A megachurch in Dallas is pursuing what is expected to be the largest church expansion program in modern history.
First Baptist Church Dallas unveiled plans on Sunday for a $130 million campus in the downtown area that would compete with some of the most "architecturally stunning" buildings in its city.
"As I look around downtown Dallas, I see spectacular temples of commerce, of culture and of government – many new, some restored to former glory, and all intended to stand for generations. The Kingdom of God needs a home to equal them – a spiritual oasis in the middle of downtown," said Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Dallas.
The congregation voted Sunday to begin the massive capital campaign – which exceeds Lakewood Church in Houston's $120 million campus – for First Baptist's first new facility in over 100 years.
Church leaders say a new campus is "imperative" for the church's growth as worship services are near capacity, ministries are limited and their current fortress-like facility is uninviting to guests.
"The transformation of our campus will dramatically increase First Baptist's ability to minister to our city," the church states on its website.
First Baptist Church Dallas has grown in numbers and influence since its founding in the late 1800s, when attempts to plant a Baptist church failed countless times.
The congregation, however, has gone through a few periods of graying and smaller attendance numbers over the past few decades. Under Jeffress, who took up the church's leadership in 2007, the congregation has begun to grow again and there is a greater sense of urgency to reach the city and the next generation.
"First Baptist's building program is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end to better minister to and meet the needs of the community," said Jeffress. "Now more than ever, our church is firmly committed to spreading the message of God's love to transform lives and our City."
The newly proposed 1.5 million-square-foot campus is expected to be more open and accessible to the city as well as cater to young people. The campus will include a 3,000-seat worship center that incorporates every recent advancement in church design, a six-floor education building, recreation areas and a sky bridge made of glass that connects to the church's current sanctuary.
One of the more prominent features includes a large cross that will stand with high visibility on top of a water fountain – located outdoors – where public baptisms may also be held.
The design of the campus is filled with messages of the church. The elevated cross outdoors speaks of the primacy of the cross; the water fountain represents the word and the resurrection life of Christ; the glass concourse speak of openness, transparency and spiritual refreshment; and the connection to the current sanctuary emphasizes the church's heritage and the continuity of the congregation.
From the first impression to the last detail, the campus conveys the message that the "Gospel of Christ and the ministry of his church are as relevant and contemporary in the 21st century and beyond as they ever have been," the website states.
Despite the current economic challenges, church leaders say this is an opportune time to build with unprecedented potential savings in construction costs. For every dollar spent the church will receive up to $1.30 in value, they say. Families are being asked to make a three-year giving commitment.
Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert is a member of the congregation and has thrown his support behind the expansion. He noted that it furthers the revitalization of downtown Dallas, including the opening last month of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and ongoing construction of the Dallas Convention Center Hotel and Trinity River Project.
"This is a critical and important investment in downtown Dallas," Leppert said. "It will have an impact on this community and what we're trying to accomplish of creating more of an urban setting that is vibrant and exciting and brings people downtown. This is going to be exciting effort, not only in terms of Sunday but all the other different activities and what it will to contribute."
First Baptist leaders have planned for construction to begin in the fall of 2010.