Remember the story about the little boy who owned his boat twice-once because he built it, and the second time because he bought it back?
That’s about what happened to the Grace Brethren congregation in Auburn, California.
They built a beautiful new building. Then, bowing to financial pressures, they had to relinquish it. Now, due to God’s grace and good growth, they have it back again. Auburn Grace Community Church, located about 35 miles north of Sacramento, was begun in 1978 from a Bible study that began with two couples, including the parents of the current pastor, Phil Sparling.
The church was renting facilities in the early 1980s when it purchased seven acres of land. In 1988, having decided to build, the congregation called the Grace Brethren Investment Foundation in Winona Lake, Ind., then headed by Jim Johnson, about borrowing funds.
GBIF approved plans to build and loaned the church $750,000, but halfway through the project the county changed its approval process and another $250,000 in costs were incurred.
When they finally moved into the facility in 1993, the church found itself saddled with a building payment of $8,000 a month, and a congregation that was not rapidly growing.
The senior pastor left to plant another church, other staff left for other reasons, and by mid-1994 the church had about 100 people attending services and only one pastor on staff-youth pastor Phil Sparling.
After consulting with GBIF about re-prioritizing their spending, elders of the Auburn congregation decided they could no longer afford the building. They looked for a way to rent out part of it to bring in additional income. About that time another church, located a mile from the Auburn site, was looking for a bigger auditorium. So a Southern Baptist congregation exchanged their 8,000 square foot facility for Auburn’s 21,000 square feet in September, 1998.
But God wasn’t through growing the Auburn Grace Brethren church. The church regrouped and, under the leadership of Pastor Sparling, began to grow again.
Ken Seyfert, who heads the Grace Brethren Investment Foundation, consulted several times with the congregation and recalls, “The pastor and leadership of the congregation got serious before God. They turned around what seemed to be an impossible situation through prayer, sound biblical teaching, loving one another, and continuing to reach out into their community.”
“To their credit,” Seyfert continues, “They were willing to make hard, sacrificial decisions necessary for the good of the church.”
The church began to grow, and when the Baptist church made an offer to purchase the facility in 2002, the Auburn congregation, which then had about 160-170 in Sunday morning attendance, asked for 30 days to pray about the issue. According to Sparling, the church’s leadership team determined to “go back and finish the vision for which we built the building,” which meant providing more ministries to reach the community, and engaging more staff to lead those ministries. They declined the purchase offer. The church began a self-financing effort in loans and gifts, and 13 months later had all the necessary $850,000 financed, with payments now lowered to $6,000 a month.
Attendances are now about 300. The church is growing nicely and anticipates paying off its indebtedness in about nine years.
Looking back, Sparling says, “God was waiting for us to take the step of faith. He didn’t want us to give up on the dream…over a 13-month campaign we not only raised the needed funds but also were able to hire part-time ministers in worship, youth, and children’s areas.”
So, after a six-year absence, the trucks and trailers came out again and the Auburn congregation reoccupied its own building in November of 2004.
Like the little boy with the boat, the Auburn congregation had their building, then they didn’t, and now they do again. And they are moving ahead aggressively with the ministry God has called them to in their northern California community.