|Derrick Hartley, minister of missions and college ministry at the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville talks about multi-site strategy in the Jacksonville High School cafeteria. Photo: Kevin Qualls/The Anniston Star|
JACKSONVILLE — In small towns all across the South, church buildings and schoolhouses provide an identity, a sense of community.
Two congregations in Jacksonville are hoping to use school space to extend their reach and expand their flocks.
Superintendent Eric Mackey said it’s the first time at least in recent memory the school system will rent out its buildings for Sunday morning services.
“Nationally, there’s a big trend,” he said. “It’s kind of been thrown around, but we didn’t have anything serious until this spring.”
Dale Hollingsworth, who began a nondenominational church last month called The River, moved here from Nashville, Tenn., and was surprised the school facilities were available.
“Up there, almost all the schools are used for churches,” he said. “It’s not being used on Sundays. I thought I would see what would happen.”
Hollingsworth, who comes to Jacksonville with 24 years in ministry, formerly worked for the 700 Club, the flagship program of the Christian Broadcasting Network. The congregation of about 50 meets Sunday mornings in the basement chapel of Our Father’s Arms, a Christian rehabilitation center.
Pending approval from the school board, The River hopes to begin services in the cafeteria at Kitty Stone Elementary.
“We need a facility,” he said. “We won’t interfere with the school system, so why not minister there from the school?”
Earlier this year, Mackey said leaders of Jacksonville’s First Baptist Church approached him about holding services in the high school cafeteria.
Derrick Hartley, the missions pastor for the church, said First Baptist is considering “multi-site revolution,” a relatively new movement in American religion.
“It’s been tradition with so many churches that, when you run out of space, you start building more,” he said. “We’ve decided instead to go where people are.”