By Karen O. Allen
Correspondent, The Alabama Baptist
Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the doors and see all the people.
Remember the church rhyme? As children it brought a smile to our face. The “building” did not seem as important as the wriggling “people” (fingers) inside. But Alabama’s Builders for Christ (BFC) group prefers to focus on the building so the people will have a place for corporate worship and fellowship.
Every summer BFC volunteers from around the country converge at a site that has undergone an extensive screening process. The project site could be anywhere from Maine to Louisiana or the upper Midwest. Volunteers (aka construction missionaries) give one week of their time for one purpose: to construct a church or church addition in a community with accelerated church growth or dire need. The motto on the BFC truck reinforces the purpose: “a network of Christian laypersons who build churches for congregations who are rapidly leading others to a saving knowledge of Christ as Savior and Lord.”
The vast majority of volunteers are nonskilled laborers (e.g. teachers, health care workers, homemakers, salespersons, truck drivers). Skilled volunteers include home builders, engineers and architects. Some are newcomers while many are seasoned BFC veterans. No matter the age, gender or skill set, there is a job for everyone.
The BFC leadership team prepares months in advance for the 15-week construction period that begins in late May and goes through mid-August. Along with planning and coordinating, the leadership team provides advice and consultation to the host church throughout the entire process. The leadership team is composed of a project team leader, construction leader, financial analyst, church team leaders and kitchen coordinator.
Wood and light steel framing, electrical work, plumbing, HVAC services, roofing, drywall, cabinetry, carpentry, hardware installation and painting are services provided by the construction missionaries. Typically it will take about eight months before a building is ready to be occupied.
While the kitchen team may not swing hammers and drive nails, they play a vital role in the building effort “constructing” 300 to 500 meals per day. They prepare a big breakfast, a sandwich/fruit lunch combo and finally a hearty dinner “equivalent to that of a Thanksgiving meal,” said Lawrence Corley, BFC founder.
Corley, a Birmingham architect and member of Brookwood Baptist Church, Birmingham, describes the “BFC seed” as having been planted following his pastor’s return from the Southern Baptist Convention in 1979. The pastor gave the disheartening announcement that it would not be possible to tell the world the good news by the year 2000 as hoped.
Laypeople were going to have to be enlisted to help fulfill the daunting challenge.
Corley accepted the challenge and focused his efforts on helping build churches.
The first church construction project took place in Adamson, Oklahoma, in 1981. It didn’t take long before a network of interested churches began to form.
In 1994, Appleton, Wisconsin, made its debut as the first official construction site under the “Builders for Christ” name. Another BFC team was developed in 1991 and aptly named Team “B.” In 2005 Team “C” was added. Corley serves as team leader for Team “A” while Earl Rhyne and Allan Ivemeyer from Dawson Memorial Baptist Church, Birmingham, have served as team leaders for “B” and “C,” respectively. With the combined efforts of all three teams, BFC boasts a total of 70 projects in 21 states in the past 37 years.
When asked about the ministry name, Corley says “Builders for Christ” was decided collectively by the volunteers and represents a comprehensive body of builders, not just contractors, electricians, etc.
Volunteers represent a variety of groups including Baptists, Methodists, nondenominational churches, Lutherans, Catholics and Presbyterians as well as come from various states.
This summer BFC went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to rebuild the worship center and family life center for Roaring Forks Baptist Church following the devastation of the 2016 fires. The project logged 25,000 square feet. Seventy-six church teams from 22 states with 1,850 volunteers paid their own expenses to sweat in the sweltering heat.
Twenty-two teams were from Alabama Baptist congregations.
Kellyann German, a four-year BFC veteran from Meadow Brook Baptist Church, Birmingham, said, “Every year we encounter churches with different ministries and different needs. This year’s trip was unique in that it followed a disaster.”
At least two other churches have been built by BFC in response to a disaster — Phil Campbell’s Mountain View Baptist following the April 2011 tornadoes and First Baptist, Chalmette, Louisiana, following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
German said she and her husband plan to “serve Christ by serving His church” through BFC as long as they can.
For more information on Builders for Christ, visit www.baptistbuildersforchrist.org.