By Joe LaGuardia
A pile of rubble and a towering, broken steeple are all that is left of the historic Scott Boulevard Baptist Church building on the corner of Scott Boulevard and North Decatur Road in Decatur, Georgia. To many passersby, it is an eyesore. To those who are entrenched in Baptist history and the life of Scott Boulevard in particular, it is a foreboding reminder of the many churches that have closed over the last few decades.
But one must look past the pile of tile, wood, and steel. One must look deeper, beyond plywood frames where stained glass once stood, and find that the wrangled structure does not mark an end to a sixty-year old church, but a new beginning.
Just as the building’s demise communicates the fragility of all our churches, it also communicates the need for many churches to redefine what it means to be a holy people, set apart for the work of the Gospel.
As the Bible says, perishable items, church buildings notwithstanding, perish, but the Word of God will last forever.
That very Word promises that God’s Body—Christ as represented by the church—also lasts, but in many different forms.
Unbeknownst to those who see a ghost of a great church of yesteryear on a busy downtown corner, Scott Boulevard Baptist Church is actually thriving in a new location, that of the prayer chapel at First Baptist Church of Decatur. Sure, Scott Boulevard does not have the same assets it once did when a building was readily available, but it has found new life in ministry that has reached—literally—beyond brick and mortar.
Scott Boulevard Baptist garners about 35 people in worship, but much of the congregation’s worship and ministry take place in the homes and apartments of seniors who are homebound or shut-in. Two ministries, developed over the last two years and funded by the sale of the building, drive the church’s new vision and focus into the future.
The first ministry, called Care Partners, is an expanded deacon ministry of sorts, a group made up of caregivers and other care providers for as many as 30 members of the church who are no longer able to attend. Care Partners pray for loved ones and keep in touch in a variety of ways.
The second ministry, Church at Home, consists of several lay members and clergy gathering in the home of seniors to provide prayer, worship, fellowship, and Bible study. Taking Jesus’ promise in Matthew 18:20 that “where two or more are gathered in my name, I will be among them” seriously, the pastor of Scott Boulevard Baptist, Rev. Greg Smith, feels that this is a unique and vibrant aspect of the church’s ministry.
Church at Home provides spiritual community and support for individuals who would otherwise be isolated. “In selling our aging building,” Pastor Smith wrote by email, “We have chosen to sustain people instead of property.”
The church is ready to launch a third major ministry called Spiritual Friends, which seeks to reach underprivileged senior citizens in the local community. This will move Scott Boulevard Baptist beyond its own membership and have an ecumenical, if not interfaith component.
According to Pastor Smith, this focus on missional engagement and intentional outreach to a population other churches would render beyond their scope of ministry is what keeps the legacy of Scott Boulevard Baptist alive: “There is more face-to-face ministry happening now than in any other time since I started to pastor the church in 2007.”
Although there are many who grieve the dismantling of old Scott Boulevard Baptist, we should not grieve the loss of a congregation because the church is fulfilling a unique niche in the downtown Decatur district.
If anything, other churches should celebrate and mimic this church, which survived a cultural chrysalis of change against all odds.
Scott Boulevard Baptist teaches us that no church should be defined by its building, but by the magnitude of its ministry. Only when a church defines that unique asset does it become the presence of Christ in the immediate neighborhood.