Six years ago, over 500 volunteers came throughout the summer to build the Emmanuel Community Church in Conyers. From a humble beginning with only 22 members that met at Lorraine Elementary School for weekly church services in 2005, Emmanuel Community Church has since grown and flourished and is in need of more space.
Now the church is involved in, what the members have aptly named "Extreme Makeover: Church Edition." Over 1,000 volunteers representing over 17 states and 21 churches have come to give of themselves and their time to the church located on Hwy 212.
The first to respond when the call went out over the Georgia Baptist website was Dr. Larry Cheek of the Stone Mountain Association and Clarence and Marie Hall of Georgia Construction Company. Clarence is the contractor for this church expansion project as well as for the first project that built the original and existing Emmanuel Community Church off of Ga. Highway 212 in 2006. Clarence and the Pastor of Emmanuel Community, Dr. Eric Suddith, have worked very closely to bring their vision of the expansion of the church to fruition.
Many of the volunteers who are the majority of the labor force are from three national Christian Build Organizations: the Carpenters for Christ, the Builders for Christ and the Constructors for Christ, as well as Emmanuel Community's own local team, God's Hope Builders led by Clarence Hall. The volunteers, who have come from all across the nation, are helping with the construction at their own expense providing their own travel and hotel accommodations as well as their food costs.
Marlin and Mary Anna Paulson are the only two remaining members of the original twelve families that began the Constructors for Christ volunteer group in 1976. They have helped build 36 churches in the 36 years of the organization's existence.
When asked why they volunteer every year, Mr. Paulson cites the passage in 1 John 3:18, "Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions..."
Marlin said that true love requires action thus he and the other volunteers put in 12-hour days over the course of five weeks each summer to help build Southern Baptist churches.
Marlin explains that the only thing they require of the churches they help build is to put in the concrete and they do the rest. The time frame from start to finish, concrete to carpet is approximately five weeks. Mary Anna said the biggest difference of the Emmanuel project from the others in the past is the sheer size of this project and that they usually begin a project and see it to completion. Because this project is the biggest of all the churches they have been involved with, they actually came in the middle of the build which started last year and when their 5 weeks is up and they return home others will continue to finish the project.
Ray Dilbeck from Dalton is the overseer of the construction project and is affectionately referred to as "HeyRay" as he moves throughout the site to give direction and sees what needs to be done down to the last detail. Mr. Dilbeck has been involved with Constructors for Christ for the past 34 years.
Other volunteers include John Mitchell who is a member of Emmanuel church as well as Denise, a volunteer from Winston Salem, NC who was busy sweeping up one of the many rooms being built. Pastor Suddith said, "That's what is so amazing about these volunteers. They come from far away to sweep floors and they thank us for allowing them to help. It's incredible."
With community as a central part of the Emmanuel Church name, they were chosen by the volunteer teams because of the work they are doing within the community. In addition to the various ministries within the church, ECC sponsors community outreach programs as well as a community food bank, an afterschool program, a Teen Ministry that is open to the community, a mentoring program with a community group home, and a ministry that partners with two local nursing homes.
The addition to the facility will include a family life center which will contain a gymnasium and a partnership with Upward Sports. Other features include: a new larger sanctuary that will accommodate 1,800 seats, a day care, a racquetball court, an exercise room, a walking track, a commercial kitchen and a fellowship Café.
The expansion of Emmanuel church provides 3 separate and distinct ministries: the Student Ministry with Joshua Norwood as the Student Youth Pastor, the Athletic Ministry with Shenita Edwards as the Athletic Director, and the Family Life Ministry that includes the Kids Zone with classrooms all built to meet the regulations of a possible Charter School in the future if needed.
Rogers Gotier, Emmanuel Community's Ministry adviser and marketing ministry director, said that above all, the success of the growth of the Emmanuel church lays in the leadership of the church.
"The leadership is the most important," Gotier said. "Dr. Suddith has a transparent ministry."
The expansion project is projected to finish December 2011.