When Stuart Heights Baptist Church senior pastor Gary Jared attended Tennessee Temple University more than 30 years ago, the growth model of parent congregation Highland Park Baptist was numerous chapels throughout the Chattanooga area and beyond.
That idea wasn't embraced at the time by other local churches, but a tweaked version of the idea has seen a renaissance throughout the country.
Jared's church is in the forefront of that movement and, next Sunday, will open a third campus of the original Hixson Pike church in the Soddy-Daisy area.
"[Highland Park] got rid of their chapels," he said. "Now, it's the new wave. Instead of building big buildings, people are going with multisites."
Oakwood Baptist Church of Chickamauga, Ga., is another local congregation growing under a similar model with congregations on South Germantown Road and in the Gateway Antiques & Collectibles Mall on Cloud Springs Road.
The third campus for Stuart Heights Baptist is in the 57,000-square-foot former Wal-Mart store on Old Dayton Pike. The building, according to Jared, had been empty for five years and, at $10 per square foot ($575,000), was "a great deal."
The space will be remodeled in three phases, he said. The first, which cost $1 million and is complete, includes a main entrance, a 700-seat sanctuary, a cafe and a preschool.
"We wanted to do everything [immediately]," said Jared, who has been senior pastor for 21 years, "but we had to be prudent with our finances."
The second phase of remodeling will include youth and children's areas, a youth auditorium and a gymnasium. The third and final phase will be a kitchen and fellowship hall.
Jared said the expansion to Soddy-Daisy became necessary when the church's second campus, the former Hixson Church of Christ location near the corner of Hixson Pike and Highway 153, filled up shortly after Stuart Heights occupied it four years ago.
"We asked people to come down [to the second campus]," he said, "and then we asked them to come back. A lot of [new] people came here, and it's been growing and growing."
What the church found, said executive pastor Darrell Davenport, is that of the 342 people who joined the church in 2009 and 2010, 68 percent lived north of Highway 153, south of Soddy Lake and within two miles of Corridor J.
Jared preached at three services at two locations for three years but now shares the duties with a second teaching pastor, Brian Smith. The two will continue to share those duties among the three locations when the Soddy-Daisy campus opens. Each service will have the same live music, and each pastor will preach from the same sermon outline, the pastors said.
Davenport, who has been on the church staff for 20 years, said Stuart Heights has come a long way from being "a little church in the woods" with 150 people.
"Fourteen years ago," he said, "our church decided it wasn't just about us. I believe when we decided it wasn't about us and it wasn't about our comfort here, God decided, 'OK, you get it.'"
At that time, Davenport said, the church became involved in mission work overseas, in the western United States and locally.
"Since that time," Davenport said, "when we needed people, God sent people. When we needed teachers, God sent teachers. When we needed money, God sent givers. He has met all those needs."