FBC Jacksonville sells building to JSU, plans to merge church campuses

Jacksonville First Baptist Church has begun the process of selling its north campus to Jacksonville State University be used as additional space for its performing arts program.

The offer came at the perfect time, said Pastor Derek Staples. The church had recently voted to approve a vision plan that included selling this campus — which includes its 1950s-built sanctuary — and its south campus, known as EaglePoint Church, to purchase land and build a facility large enough to hold the combined congregation.

The two congregations will meet for worship services at EaglePoint beginning Sept. 4 until that property sells and the new building is completed.

Staples said church leaders originally considered remodeling the two campuses, but then questioned the wisdom of pouring money into two sets of aging buildings.

Preparing for the future

“One day I was in my office looking at pictures of my grandchildren, and I began to wonder if they moved to Jacksonville, what kind of church would we like to see serving them? I think that’s when the Lord put it on my heart to put the church in the best possible place where it could be for the next 50 or 60 years,” Staples said. “I thought the best option on the table would be for us to unite our two campuses, sell our two campuses and buy enough land so that our church could dream of whatever it wanted to dream of in the future whether it was a Christian school or something like that, a kind of center of ministry – whatever they wanted to do, they would have the ability.

JSU leaders contacted the building purchase early in the church planning process and met with church leaders two days after the vision plan – called Forward As One – was approved by members from the church.

According to university officials, the JSU Board of Trustees has authorized the university president to enter into an agreement to purchase the church building. The purchase is part of a larger project – JSU plans to build a new 1,000-seat Randy Owen Center for the Performing Arts.

Part of the plan now is to move some of the programs planned for the ROC into the renovated church building, such as the practice of the Marching Southerners marching band. This will help reduce the costs of their construction project. They are working with architects to modify the design to connect with the First Baptist property.

“Trust in the Lord”

Staples said everything is in place for the sale, and he’s praying the same will happen with the EaglePoint campus.

“I hope the Lord will send the right person or the right group to purchase this building. We’ve had some interest already,” Staples said.

For the fall, the church will hold two Sunday morning services on the EaglePoint campus that Staples says will already increase capacity. They plan to expand to three services in early 2023.

“There are two words we asked everyone to keep in mind – temporary and flexible,” he said. “Everything we do for the next two years will be temporary, so let’s stay as flexible as possible and hope the Lord has amazing things in store for us.”

The church’s goal is to move into its new facility debt-free.

Jerry B. Hatch