By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
OLIVER SPRINGS — Living by faith has been a way of life for the members of Beech Park Baptist Church here since 2004.
That was the year the church stepped out in faith and bought an old strip mall for future expansion — with less than $1,000 in the bank.
The mall was located about three-and-a-half miles from where Beech Park had been located since 1904, recalled Pastor Robbie Leach.
But the church knew it would not be easy to continue to grow at its former site due to space and property constraints.
Just a few months after Leach became pastor in 2002, the church had to relocate from its sanctuary to the gym where it met for seven years, the pastor related.
“God knew it would be easier for us at first to relocate 300 feet instead of three-and-a-half miles,” Leach joked.
He noted that the church had bought a couple of old houses as they became available and was trying to expand as it could on its former site. The thought of purchasing property elsewhere really had not been mentioned, Leach noted.
One day he drove by the strip mall and saw an “absolute auction” sign. When it was first constructed, the mall was full of merchants and was considered the economic center of Oliver Springs.
Over the years, however, ownership of the mall changed and businesses relocated to other parts of town. An attempt to convert the mall to office space failed and it set vacant for about 10 years, Leach said. Leach was very familiar with the property because his father, Bobby Leach of Lake City, was one of the original owners of the mall along with business partner C. H. Smith who is also a longtime trustee as well as the oldest member of the church.
After seeing the for sale sign, Leach obtained a key and the church scheduled a special business meeting on site where the vision for purchasing the property was shared.
The congregation voted unanimously to place a bid which would be determined by the pastor along with the church’s trustees and deacons, Leach said.
A total of 13 men each wrote down what they thought the bid should be. The amounts were totaled and the average was $453,000 for a building with 135,000 square feet sitting on 15 acres of land.
“When the property came up for sale, we knew we had to try for it,” Leach said.
While the auction was taking place, members of the church were outside on the property praying for God’s will.
Leach said they knew of at least two other bidders who were prepared to go higher than the amount the church had approved.
But when all was said and done, a series of unforeseen events led to the church’s bid being accepted. What’s more the final cost of $451,000 was $2,000 under the amount that had been approved.
“There is no doubt God made it happen,” Leach said.
And, God continued to open doors that seemed impossible to open after the winning bid was accepted.
Leach acknowledged it was not easy finding a bank which would loan the church the money it needed when it had less than $1,000 in the bank.
Leach, who has a degree in accounting and a business background, noted that from the business side, he probably would not have given the church a loan.
“When we met with a local bank the CEO asked if we could pay the loan back. We said no, but God wants us to do it.”
Though the numbers did not match, Leach said, the bank’s board of directors met and approved the loan.
“It was blind faith all the way and still is even though we’re a lot healthier financially today,” the pastor said.
“There is no doubt God wants us to do something big here.”
The church paid off the loan before renovating its new property. The renovations cost slightly over $3 million.
The church’s faith has continued since the building was remodeled and they have been there for about four years.
The church does not budget for its mortgage payment. Instead, the church, which normally has between 350-400 people in attendance each Sunday, has a “For Such a Time as This Offering” once a month to raise the $12,000 needed monthly for the mortgage payment.
Though there have been a few times when the target goal was not met, regular tithes and offerings have increased to the point where the balance is taken out of the general fund.
“By faith we have met budget,” Leach affirmed. “We have never missed a payment.”
Throughout the process the church continued to expand its ministries and mission trips while giving through the Cooperative Program and to the local association (Big Emory Baptist), Leach added.
Leach is grateful for a congregation which has stepped out on faith and is willing to help out with some of the work themselves. Church members did much of the demolition work on the shopping mall before the renovation in order to save money, Leach said. They also helped construct a playground on the property which will be available not only to the church but to the community, he added.
“We operate on the concept that you cannot out give God,” Leach said.
During this time, the church witnessed their pastor practice what he preached about faith. A few years ago his 16-year-old daughter Kayla was in an automobile accident and was not expected to live.
“People were watching to see how we conducted ourselves during Kayla’s tragedy,” he noted.
Thanks to prayers and another miracle from God, Kayla not only survived but has recovered and was able to graduate from Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga in May.
“God used that situation in our life to grow not only our faith but the faith of our church, Leach affirmed.
Omer Cox, a deacon at the church, observed that “God has instilled faith in our church that we can do anything through Him.”
Church members are excited about the facility God has provided, especially those who were reared in the Oliver Springs area and recall when the property was farm land.
Deacon Jimmy Henley said he never foresaw that the land and former shopping center would ever house his church, however, he noted that “God knew from the start how it would end up.
“God can see things we can never see,” Henley said.