By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
LAKE CHARLES – The sale of facilities that formerly belonged to a struggling Anglo church in Lake Charles has breathed new life into an African- American congregation in the city. The property, located at 3007 Enterprise Boulevard and which used to house the once-thriving Boulevard Baptist Church, was sold Feb. 22 to Mount Olive Baptist Church.
At one time Boulevard Baptist Church had as many as 1,320 members, according to Annual Church Profile statistics. But as the demographics of the neighborhood changed, attendance steadily declined, with fewer than 15 members attending in late 2017. Rather than close the doors, Boulevard Baptist chose to sell the property to Carey Baptist Association the following year. The association continued to allow the congregation to worship in the facilities while a new buyer was found.
Meanwhile, Mt. Olive Baptist was praying about its vision for the future when the Holy Spirit orchestrated a conversation in October 2017 between Carey Association Director of Missions Bruce Baker and Pastor Braylon Harris about a possible relocation to Boulevard Baptist’s property.
Instead of focusing on adding onto its existing facilities at its 37-acre property, Mt. Olive Baptist turned its eyes two miles westward to the Boulevard Baptist location. “We struggled to get real great traction on moving forward even though we purchased the land,” Harris said. “Bruce and I were at Boulevard Baptist one day and as I told him what all we wanted in our church expansion, Bruce told me I was basically standing at a property that met all we wanted. That day was like one of those ‘aha moments’ and jumpstarted the process that got to be where we are today.”
Meanwhile, a buyer, New Shiloh Baptist Church in Lake Charles, was found in early February to purchase Mt. Olive Baptist’s facilities, and, New Shiloh has since joined the association.
“We have tried to be good stewards and do the work that Boulevard Baptist did effectively for so many years,” Harris said. “It’s been what I call a ‘re-vision.’ The original vision was to build a building, but what we now have would probably have taken us three to four pastors and two to three generations to get done.”
Baker is excited about God’s plan for the church to reach the community with the Gospel.
“All pastors involved have been very supportive of moving this forward,” he said. “We view this as an investment in the Kingdom to build strong relationships and tear down barriers.”
Since relocating, Mt. Olive Baptist has renovated the facilities and cultivated relationships with residents of the neighborhood.
Members have started a daycare, after-school tutoring services and basketball training sessions, shared the Gospel through door-to-door visitation, hosted a Vacation Bible School and distributed evangelism tracts at local parades. They also have continued operation of a supply closet for area homeless and the less fortunate.
Harris knows his church cannot change the entire city of Lake Charles, but they can do their part to be a catalyst for transformation through Christ.
“I don’t believe we can do it all, but it is our job to inspire others,” Harris said. “We do what we can the best we can with the hope and desire we can inspire others to do what we don’t do well.
“Our mission since I have been pastor eight years ago is ‘go, teach, love,’” he continued. “We are big on outgoing, and being innovative and creative in the way we go and being inclusive in the way we teach and being real in the way we love people. Together we, by all means, go, teach and love.
The transition to this facility magnified our means to do more ministry – and to reach more means to do more ministry to reach more men.”