Nearly 3,000 worshippers joined Gov. Sonny Perdue for the grand opening celebration services at Blackshear Place Baptist Church on Sunday morning amid the fanfare of a 100-member choir.
Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle of Chestnut Mountain, a Blackshear Place member, and Hall County Sheriff Steve Cronic also attended the service held in the renovated worship center.
"This is a happy day in the life of our church family," said Jeff Crook, senior pastor at Blackshear Place. "This building is a great tool ... Now we can focus on our future."
The congregation at Blackshear Place has grown from about 3,000 people in 2003 to more than 5,000 in 2007, according to facilities director Joe Collier.
"We endured some cramped conditions for a couple of years, but the new facilities will allow all ministries to grow," Collier said.
The $16 million sanctuary renovation and 75,000-square-foot addition took 23 months to complete.
The refurbished sanctuary features stadium seating, a new balcony, and flat screen televisions for better viewing.
The expansion houses a children’s wing complete with a preschool facility dubbed Small Town that has a puppet show known as Grandpa Obie’s Farm, as well as a space-themed theater for grade schoolers in the Venture Zone.
In addition, the new children and youth ministries wing provides Sunday school classrooms and specially trained teachers for children with special needs.
Although the grand opening of the new worship center was held Sunday, the sanctuary was used the prior Sunday for a "test drive," Crook said.
Crook said 1,018 children 18-years-old and younger attended Sunday school in the new facility, more than ever before in one morning.
In addition to growing the adult population, the senior pastor aims to double the number of children attending Sunday school at Blackshear Place. During the service, Crook said that morning worship services always draw more than 2,000 people, and the church’s location between Interstate 985, Atlanta Highway and Winder Highway/Mundy Mill Road (Ga. 53) allows it to serve a cross-section of North Georgia churchgoers.
"I think we have the greatest location of any church in Georgia," Crook said.
"We welcome all," he said. "Even if they just came off the set of ‘Jerry Springer.’"
Crook’s sermon focused on the importance of the family in American society. He said that the family is the barometer of the nation, and that a thriving family equates to a thriving economy, emphasizing his belief in connecting one’s family to a Bible-teaching church.
Perdue told the congregation that Crook was a mentor to his son, Jim, who is a pastor in Millington, Tenn.
"God knows we need water," Perdue said during the service, after recognizing the baptisms that took place Sunday morning. "The Methodists called us last week, and told us they had a way to conserve water. We told them we weren’t that desperate."
Baptists baptise by immersing recipients in water, whereas Methodists sprinkle water on the person’s head.
But the overstretched and outdated facilities prior to the overhaul of Blackshear Place were no joke.
Five-year Blackshear Place member Susan Steed said that the church was in need of new plumbing and larger rooms to accommodate its new members.
"This church needed so much modernization," Steed said. "You can’t grow if you don’t have the facility to grow. When you first talk about a (multimillion) dollar project, it’s daunting."
But now that the construction is complete, Steed said the church is bound to attract newcomers.
"It’s a tremendous blessing," she said.