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Number of churches in Wiregrass continues to grow

Number of churches in Wiregrass continues to grow

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The Wiregrass has an abundance of churches.

Statistics indicate Alabama has one of the highest number of churches per resident in the United States. A total of 53 churches belong to the Columbia Baptist Association alone, which generally encompasses Southern Baptist churches in Houston County.

And there may be more. According to the Association of Religion Data Archives (ARDA), 71 Houston County congregations affiliated themselves with the Southern Baptist Convention in 2010.

Further, while Southern Baptists comprise the most Houston County congregations by far, the ARDA found close to 200 congregations having some faith affiliation in Houston County in 2010.

New churches, however, continue locate in the Wiregrass.

So why would a church feel a need to locate in a region already saturated with churches?

The simple answer is that people attend. Some of the newer churches in Houston County have some of the highest attendance numbers on Sunday mornings.

Church planting has experienced a resurgence in American Christianity over the past decade. Some congregations choose to plant churches in areas where few or no congregations of that particular denomination exist. That is part of the reason Abiding Word Church became a part of Dothan’s church community.

Abiding Word is a Lutheran-affiliated church, launched in Dothan in July of 2013. According to the 2010 ARDA report, only two Houston County churches reported any Lutheran affiliation.

Pastor Caleb Free said some residents near Fort Rucker had expressed an interest in having a nearby Lutheran church, and the denomination’s headquarters responded by planting a church in Dothan.

Abiding Word meets each Sunday at Highlands Elementary School at 9:30 a.m.

Free said Abiding Word’s goal is not to extract members from other churches.

“One of the things we like to do is plant churches, both here in the United States and abroad,” Free said. “Yes, there are a ton of churches here but there are also a lot of people here who do not go to church. We want to reach out to them and tell them who Jesus is. And there are a lot of people who are established in their church and that is just fine, but there are also a lot of people who may say they are established and are really not. And on top of that, there are a lot of transplants here. Our goal is to reach the unchurched , whether they have lived here their whole lives or just moved here.”

Free said people attending for the first time can expect a casual, laid back atmosphere with a singular focus.

“You will hear about Jesus and what Jesus has done for you,” Free said. “That is, by far, what we are all about.”

An abundance of Southern Baptist churches in the Wiregrass did not stop the Coffee County Baptist Association from planting the Church on Boll Weevil Circle. Although the church has technically been in existence since 2005, it is just beginning to find its footing.

Dr. John Granger, the church’s interim pastor and director of missions for the Coffee County Baptist Association, said the association conducted some demographic surveys and determined a need for a church with a presence on Boll Weevil Circle. The church currently meets at the former Coffee County welcome center, but has recently purchased land on the circle and hopes to move forward soon with a building program.

“We hope that this church can be a bridge across some of the cultural and racial gaps reflective of what we have in society,” Granger said. “Our association has been involved for a long time in reaching out to all segments of the community, but we just hope this can be reflective of what we have. All segments of our community go to Wal-Mart every day. Why would we want our churches to be any different?”

Granger said he has been pleased with the recent progress. He said average attendance is around 45, although a recent Sunday attendance hit 62 and a special Sunday evening event had 115. But Granger said the Church on the Circle was created with a horizon of 20 years or beyond.

“We believe, in time, that it will become one of the most prominent churches around,” Granger said.

Another relatively recent church planting trend has centered on satellite campus churches.

New Freedom Church in Webb advertised the Easter launch of its Dothan campus church with a DothanSecret.com billboard campaign. The church met for the first time Easter Sunday at the Wiregrass Museum of Art.

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