Summertime is the season of getaways. It’s the time of the year when suitcases and cars are packed for trips to the mountains, the beaches and points in between. But getting away from it all doesn’t necessarily mean getting away from your faith.
This April Dublin First Baptist Church realized a dream that was 10 years in the making. The church opened a second campus known as The Lake Church that offers a worship home at a popular summer getaway destination – the Bladen County town of White Lake.
The census counts 500 or so people as year-round residents of White Lake but town officials believe that as many as 200,000 tourists from North Carolina and other nearby states visit each year during the summer season. That’s why nearby Dublin First Baptist Church wanted to add a second location at the lake to reach full-time residents of the area, visitors who regularly spend parts of the summer there as well as vacationers who may come in a time or two in the season.
It took a decade to open Lake Church because church leaders felt it was important that it be located on the waterfront.
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“We wanted it specifically on the lake where people could get there by land, by water, on foot, by bike or golf cart and have it be more than just a pier service,” says Rev. Cameron McGill, senior pastor of Dublin First Baptist, who preaches at the lake and the main campus each Sunday.
Lake Church finally found its home by renting space at the newly-renovated Venue at Regal Resort. The owners turned an old-fashioned arcade into a multi-purpose complex that is now being used for everything from shows with live bands to weddings and receptions. Lake Church parishioners worship just steps from the crystal-clear water of this spring-fed lake with its sandy, white shore.
“The Venue is perfect because you feel like you are on that beautiful lake looking out at it and the glass is open, the whole thing is opened up and it really adds to it,” says Fairley Cameron, who along with his wife JoAnn has retired to White Lake and regularly attends The Lake Church. “It makes you want to get up early and go,” Cameron says.
Attendance at Lake Church has exceeded expectations with nearly 200 people at the service each week.
“White Lake is still a destination for a lot of people from the Raleigh area and the Winston and Greensboro areas,” McGill says. “What they tell us is they would either find a pier service or they would just not be in church when they were on vacation at the lake. This has given them an opportunity to plug into a traditional church with music and preaching. Some people tell us they have been coming to the lake more often now because they are able to have a church to come to.”
Worshippers dress in lake attire and the musical feel of the service is contemporary when church begins promptly at 8:32 each Sunday morning.
“John 8:32 says and you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free,” McGill says. “We wanted people to understand this was not just a devotional and maybe a song and go home, this was a church where they would hear Bible preaching and Bible teaching.”
But he doesn’t want them to abandon the church they belong to where they live.
“When we take up our offerings each week I always tell the folks your tithes and offerings belong at your home church,” McGill says. “We’re not trying to replace your home church but we’re just trying to give an option when you are at White Lake.”
And he says he has come to realize that not all trips to White Lake are light-hearted in nature.
“People come on vacation sometimes in the midst of a struggle,” McGill says. “Maybe their marriage is in trouble or their children are going astray and they say we’re getting away from it all and going on vacation and that’s an opportunity for us to minister to people sometimes in their time of greatest need.”
Lake Church will operate year-round with expected seasonal attendance slumps and organizers hope that by next summer they will be able to grow by adding small groups and perhaps Vacation Bible School.
“It’s probably the most exciting thing I’ve ever been a part of in my ministry. It’s new and it’s fresh,” says McGill.
“It’s always exciting, it’s a very good message that everyone enjoys,” Cameron says. “We look forward every Sunday to going to church there. “
Cameron says this particular combination of preaching, music and location has made the waterside service popular.
“Churches now, a lot of them are decreasing, not increasing,” Cameron says. “So for this church to have only started Easter Sunday and to be attracting 200 to 250 people is just wonderful.”
Local lore says that a heavenly object – perhaps a meteor- crashed into the earth and created White Lake and four other lakes in Bladen County thousands of years ago. Now other heavenly forces are at work at the lake providing a worship experience for an audience that is looking for a little faith during their getaway.
Hope Community Church will host its quarterly worship night and get-together for hundreds of singles adults on Friday. Food Trucks arrive at 6:00 p.m. and worship begins at 7:30 p.m. followed by a dance.
The Brown Family Ministries Band will be leading the worship time and playing for the dance.