While the Village of Forest Park is working on creating a comprehensive plan, Forest Park Baptist Church has been implementing the one it already has.
If you have been driving on Harlem Avenue during the last few months, you’ve watched the progress being made on the construction of a new addition being built on the south side of the church. When finished this summer, the addition will include:
- a double door entrance from the parking lot
- an elevator which will provide handicapped access to the several levels of the building constructed in 1903
- a foyer, which the building does not currently have, which will provide a gathering place before and after worship
- ADA compliant washrooms
- a new pastor’s office
- a new church office
The addition will shift the orientation of the church from the north side of the building, which has no room to expand because of Dixon St. to the south side where there is plenty of room to grow.
That room to expand is part of the story of how the congregation has been looking to the future for thirty years. The visionary orientation began in 1987, a year after Rev. David Steinhart began his now 30-year tenure as pastor of the church at the corner of Harlem and Dixon. A two flat on a double lot south of the church went on the market.
“I met with different people in the church and said that I think we should buy this property, because if we would ever be in a position to expand, south is the only way we can go,” Steinhart said.
“Some people in the congregation put up the money to buy the property at no interest. We rented the house and paid them back.”
Then a little house next to the car wash came up for sale and the congregation bought that. Steinhart had in his mind at that point a vision of someday building not only a new entry way but also a family life center complete with a small gym. The congregation was clearly looking to the future.
In the late 1990s, said Steinhart, the congregation got on board with a three-phase plan for the future.
Phase one. Raze the two houses and build a parking lot.
Phase two. Build the entrance way now under construction.
Phase three. Build the family life center.
In the early 2000s the congregation completed its first capital campaign which funded the building of the parking lot, and this last November a second capital campaign ended with $400,000 being raised.
“It’s been wonderful, the way it’s come to pass,” Steinhart said. “We’re really pleased with our contractor, Byron Gregory. The Village has been very helpful and our people have given sacrificially.”
Some people from the North American Baptist Conference predicted that the congregation would grow once the parking lot was expanded. That was the thinking of what was known as the Church Growth Movement twenty years ago. They taught that among other things, a church needed to be on a main thoroughfare and have a big parking lot to grow.
Steinhart said that there has been some growth but not to the extent that was predicted. The Church Growth people also said you had to have a homogeneous congregation, which is certainly not the case for Forest Park Baptist Church. The congregation, however, has maintained close to the same level of worship attendance in the thirty years Steinhart has been their pastor, which is quite an accomplishment in a village in which one Methodist, one Presbyterian and two Lutheran congregations have closed during the last four decades.
What pleases Steinhart is the good spirit in the congregation which made the implementation of the first two phases of their comprehensive plan possible, as well as the enthusiasm created by the visible results of their planning and giving.
“In my prayers,” he said, “I’m often just thankful that the Lord has kept the congregation viable. He’s provided for our needs. That’s the way I look at it.”