Our congregation has been serving God and His people in Madison County for more than a century. Although we were officially founded as an independent congregation in 1899, our history begins earlier, around 1893. In that year, the minister of Richmond's First Christian Church recognized the need for spiritual education and worship opportunities in the eastern section of Richmond. During a tent revival in 1895, fifty new Christians were baptized and a group began to visualize a mission to be located on Big Hill Avenue. About $600 (equivalent to about $125,00 in 2009 dollars, based upon average wages) was raised and a treasurer was named. That was the first vision for our congregation and its first stewardship campaign.
Despite the initial enthusiasm, the project proceeded slowly. A lot was purchased on Big Hill Avenue and enough rough lumber to construct the building was donated. Nothing more happened until 1896, when construction began on the building. The new church building was dedicated in 1898 and an organized Bible School was held there each Sunday. In 1899 a minister was called to preach two Sundays per month and paid at the rate of $5 per service. At this point Big Hill Avenue Christian Church became an independent congregation with twenty charter members.
By 1902 the church was burdened with debt. Many of the initial members became discouraged and left the congregation, but a loyal remained. At a 1904 prayer meeting, three faithful members refused to be discouraged and insisted that something must be done. Their faith and hard work paid off. Over the next two years, a new minister was called, the church was freed from debt, and a new spirit of purpose animated the congregation.
By 1906, the existing church building was too small to accommodate the growing congregation. A decision was made to enlarge the building at a cost of $400. The completion of this project left the church with a dept of $175, but that debt was paid in less than four years. In 1908 the church had 62 members. During that year the total offering was $684.31, for an average of $11.04 per member. Based upon average production worker wages, this sum was the equivalent of $104,000 in 2009 dollars.
Big Hill Avenue Christian Church continued to grow throughout the Twentieth Century. A house adjacent to the church was purchased for use as a parsonage. Through the Great Depression, two world wars, and other times both good and bad, the church continued to fulfill its missions of Christian education, worship, evangelism and charity in east Richmond. Along the way we planted and assisted the growth of new churches in other parts of Richmond, just as our congregation was initially planted and assisted by the First Christian Church. Despite the movement of some members to the new daughter congregations, by the mid-1980s our congregation had grown to approximately 200 members. A second house adjoining the church property had been purchased, and it - along with the original parsonage - was used to provide additional space for Christian education and for a youth center. Even with these additions, our building was once again becoming too small to accommodate the size of our congregation.
In the 1990s, as we prepared to celebrate the 100th anniversary of our congregation, God gave our leadership a focused mission statement and a calling to increase our outreach and evangelism efforts. To further His work in this way, we would have to have additional space. No additional space adjoining our property on Big Hill Avenue was available. This led our leadership, after careful consideration and prayer, to consider moving the congregation to a new location. The congregation approved this proposal and a search for a new location began in 1997.
In 1999, as we celebrated our centennial, God led us to a 10.5 acre parcel of property on Goggins Lane, on the western edge of the City of Richmond. The property was not for sale at the time we first identified it as a suitable site, but with God's blessing the owner decided to sell us the property for $250,000 - a very fair price, but one that still left some members concerned that we could not pay off the mortgage while still supporting our existing ministries. God had other plans, and He led our members to give generously to support the new capital campaign. Four years later, in December 2003, the last payment was made on the new property.
An architect was hired in 2004 and members of our congregation began to tour churches in central Kentucky to determine the type of facility that would best meet our needs, both currently and in the future. In 2004 the church began a stewardship campaign to raise funds, above and beyond regular offerings, to construct a new church building. Members committed to giving $342,000 by May, 2007. By 2006 a design had been approved and the necessary construction permits were obtained. A member of our congregation passed away in 2006 and left a gift of $510,000 to the church to assist with construction costs. About the same time, Carolina Holding Company - the owners of the neighboring Richmond Centre property - offered to allow us to connect to their water line. This gesture saved our congregation approximately $76,000 in construction costs for the new building. By March, 2007 the stewardship campaign had already surpassed its goal and raised $360,000.
Construction on the new church building began in September, 2007. A decision was made to build a relatively large building with some interior areas unfinished to accommodate future growth. A new stewardship campaign, known as Faith in Action, was also kicked off in 2007. It was scheduled to run through 2010. Just as in our previous campaigns, members gave generously and the campaign exceeded its goal.
Most construction work on the new building was completed by the end of July, 2009. Our last day at our former Big Hill Avenue location was August 9, 2009. It was a bittersweet day for many; we were moving to a new building that was well designed to accommodate the current and future needs of our congregation and our ministries, but we were leaving behind a place where generations of our predecessors - and, for many members, their ancestors - had worshiped and served our Lord. The final service on Big Hill Avenue was a celebration of those who had come before us and who had, with great faith and determination, grown Big Hill Avenue Christian Church. A dinner was held following the service that brought together current and former members in a time of thanksgiving and fellowship.
The first service in our new building on Goggins Lane was held on August 16, 2009. By the one year anniversary of our move to the new facility, our membership had increased by more than 100 people. New ministries were created and existing ministries were revised as we sought to further God's work not only in Richmond but throughout Madison County and central Kentucky. To avoid confusion, we dropped the "Avenue" portion of our name and became simply Big Hill Christian Church.
As our predecessors did in the past on Big Hill Avenue, our church secured a loan to pay for our new facility. The Legacy of Faith capital campaign began in November, 2010 to raise funds to make loan payments and to finish the unfinished sections of the building. Our first new section to be completed will be our Youth Center, which is located on the lower level of our new building. We expect to have it completed in time for the second anniversary of our move to Goggins Lane in August, 2011. We expect to complete additional Sunday School classrooms and a dedicated facility for our college ministry in the years ahead.
Finally, the story of our former building on Big Hill Avenue is not yet finished. We originally expected to sell our former building in 2009, but the nationwide recession and decline in real estate values led us to retain ownership of that property until 2011. On May 26, 2011 we sold our former building. It was purchased by one of our members who is leasing it to another, smaller congregation until they are able to afford to purchase it outright. Through a Christian who was willing and able to step up and say "I can help," God has blessed two congregations of believers and maintained His house on Big Hill Avenue for future generations. We are delighted that the location that was home to our congregation for more than a century will continue to provide a church home to an active, dedicated Christian congregation. We look forward to seeing them grow in numbers and in the Spirit, just as we hope and believe that we will in our new home on Goggins Lane.