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First Baptist Church at The Villages
By: Jennifer Walker-Journey

The community known as The Villages in central Florida is often referred to as “Florida’s Friendliest Retirement Hometown.” The town has flourished since it was conceived more than 50 years ago, and it now offers plenty of dining, shopping, and entertainment in its three town squares.

Here, people cycle down palm-shaded streets, play golf on vast rolling greens, and enjoy live entertainment almost every day of the year. It is no surprise that family members of the lucky seniors who live at The Villages make frequent trips to the area to partake in the fun.

Residents of this cozy community also have a variety of houses of worship to attend on Sundays, including First Baptist Church at The Villages.

First Baptist began in December 2001, holding its first worship service in a funeral home with just 70 people in attendance. By 2005, a modest church was built, and a year later, Pastor Bob Perry and his wife Karen began their ministry at the church.

It didn’t take long for membership to grow nearly tenfold since its humble beginnings. In 2009, with expansion in mind, the church purchased property north of and adjacent to its current site.

David Strickland, principal with CDH Partners architects, took on the role of lead architect for the design-build project.

Church leadership explained that it wanted a larger worship facility that could accommodate its older membership, as well as their younger guests, such as children and grandchildren, when they visited. They needed a much larger worship area but didn’t want the size of the new building to be overwhelming and thus feel uninviting. The worship center would need to visually say, “Come, stay and enjoy!”

Architects responded by taking a more contemporary approach to the design, with a large worship area with a stage, theater seating, and state-of-the-art audio, visual and lighting components. Support areas would also be included for administrative use, rehearsals and classrooms. A large atrium would serve as the perfect place for fellowship with a coffee bar and welcome center.

Both the exterior and interior were given the look and feel of a Florida resort community expressed through light colors, heavy wicker furniture in gathering area, island ceiling fans, and an abundance of natural light.

The church focused on raising money for the building project and was ready to break ground on January 1, 2012. The church was completed September 2013.

“The first thing you notice is the size and style of the building,” says Pastor Perry in a promotional video of the church. “The large size accommodates needs and provides enhanced visibility to the community. The Key West style feels right at home in Florida and, in particular, The Villages.”

The focal point is the tower, which rises more than 100 feet in the air. Cross-shaped windows face in every direction of the tower, which is also topped with a cross. Courtyards and wraparound porches welcome guests and visitors alike.

The main entrance runs through the tower lobby. To the right are church offices and hall access to one of two large restrooms. Directly ahead from the tower lobby is a large, open gathering area providing ample space for fellowship. A welcome center, coffee and snack bar, and guest reception area offer plenty of casual seating.

The grand hall leads people into the worship center, with theater seating for more than 900 people. The eye is immediately drawn to a large cross suspended over the platform, which can accommodate a “choir of 100 voices,” Pastor Perry says.

The room stands 60 feet tall and stretches nearly 10,000 feet wide. Though vast in size, muted tones and comfortable seating make the worship center feel warm and inviting. The building also has areas for childcare, choir rehearsal, equipment storage, prayer rooms, first aid, and usher room.

“This project was a really big team effort,” Strickland said. “The church was heavily involved every step of the way. With design-build, we were at the table for most part for every decision that was made.”

This helped not only keep the project on schedule and on budget, but also ensured the owners got exactly what they wanted out of the project.

“No one was disappointed in the end. They were really pleased,” said Strickland. 

From the inside out, First Baptist Church at The Villages seems to open its arms and say, “Come, stay and enjoy!”

CDH Partners, based in Marietta, Georgia, is committed to working with clients to provide the most up-to-date professional architectural services available, www.CDHPartners.com.

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Religious Product News