TrueNorth Church is to blame, Associate Pastor Gene Jennings said with a laugh.
His church bought 1,500 hundred of them over several months, so that each and every spade could be coated with iridescent gold paint and stuck in the ground on a plot of land off Martintown Road in North Augusta last weekend.
It’s was the site of TrueNorth Church’s groundbreaking, the largest gathering in the church’s history, when 1,300 people walked the .8 miles from North Augusta High School, where the church has met for the past eight years, to the 16-acre site that will house TrueNorth’s new $8.3 million campus.
“The joy, the energy, just the excitement that was on everyone’s faces, was just a special experience, one I’ll never forget,” said Lead Pastor Steve Davis.
“Waves of people” came to celebrate the next chapter in TrueNorth’s ministry, he said. They sang songs, took communion and released balloons together. Every person also got a golden garden spade.
“We didn’t want just dignitaries, you know, five or six guys breaking ground,” Jennings said. “We wanted everybody to be involved because this is a partnership. This is a team effort. This is something the body of Christ, the family, is doing together.”
At Davis’s command, they all dug in together, breaking ground on the new facility that will be TrueNorth’s permanent home in 14 months to 16 months.
Construction is expected to begin in February or early March.
“The best part of this journey with TrueNorth is that our people have learned the church is not a building, it’s people,” Jennings said. “And that’s probably the most exciting thing, that the church can exist without its own property, without a building.”
It has been a valuable lesson, but Jennings said he and the congregation are excited for this next chapter.
“It gives us a place to call our own,” he said. “It gives us a place where we can do even more ministry during the week.”
TrueNorth has plans for two buildings: a 21,000-square-foot worship center that will hold about 1,000 people, and a 24,000-square-foot children’s facility.
On any given Sunday, 400 or more kids in fifth grade or younger attend TrueNorth. In all, Sunday attendance averages about 1,500 people, with a recent high of 1,700.
It was just 8 ½ years ago that TrueNorth began with a small core of eight families that came on board in the church’s first month of existence. Within a few months, on Aug. 22, 2004, TrueNorth was ready to hold its first public service. Some 300 people came.
Today, TrueNorth relies on four services to accommodate its growing congregation. Setup begins on Saturdays, with crews returning as early as 6 a.m. Sundays to make sure the temporary lights, stage and children’s activities are ready.
“Everything is stored on trucks or in closets or in the back of cars and trunks of vehicles. It’s a chore. It takes I don’t even know how many people,” Jennings said.
Still, leaving North Augusta High School will be bittersweet.
“I’ll be crying,” Davis said. “It’s just been an unbelievable relationship and not one of us has ever imagined the blessing that campus would be to us, as well as that auditorium. It’s been such a special, special environment.
“As excited as we were this past Sunday about the groundbreaking, I’m sure for a lot of our people, to take that real step when we do move into that new facility in about a year and a half, it’s going to be bittersweet. There’s just no other way to say it. It’s been an incubator for God’s movement in our people and in the life of our community of faith. I’m sure there will be a trail of tears to the new ground as we walk together.”