First Baptist Church of Dallas launches $130 million capital campaign

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DALLAS — First Baptist Church of Dallas has launched a $130 million capital campaign to build an expansive 1.5-million-square-foot campus—believed to be the largest church building program in modern history.

The announcement came during morning church services Nov. 1, when senior pastor Dr. Robert Jeffress informed the congregation that $62 million had already been committed to the campaign. Members will be asked to contribute to the three-year financial campaign above their regular tithes.

"First Baptist's building program is not an end in itself; it is a means to an end to better minister to and meet the needs of the community," Jeffress said. "Now, more than ever, our church is firmly committed to spreading the message of God's love to transform lives and our city."

The downtown project taps into a wave of revitalization efforts, including the opening last month of the Dallas Center for the Performing Arts and ongoing construction of the Dallas Convention Center Hotel and Trinity River Project.

"For more than 140 years, God has put First Baptist Church at the center of Dallas, the nation's fastest-growing city in the heart of America," Jeffress said. "Jerry Jones recently unveiled a new $1.2 billion 'temple to sport.' In these tough economic times, why can't we use our gifts to build a church building that provides a spiritual oasis and matches the splendor and majesty of God?"

According to church officials, the proposed plan, designed by The Beck Group, will physically change the landscape of the Dallas skyline, "galvanizing a clear presence of the church at the center of the city."

The project touts use of a Green Building Rating System and will include a 3,000-seat worship center that uses the latest in audiovisual technology.

Senior adult education space will be below the worship center along with 300-parking spaces, which will provide easy access for the older generation. Across from the worship center and connected by a sweeping glass concourse will be a six-floor education building for the preschool, children and youth ministries, including play areas, two side-by-side gymnasiums and an outdoor patio. An adjacent, enclosed parking structure will offer 500-plus spaces.

At the heart of the new campus will be a fountain plaza complete with gathering places that will add one acre of new green gathering places and an oval pool with a stone water tower topped with a cross at its center. The church's historic steeple, taken down in the 1960s because of safety concerns and then installed in the Criswell Center multipurpose facility in 2006, will be restored to its original height. The current sanctuary, which dates to 1890, will be retained as a site for weddings, funerals and other special events. The Truett Building and the Veal Garage, inadequate to meet the congregation's needs will be torn down to make way for these new structures.

"Through the years, our campus has been built in stages, resulting in a hodgepodge of buildings," Jeffress said, noting the design priority to combine state-of-the-art facilities with the church's legendary past. "Some of these, while representing significant history and memories, are worn down and deteriorating. This new plan will help to maintain the historic elements of our campus, including the original sanctuary, while establishing new, energy-efficient buildings that can become a part of Dallas' future for generations to come."

Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert, a member of the congregation, said the project will benefit everyone in the community by providing an open and inviting atmosphere and additional parking.

 "It will have an impact on this community and what we're trying to accomplish by creating more of an urban setting that is vibrant and exciting and brings people downtown," Leppert said. "This is going to be an exciting effort, not only in terms of Sunday, but all the other different activities."

The campaign drive will continue through May 16, with construction planned to begin in the fall of 2010. The project is expected to be completed debt-free by 2013.

First Baptist Church of Dallas is well known for its former pastor W.A. Criswell who led the church for more than fifty years from 1944 to 1995. During this period, church membership grew from 7,800 to 25,000 as it became a well-known Southern Baptist megachurch.

Evangelist Billy Graham joined the church in 1953 and was a member of the Dallas congregation for 55 years.