Congregation plans for move to Pete’s Highway _lowres

Rendering provided by First Baptist Church -- This rendering depicts plans to expand First Baptist Church in Denham Springs, which has been on the same property on River Road since it was founded in 1900. The congregation plans to move its campus to a new 47-acre tract on Pete’s Highway in Denham Springs, with a projected finish date of August 2016.

First Baptist Church in Denham Springs has been on the same property on River Road since it was founded in 1900, and at the time, it was at the heart of town.

But the congregation plans to move its campus to a new 47-acre tract on Pete’s Highway near the Post Office in Denham Springs, with a projected finish date of August 2016.

Phase I of the $10.9-million project will include a new worship center with a 750-person capacity, said the Rev. Leo Miller, pastor of First Baptist for the past 4 years.

“There’s been an electric sense of God’s work being done,” Miller said. “(Members both) old and new are united behind the relocation project, and we all know it’s a part of God’s plan for our ministry.”

The site where the new sanctuary will go is being prepped now, Miller said, and bids were let March 30 for the construction of Phase I.

“We expect to get those back in a couple of weeks,” he said.

The old campus has many memories for those who grew up in Denham Springs, Jimmy Crowder said. He and his wife were married there, and had children dedicated and baptized there.

Crowder, now in his 50s, grew up in the church, and has seen new buildings go up on campus, old buildings repurposed and demolished, and at least one flood in 1977 that required a quick removal of the pews.

While being in the floodplain is one small part of the reason it’s moving, Crowder said, the greater motivation is the congregation’s desire to increase its numbers and visibility.

At the moment, its membership rolls are at 1,200, but there are about 480 regular worshipers, Miller said.

“It was once the heart of town, but it’s slowly moved south. There are a lot of newcomers to Denham Springs, and when I say the church is at 308 River Road, they say, ‘Where is that?’ ”

The Pete’s Highway location will be much easier to access and easier to find.

“It’s something we’ve been dreaming and praying about for a long time,” Miller said.

They’ve been raising money through capital campaigns for some time now, he said.

Once Phase I is complete, they’ll begin working on Phase II, which will include an education and multipurpose building, auditorium and expansion of the worship building to seat 1,100.

Eventually, the church would like to use the rest of the property to create walking paths and green space that will lend itself to a peaceful, spiritual experience, Crowder said.

“We took a lot of time making sure everyone’s input was included, and the people who have been here for decades are as excited as the people who just got here,” Crowder said.

For information on the church and its programs, visit its website, firstdenham.com.