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Membership declining, building in disrepair, Village Baptist Church ponders takeover by larger church

The venerable Village Baptist Church, struggling with membership, money and maintenance, has asked its Village Boulevard congregation to approve joining much larger Family Church, an institution assembling a network of campuses around Palm Beach County.

Village has scheduled a town hall meeting 6:30 p.m., Wednesday “to review the facts again and provide supporting documents,” according to a notice distributed to its approximately 280 members. A vote is Sunday, March 26.

“Our church has been in decline for a long time,” Dan Shorter, chairman of Village’s administrative team, said Thursday. “It has serious issues with finances and repairs and the number of people willing to serve, and to solve that and serve Christ, we’re considering a partnership with Family Church.”

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Village Baptist, a 90-year-old institution formerly in the city’s Northwood neighborhood, rejected a similar proposal last August by a narrow vote, said Shorter, who is a former Palm Beach Post employee. Membership urged church leaders to research other options.

“We looked into those other options,” he said. “Could we borrow money? Could we hire consultants and revitalize ourselves? Could we sell property and use that money to revive our spirituality? And since then, our financial situation and the condition of the building have continued to deteriorate.”

There’s a leaking roof, a “broken” parking lot, 10 doors that don’t shut well, hallway lights that don’t work. “Our building is gorgeous but it needs attention,” he said.

Membership is down by 50 percent over the past 10 years to about 280 but only 200 people attend regularly, Shorter said, and many of those 200 are not members. The church’s ability to give to missions is off 95 percent during the same period, he added.

Research, experts and even a former pastor encourage partnering with Family Church, Shorter said.

According to the notice to members, Village could borrow up to $150,000 for repairs. But even if it had a way to pay that back, the 27-year-old building needs more than $500,000 for immediate repairs and more than $1.2 million in the “not-too-distant future” for exterior repairs alone.

“A careful study of finances shows a long-term declining donation pattern. We have a razor-thin budget with no room for unanticipated problems or opportunities.”

No money would be exchanged in the deal to join Family Church, and Village has no debt to absorb. Family would take over operations and tend to the repairs. Village congregants would need to sign on as members of Family.

The high-visibility, 37-acre property fronting Interstate-95 just south of 45th Street, zoned for residential development, has drawn attention from potential buyers but the church isn’t interested, Shorter said.

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“There have been a number of developers who expressed lust after our land,” the church official said. “And when they call us and ask if we’ll sell it to them, we say no. This property needs to be used for God. We’re looking to touch people for Jesus.”

The Family Church proposal fits in with a nationwide trend of larger churches absorbing smaller, financially challenged ones.

Family, founded as First Baptist Church of West Palm Beach in 1901, has eight locations, from downtown West Palm Beach to western West Palm, Lake Worth, Jupiter, Jupiter Farms and Greenacres and continues to add. It has expanded to offer services in Spanish, Creole, Russian and Portuguese, as well as English.

Its new lead pastor, Jimmy Scroggins, arrived 2008 with a vision “to plant” 100 neighborhood churches with congregation sizes of 100 to 500 members, or so, unlike mega-churches that have 2,000-3,000 members.

The idea is to plant small churches in neighborhoods and reach people within one, two or three miles, Associate Pastor Kevin Mahoney said. “It’s going fabulously.”



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