Actually,” he explained, “this started close to eight years ago.”
The New Orleans native told the story of a former staff member who is now a pastor in Philadelphia, Miss., who was to plant a church in the area that Woodland Hills would support. “I saw a gap – people we were trying to reach — so I asked Stuart Purvis to find a place to start a church we would support,” Pigott recalled. “The vision was there, but we couldn’t get all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed. The key was us. We couldn’t make it work, but we knew there was a need.”
Green understands those efforts and believes it is what led them to this point. “The consensus we have heard from several of their congregants is that they tried to ‘get those young people here,’” he said. “That openness is a marvelous story.”
Founded nearly 82 years ago as Northside Baptist Church, Woodland Hills began in a small white building on the corner of Mitchell and North State Street. “There are wonderful stories about this church,” Pigott recounted. “(There were) men carrying the note from the bank until the church could get established. They have seen fit to see that you have what you have.”
At one time, the church also boasted a private school, Woodland Hills Baptist Academy.
In contrast, just three short years ago, a group began meeting in homes to plant Fondren Church.
Green and his early congregants had checked into renting The Capri and even talked with Woodland Hills Baptist about their property. “As you know, most church plants start in a sterile school cafeteria, smelling corn dogs from the Friday before,” Green laughed.
Duling School became a viable option with several available storefronts. “Duling is phenomenal. It’s one of the best, if not the best venues in the state. We’ve had a good relationship (with Peters Development who manages the school). But it would be cool for a church to be in a church and for the school to be The Shops at Duling School again” (Peters has said that’s exactly what will happen, including a new restaurant, Saltine).
Building from the ground up seemed a possible option. “You’re looking at a guy who thought we may be putting $2,000,000 into a building somewhere,” Green explained. Now, instead, the church can focus on benevolence toward the community. “This allows us to make a sizable contribution to the (Fondren Renaissance) Phoenix Initiative. God has blessed us with generous people. When money is dropped in the plate or given online, we want to be a force of compassion, benevolence and generosity.”
While Fondren Church will invest money into physical improvements and curb appeal, at the end of the day, the bigger news is the relationship.
“This is so much a story about Woodland Hills (Baptist Church), about them thinking afresh for the future and thinking about their legacy,” Green said. “We have seen Fondren grow. The Lord has brought people together that could not have happened without him bringing them together,” Pigott added.
“Around February 1, three different churches will be having worship on this site here,” Pigott explained. (North Ridge Church, a smaller church plant who has been renting Woodland Hills’ family life center on the western edge of campus this year, has signed an additional two-year lease.) “This is new ground. I don’t know if you can say that anywhere else in the state, maybe in the country.”
“I’ve told all the pastors (on the hill), ‘The world is watching us to see how we will act and how we will coexist,’” Pigott said. “This is so important.”