The two churches were experiencing dwindling congregation numbers but are now thriving as one.
Pastor Casey Butner is helping breathe new life into a historic church in Winter Garden, and he has brought a congregation with him.
Butner was the pastor at the fledgling Powers Drive Baptist Church, in Pine Hills, and is now leading Winter Garden's Beulah Baptist Church.
In recent years, Powers Drive Baptist was down to 80 members and Beulah had a mere 40.
These days, though, after a successful merger of the two congregations, Beulah Baptist is experiencing rising numbers and a fresh approach to sharing God's word.
A YEAR OF CHANGES
“The worship aspect on Sunday was so culturally diverse that we found that the community didn't prefer to worship with our declining congregation,” Butner said of his old church.
The church was struggling financially, and trying to operate a large church campus on a small budget was difficult. So Butner began considering a move to a smaller location in an effort to save his membership.
Ninety-four percent of his congregants, many of whom had gone to the Powers Drive church their entire lives, agreed a relocation was beneficial. By January of this year, the decision to sell the property and relocate was made.
Bishop Derrick W. Hutchins, of New Life Church of Orlando in Ocoee, had expressed an interest in purchasing the Powers Drive campus, so Butner invited him to speak at a revival.
“He brought about 40 people with him,” Butner said. “We (had) about 200 at that revival. That filled up the bottom section of the sanctuary, and we were utilizing the building again. We had a wonderful service. … In my mind, our potential buyer had enough clout to be a legitimate buyer.”
Butner and his congregation prayed for guidance for the next step, whether it be to buy an existing building or build a new facility.
“Through that, five different people recommended for me to explore Beulah Baptist as a potential merge,” Butner said. “I said, 'Lord, it doesn't take a mathematician to find the common denominator here.'”
In March, officials at both churches met.
“I said, 'We have … a worship leader, pianist, secretary, custodian and pastor, and they're a package deal,'” Butner said. “In their reply, they said, 'We do not have a pastor (or) worship leader, our pianist is struggling with arthritis, and we don't have a custodian.' It seemed like it was just a perfect conversation up front. We left that day with perfect peace.”
After a few joint services, the congregations held a vote. Beulah members voted 97.5% in favor of merging the churches; Powers Drive members voted 94%.
Butner said the few who voted no did so for logistical reasons.
THIS IS US
The deal was signed, Powers Drive Baptist Church merged with Beulah Baptist Church, and memberships have been transferred. About 150 people worship together each Sunday morning.
“Now it's no longer they and we, but us,” Butner said. “We're together, we're unified, we're able to move forward.”
He and New Life Church are expected to close on the Powers Drive property in December.
“Something we never could have dreamed or imagined is before us,” Butner said. “Generally, when you sell a piece of property, you make a lateral move and you buy a new place. … But with a merge, we're able to keep our collateral and bring it over to an already-healthy church.”
The merger has provided funds for Beulah to hire a full-time worship leader and ministry coordinator. And there are talks of completing the large worship center that has remained unfinished for about a decade after the declining economy forced the church to halt construction.
A NEW FOCUS
At 11 a.m. on Sundays, Butner offers a blended praise-and-worship service so all generations can worship together.
Butner's family is among the congregation. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Christy, and they have four children: Aaron, 17; Abigail, 7; Alyssa, 5; and Alyvia, 2.
New ideas are coming in the new year, including one-on-one personal discipleship, which the pastor calls “a simple process to motivate people and regularly remind them to be the light of Christ.”
Several 8-foot by 5-foot wooden crosses are being made and will stand in the sanctuary as a reminder to pray for people and share the Gospel with them. Holes will be drilled into the crosses, and members will tie white and yellow ribbons onto the cross as prayers are said and the Gospel is shared. When the person being prayed for professes his or her faith, a red ribbon is added. Once the person is baptized, a blue ribbon is tied on.
Butner is eager to see the crosses up and see God's love in action.
It's easy to see the pastor's excitement when he speaks of his last year and what has led him to his important role in the church's future.
“In the middle of this whole story there were so many miracles,” he said. “(Many Powers Drive Baptist) folks invested their entire life into that one facility. They saw the land being purchased, they helped build the first sanctuary, the second sanctuary and a third sanctuary. And for God to move on their heart to be willing to change while they're older in age is nothing short of a miracle. They were willing to move out of their home church and allow another congregation to come in so that God could have His will and His way. And He has.”
New Life already has started a private school, clinics and outreach programs, community breakfasts, financial and marriage counseling services and mentoring.
“So God has honored both New Life, Powers Drive Baptist Church and Beulah Baptist,” Butner said.