Paul McKibben reports:
For two decades, Warren County has been known as the second-fastest growing county in Ohio.
Today, it’s home to another growth spurt – a church-building boom at a time when church membership is down nationwide. At least seven churches in the county, from Catholic to non-denominational, recently built or are involved in opening new facilities.
Demographers and church officials said the building boom is related to the county’s population growth, but there may also be a spiritual explanation.
“Folks that aren’t presently ‘churched’ feel more comfortable going to a new church or a new church building because it’s a fresh new beginning,’’ said Roger Hendricks, senior minister at Southwest Church, a non-denominational church in Springboro, which opened a $1.2 million building in February. It previously met at a YMCA in Springboro.
Arthur Farnsley, a research professor at the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, said the churches are meeting a need.
“Churches are getting built there for the same reason more Chili’s and Applebee’s and ice cream stores are getting built there,” he said.
Farnsley said churches are like businesses and homebuilders when it comes to planning. The difference, he said, is some denominations do the planning through central management and, with others, it’s more entrepreneurial, like starting a business.
“You ask yourself, ‘Where would there be a need that we could meet?’”
Marcus Matherne and his wife attend Mosaic Gospel Community, a non-denominational church in Mason that recently bought a building in Warren County’s Union Township. It is expected to open at the end of October.
Matherne of Mason said he doesn’t see it as a small church with big growth but rather “this wonderful family of people that have come together.”
Lebanon resident Tim D’Errico has attended St. Francis de Sales in Lebanon for 15 years. The church is expected to dedicate a new $4 million building Jan. 19 on its property, replacing its 52-year-old building.
D’Errico and his wife have two daughters, 19 and 16. Both girls attended the parish school, which he said draws families. He said overcrowded Masses will be remedied in January with the new church.
“The nice thing about a growing parish is there’s a breath of fresh air,’’ D’Errico said. “You constantly have younger parishioners coming in and new ideas (and) energy.’’
The Warren County boom comes as the number of people who claim church membership declined 2 percent nationwide from 2000 to 2010. During that time in Warren County, church membership increased 5 percent, according to the Association of Religion Data Archives. Locally, Boone and Clermont counties also saw increases in church membership.
Warren County also saw an increase in the percentage of its Catholic population – from 12 percent in 2003 to 14 percent in 2010 – the only Southwest Ohio county to do so. The Catholic population of the 19-county Archdiocese of Cincinnati decreased from 18 percent to 16 percent.
The new St. Francis de Sales will have a capacity of 700, twice its current size. The Catholic parish has 1,110 registered households, up from 970 five years ago.
“We just need more space. I’m sure that we have had people who don’t come here because they knew they’d have to stand for Mass on Sunday,” said Father Bernie Weldishofer, the parish’s pastor.
Dan Andriacco, spokesman for the archdiocese, said new church buildings are rare. St. Francis de Sales’ new church plus a new chapel serving Wright State University, will be the first new churches built in the archdiocese since 2009. The Wright State chapel will be dedicated in October.
“As any homeowner would know, building anything from scratch is an extremely expensive proposition,” he said.
Hendricks said Southwest Church began 15 years ago with 31 people. Today, more than 300 people attend Sunday services. He said his church is growing because it is focused on serving the community. Its offerings include a free fall carnival, a free Easter Egg hunt and a free vacation Bible school.
“We’re trying to connect with people that maybe for some reason have been turned off by church in the past,” Hendricks said.
“We utilize contemporary music and media to connect with people and the messages are very relevant to real life. We think that’s a key for how God’s blessed us with growth.”