- (Photo: First Southern Baptist Church of Payson)
An Arizona church that closed its doors after failing to attract a growing attendance, recently sold its property for $1 amid struggling financially to maintain itself.
First Southern Baptist Church of Payson, Ariz., announced its closing on an outdoor sign, saying it had "given" its facilities to Expedition Church, a congregation that held services at an elementary school cafeteria during the last six years.
"…With a predominately senior church, over time membership and attendance declined and giving followed suit," said senior pastor Rick Hatch in a statement. "Budgets became tighter and tighter until we could no longer afford to maintain the church's expenses."
He added, "The church voted to be a living legacy to the community of Payson by giving in love the main church property to Expedition Church who has a large and growing church body with lots of children that needed a facility to better minister our Lord to the Payson area."
In addition, the church gave another of its property facilities to Payson Community Kids, a non-profit organization that offers assistance and services to underserved families.
Donovan Christian, Expedition's lead pastor, estimates the church is worth at least $1 million and calls the gift an "act of love," according to Arizona news outlet, Payson Roundup.
Christian notes that prior to receiving the facility, he had tried to rent the space from First Southern for a while. However, Christian was surprised when he got the call from Hatch just as he was finalizing a contract for another attempt to lease the church.
"My jaw dropped…We said we would absolutely take it," said Christian. "I am not a real mystical guy, but we really felt like God was just blessing us."
He then shared the news with his church of 300 members who reacted by crying, clapping or remaining silent because they were in shock, he said.
Despite their growing congregation, Expedition had struggled to secure finances for their own location because they currently help support a local Christian clinic and a shelter in their community. Furthermore, the congregation is involved in supporting a village in Rwanda.
"We have always been, and one of the things that make us unique, is rather than put money into buildings we want to put it into people," said Christian.
Unlike First Southern, Expedition plans to focus on reaching out to young individuals by expanding their youth programs in their new home and attracting new members through their modern church approach.
"We started the church because we felt like a lot of churches in town are for a certain type of people," said Christian. "We appeal to a different demographic. While we have the same beliefs, they are expressed differently. It is not good or bad, just different."