Although the church has grown to serve 400 members, the Sunday worshippers filed into the sanctuary’s 44 pews and embraced each other like family.
It was 13 years ago when Olivet Christian Church expanded to meet the needs of its ever-changing congregation and built a second multi-functional church next to the original one-room sanctuary.
Now the church, whose membership has doubled over the past decade, is again discussing plans for a bigger and more modern building.
“We thought we were building plenty of growth room,” said Dennis Swearngin, a minister who has been with the church since 1980. “But within a few years, we were already feeling crowded.”
When Karen Bradley, parish nurse, first arrived at Olivet 17 years ago, the church was just beginning to plan for the church that is now at capacity.
“There was a portion of the congregation who never thought we would ever fill the space,” she said.
Olivet Church, just east of Columbia on Route WW, is on the cusp of a population boom. Old Hawthorne Golf Course was recently built nearby, with plans for more than 1,000 homes. The influx of new residents might bring more change for the church.
In 1874, Olivet’s 36 founding members spent $2,000 to build the first church. The new structure is estimated to cost $1.5 million to $3.5 million. The difference in the price tag is one sign of Olivet’s transition from a small country parish to a major, metropolitan church.
The new building will fill the church’s need for more classrooms, office space and a multi-use gymnasium. Olivet’s tentative plan is to use the gym to host parish dinners, special events and contemporary worship, said David Machon, associate minister of youth and Christian education.
The church will be using money on hand, a mortgage and donations from a capital campaign to finance the expansion. Swearngin said the committees are hoping to begin the campaign next spring.
The congregation has yet to set a date to begin construction, but church officials are hoping it will be under way in late 2008 or early 2009.
As with its previous expansion, Olivet intends to continue using its current building and sanctuary while incorporating the new structure.
“The multi-use space is in anticipation for programs the future may request of us,” Swearngin said.
Olivet saw its greatest membership growth in the mid-1990s, Swearngin said. To accommodate the increase, Olivet added a second Sunday morning service. Space, however, was still an issue. This prompted the construction of the current church, which began holding services in 1994.
Olivet still holds two Sunday services, and there are discussions of adding a third. The church is not only expanding physically, but is changing to meet the needs of its members.
Services include Sunday worship child care, a parish nurse and Bible study for all ages. Church officials are hoping to implement programs for a younger generation, one of which is Bible study for young parents,
“You have to have a lot of young people in order to grow,” said Dorothy Grant, a member of Olivet for over 50 years.
Not all members are as eagerly anticipating the change.
“It’s mixed. There is some excitement and a little nervousness,” said Machon “All the kids just wonder, is it coming or not?”
“Personally I don’t want to go to a church with 3,000 people,” Grant said. “But we’re a long way from that.”
Regardless of Olivet’s necessity to change, one thing will always remain constant. “Most people will tell you, Olivet is family,” Bradley said. “We grow and we change and we have our difficulties just like any other place. ...It’s not just my church. It’s my family.”