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    Sunday, April 14, 2024

    Groton Bible Chapel plans expansion to double seating

    A rendering of the possible exterior of the planned new building for Groton Bible Chapel. The architects say it was designed to incorporate natural elements and have lots of windows looking out onto the landscape. (Courtesy of Oxley Williams Tharp Architects)

    Groton — Looking at Gallup research from 1992 to 2017, last year saw the lowest percentage of people who said they had attended a church or synagogue in the last seven days, and the lowest who said religion is very important in their lives.

    These figures wouldn't surprise those who have seen churches shrink and consolidate or close in their communities.

    Groton Bible Chapel has a different story.

    The nondenominational church is ramping up for the $4 million to $5 million construction of a new chapel, and lead pastor Gary Campbell — a fourth-generation attendee of the church — is aiming for next spring for the groundbreaking. Next year will be a particularly exciting time for the church, as it also will be celebrating its centennial.

    The sanctuary currently seats 309, and Campbell said the goal is for the one in the new building to seat about 600.

    "It's not so significantly bigger that it becomes this behemoth," Campbell said. He added, "We very much don't want to become a megachurch. Our issue has been accommodating the growth that we've had."

    The 16,000-square-foot facility, including a sanctuary and a fellowship hall that Campbell calls a "commons area," will be constructed on the grass between Toll Gate Road and the western part of the parking lot.

    The project will involve demolishing two buildings — a fully furnished house used for missionaries on furlough and a youth center — which Campbell hopes will be done this fall. The building opposite Crawford Lane, which previously has functioned as a parsonage, will be restaged into the furlough house.

    Campbell said the size of the current youth center, which serves middle and high school students, is "really inadequate." Once the new sanctuary is built, the current sanctuary will be retrofitted for the youth center.

    Seeing a need for more space

    While Groton Bible Chapel doesn't have membership, Campbell estimates that it gets between 750 and 900 attendees across its three services, which are at 8:30, 10 and 11:30, on an average Sunday morning.

    He said this puts a lot of strain on the church's 60-plus volunteers, and he hopes to cut down to two services when the new chapel opens.

    Growth in the church happened after 2000, peaked in 2013-15 and then flatlined, Campbell said. He feels that attendance stopped going up largely because of the "limitations of our facility."

    He cited Sunday school as an example, saying, "If there's 20 kids in a room that's designed for 15, you probably turn around and walk out."

    So what has caused the growth of Groton Bible Chapel, as other churches see declining membership?

    "I think one of the significant things that has made this church healthy and vibrant and growing, throughout its history, is that it's really been about kids," Campbell said.

    Indeed, as Campbell spoke to The Day, volunteers worked on setting up for next week's shipwreck-themed Vacation Bible School, with a boat sitting on the platform in the sanctuary.

    Campbell also thinks that the military community "has kept us from getting stagnant." His ballpark estimate is that 30 percent of regular attendees are from military families.

    He acknowledges that people tend to be more regular churchgoers in the Midwest and South, the homelands of many in the military.

    Several years ago, the Groton Inland Wetlands Agency approved an application for Groton Bible Chapel to build a new youth center but it was never constructed. Campbell said that while the teen population was burgeoning, church leaders realized this wasn't the right step because it didn't engage kids or adults.

    For the current project, the Inland Wetlands Agency on June 13 classified the application as minor and on July 9 did a site walk.

    e.moser@theday.com

    A rendering of a possible design for the interior "commons area" of a planned new building for Groton Bible Chapel. (Courtesy of Oxley Williams Tharp Architects)
    A rendering of a possible design for the interior worship space of a planned new building for Groton Bible Chapel. (Courtesy of Oxley Williams Tharp Architects)

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