Antioch Community Church leaders are putting their faith on the line by starting construction on a $10 million facility they don’t yet have funds to finish.
Work is progressing on the foundation for the 2,200-seat worship center while officials continue to work to raise millions of dollars.
More than 18 months after it was announced, the congregation has raised about $2.5 million, a quarter of its goal. Church leaders remain firmly opposed to going into debt for what would be the area’s largest church construction project in the last decade.
“This is a two-year project, and we are planning to continue to raise money, and hoping to have it in time so we don’t have any delays,” executive Pastor Jeff Abshire said. “It’s going to take some miracles.”
Church leaders have broken the project into eight phases and are hoping to raise enough money soon to pay for the structural steel for the five-story building.
The project has been scaled down by about $1 million since it was announced in January 2011, eliminating about 200 seats among other cuts.
The project still includes about $1 million for the renovation of the existing church building at 505 N. 20th St. for a youth and children’s facility.
Antioch bought the former H-E-B supermarket in 2000, just a year after the church was founded, and renovated it without debt.
The church now has about 4,000 people who attend regularly and accommodates them with three services on Sundays.
Abshire said he expects the nondenominational, evangelical church to continue to grow by about 200 people per year.
In its 13 years, Antioch has become not only one of the biggest churches in Waco but also one of the top 1 percent nationwide in size, Baylor sociologist Kevin Dougherty said.
Dougherty, who has studied Antioch in-depth but is not a member, said the new building project is remarkable for its boldness.
“It’s not unheard of, especially in more evangelical, charismatic churches, to step out on faith and give God the chance to be God and do the miraculous,” he said. “(But) $10 million is far beyond what most congregations are doing.
“For a church of this size to take steps on a project this size (without financing in hand) is highly unusual. It puts them in a position to either fail big, or it’s a powerful testimony of what the congregation and God can do. It’s a gamble.”
He added that the goal of building without debt is commendable for a church.
“In terms of operating on a cash-only basis, that’s incredibly wise for a voluntary organization,” he said. “This year’s budget is no guarantee for the next, and you could be one church split away from being bankrupt.”
Abshire agreed that Antioch’s decision to avoid debt and start construction before finishing fundraising is unusual.
“It’s difficult — it feels harder than going to a bank and getting a loan — but it’s a whole lot more fun afterwards,” he said. “We currently don’t have any debt, and that gives us great freedom.”
Antioch leaders hope to receive about $1 million from out-of-town donors who support Antioch’s church-planting efforts in the U.S. and around the world.
In the meantime, the church continues to urge its members to find ways to set aside money for the project.
The church’s website recently promoted a “Quarters in the Couch” campaign, asking members to bring in spare change they find around the house.
Abshire said Antioch’s membership is largely “blue collar,” and many of the seats are filled by Baylor students who don’t give regularly. Still, he said, most members tend to give all they can.
‘The widow’s mite’
“If everybody will sacrificially give, I think we can do it,” Abshire said. “Everybody has something to give, even if it’s the widow’s mite,” he added, referring to the New Testament story.
K. Paul Holt, executive director of the Central Texas Association of General Contractors, said Antioch’s project is by far the biggest church project he’s seen in the past decade.
Other big projects include the $5.5 million expansion of First Baptist Church Woodway last year and a $5 million project at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church that wrapped up in 2011.
Holt, who attends St. Paul’s, said the church started on the project after raising $4 million, but it got a bridge loan for the construction.
He said Antioch’s project is unusual in the construction world, but churches work differently from businesses, relying on the good faith of members to step up to the collection plate.
“Congregations are able to put together some of the most unique financing packages, because there is far more passion in the building of a church than in a business,” he said.
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