This much is certain: In its 128th year, Tabernacle Baptist Church is far from dying or becoming a museum.
The historic black church in Augusta can now also bill itself as a rapidly growing megachurch. In the six years since Tabernacle called the Rev. Charles E. Goodman Jr. as pastor, the church has doubled in size.
Since the new year, it has taken three services starting at 7:30 a.m. to accommodate the church of 4,600. In the first few weeks of 2013, another 100 have joined the rolls.
“Our church is 128 years old and it’s unheard of to have the kind of growth for a church our age,” Goodman said. “When we started under our founder Pastor C.T. Walker, it was the largest church in the Southeast. To go back, even at this age, to still find a resurgence, you don’t see that a lot.”
Tabernacle has big plans for the future, said Goodman, 33.
Down the line, he says, there could be a preparatory school for children in Tabernacle’s future.
“We’re looking at expanding our brand, perhaps to multi-site,” he said.
That could mean other Tabernacle campuses around the area in years ahead.
“Whatever God wants to do we want to be open and available to do it,” he said. “I’m very committed to being here and trying to pastor our community and so I enjoy the opportunity not just to help those who are members of our church, but this area.”
The church sits in Augusta’s historic Laney-Walker District. The nearly 100-year-old building, with its signature twin spires, has undergone hundreds of thousands of dollars of renovations in recent decades. Repairs continue to the roof, Goodman said.
“It’s our mother church and we love it. It represents so much to us and our community,” he said. “No matter how far God expands our reach, if we grow and continue to have different places throughout the CSRA, this is always home.”
Goodman says he can hardly take the credit for Tabernacle’s recent growth.
“You just have to have great expectations. We serve a great big God and so we want to have great big dreams,” he said. “I’m asking God give me great dreams and visions that at the end of the day we can’t take credit for. Only God can get the glory.”
Early on, Goodman said, he committed to a strong young adult and youth ministry, consistent teaching and preaching, a hospitable church atmosphere and outstanding worship Sunday after Sunday.
“We want to be excellent in everything that we do,” he said. “Every service, we try to give our best.”
The church also wants to give its best, he said. An annual Education Sunday is next weekend.
“We’re thankful to give over $20,000 a year to college students,” Goodman said. “That’s always a joy.”
Tabernacle’s new members are coming from across the region, a congregational survey found.
“They come from all over the CSRA,” Goodman said. “We have a nice large contingency of seasoned saints who have been at this church for years, to a lot of unchurched people who are just getting connected to Christ.”
It’s a nice challenge for him as a preacher.
“When I sit down to study, I bring everybody to my desk with me, which means I’m thinking about everybody as I’m preaching, from the youngest kid to our oldest member,” he said.
Goodman said he is proud to follow the achievements of a line of great pastors, from the church’s founding in 1885 under Walker to the civil rights activism of the Rev. C.S. Hamilton, to the innovative ministry of the Rev. Otis Moss III, who, as Goodman put it, “brought the church into the 21st century.”
“Now I’m just trying to continue that legacy, to be trailblazing, to be relevant, to be socially conscious, to always speak truth to power, and to continue to push the boundaries of possibilities,” he said. “We’ve always been cutting edge. That gives me such great freedom to know, amen, we’re just alive in what we’ve always been.”