A Tale of 2 Pastors Southland Christian Church

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by RaeAnn Slaybaugh

By RaeAnn Slaybaugh

In 1956, leaders of the Broadway Christian Church in Lexington, KY saw there was a need
for a church in the southern part of the city. So a small building was built on the last
street in Lexington at the time, Hill’N Dale, and Dr. Wayne Smith, a 27-year-old preacher,
was chosen to staff it. There were 152 worshippers at its first service.

Forty-three years later, Southland attracts 6,500 people every weekend and hopes to
serve thousands more with a multi-million dollar expansion of its facilities. “As we
say around here,” says Senior Minister Mike Breaux, “it’s simply a God thing. It
was never our goal, and never will be, to be a big church. God has caused the
increase.”

Southland’s growth persisted despite some major staff changes, mainly the retirement of
Wayne Smith after 40 years at the pulpit. Having built Southland into Kentucky’s largest
Protestant congregation, Smith handed the reins over to the Rev. Mike Breaux in January
1996. There were big shoes to fill.

Breaux is no stranger to the community. He grew up in Lexington where he attended
Broadway Christian Church. He graduated from the local Lafayette High School in 1974 and
attended Lincoln Christian College in Lincoln, IL, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1978. He
later returned to Broadway Christian as a youth minister.

While response to Breaux was by and large favorable and enthusiastic, Senior Executive
Associate Minister Roy Mays says this transition was not without some resistance. The
young minister brought with him contemporary music including guitars, drums, keyboards and
saxophones, as well as a different approach to ministering. Mays says that while some
members struggled with the transition, a great many others were energized and liberated by
it. Breaux’s first Sunday brought in about 1,500 more visitors and after that averaged
somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 more in attendance, an increase that the church has
maintained ever since.

“This was a shock to us because we thought we’d drop some,” Mays says.
“A minister of 40 years retires, and that may cause some attrition, but Mike is a
really gifted communicator.”

The staff has been a very stable part of the equation here. According to Mays, in the
last three-and-a-half years, only one minister has left the church. “You know, you
can’t grow just with new folks, you’ve got to keep the ones you have,” he says.

When the church moved to its current 20-acre site, it was all farmland. Services were
held on the lower level of the auditorium, there were no pews in the balcony and for some,
this was enough. However, in 1987 Mays suggested a second service. “It was like that
had never crossed people’s minds to do that,” he laughs, but by the early ’90s
Southland was hosting three services. It currently hosts five to accommodate all the
visitors.

A long expansion history

In 1970 Southland gave 120 members and money to start up Southern Acres Christian
Church. It started Hill’N Dale Christian Church in 1981 with a gift of 35 members and
funding. According to Breaux, both of these churches now host nearly 1,000 visitors each
Sunday.

Later, in 1993, Southland planted Jessamine Christian Church, and now that church is
expanding to host 300 people every Sunday. In addition, two churches were purchased,
including one in east Lexington that faced financial hardship and was relieved of debt.
This Eastside congregation is now beginning to thrive and help people on the northeast
side of Lexington. Southland also purchased a building on four acres in Winburn
Subdivision to give a home to a predominately African-American church that previously met
in a storefront in downtown Lexington.

“All this to say, we have a heart for reaching people,” Breaux says.
“And in spite of sending people and financial support to begin new ministries, God
keeps bringing people to our door in Jessamine County.”

The community at large has also benefited from Southland’s expansion and influence.
According to Breaux, the church receives an average of 8,000 calls each year for money,
clothing, food and other services. This year the church plans to give away $1 million in
benevolence and missions including the Helping Thru Him ministry housed in a barn on
Southland’s 20 acres, and Garden of Love, a ministry providing free produce for people in
need which helped over 3,400 families last year.

Southland’s facilities welcome community events including hundreds of soccer, football,
softball and baseball games and practices, programs in the church auditorium, and meetings
of various organizations including Alcoholics Anonymous, senior citizen workshops and
community music events. When Jessamine County sought the use of the facilities for a
combined meeting of students and faculty after the high school was damaged, Breaux says
the church was glad to provide the buildings for them.

More than $40,000 a year is devoted to providing professional Christian counseling for
members and non-members, and support groups meet weekly for anyone in the community in
need. There are programs for divorce recovery, grief workshops, eating disorders, weight
loss, cancer and abuse. According to Breaux, 40 percent of those attending are not members
of Southland.

Off the site, the church purchased a house in Lexington as a refuge for girls who
discover they have an unplanned pregnancy. It was also a prime mover in the development of
the 114-bed Sayre Village, a residence for the elderly, where one can live regardless of
race, creed or color.

According to Breaux, the church has grown in the last three years from 3,800 to 6,500
regular attenders. “We believe there are many others out there in our community that
could use a touch from God through us,” he says.

More room needed

Such expansion requires more room, however, an issue Southland could no longer ignore.
Even now barns on the property have been creatively renovated to host a multitude of
ministries and a tent is set up seven months out of the year so the church can have a
small place to gather, set up ministry tables and provide resources. “Plainly put,
we’re out of room!” Breaux told members.

Fortunately, the church has 106 acres on which to grow. Southland recently completed a
$20 million pledge campaign with Resource Services, Inc., Dallas, TX. According to Mays,
the church chose RSI because it wanted to “grow its people, not just its
giving,” an approach the company shared.

Mays says of the RSI consultant, “His sermons series was on a life well spent, not
on a dollar well given. It was about how to make an impact with your life, and of course,
that is reflected in part by your stewardship of giving.” This approach proved
successful among Southland’s members, bringing in roughly $6 million more than anticipated
by RSI. For members and staff alike, the time is remembered as one of the most remarkable
experiences in more than four decades of church activity. A record number of people joined
the church during this time.

“We received commitments on a weekend and everyone in the service came forward and
laid their pledges in envelopes on offering tables,” says Executive Associate
Minister Monte Wilkinson. “People recall that Sunday and Saturday with emotion even
today. What a tremendous experience it was to watch families holding hands, walking up the
aisle and laying their offering envelope on the table. They recognized that in those
envelopes were vacations and bicycles and Christmas presents and retirements. When the
numbers were announced, I think people really realized the significance of what the group
collectively had done and what God had done through them. It was more of a spiritual
experience than anything this church has collectively seen.”

Mays says Southland members really understood the need for new facilities. In a typical
church, 40 percent of those giving will participate in a campaign whereas 64 percent of
Southland’s givers contributed, he explains, a number that RSI was “absolutely blown
away by” as well.

“I think that’s a barometer of what Wayne Smith had sowed for 40 years and what
God had developed here and what Mike with his vision had been able to tap in to,”
Wilkinson says. “The church embraced the future, really with a giving that we have
never seen before.”

Most importantly, the new facilities will allow Southland to minister to more than
twice its current membership, an aspect leaders agree takes all precedence.

Breaux promised $100,000 of his own money from his income, home equity, retirement fund
and honorariums from speaking engagements. Additionally, about $7.5 million of the pledges
came from 175 of Southland’s lay leaders and staff.

Southland also secured a $5 million line of credit with Lexington’s Central bank should
the $20 million be insufficient to pay for the project. “We have a long history with
(Central Bank),” Wilkinson says. “The relationship we have with them brings
respect for us as an organization within the community for people who don’t know us as a
religious organization.”

Although these funds will first go to dedicating $1 million in outreach efforts, much
of this total will go to Phase One of the $19 million construction project. This first
phase will include a youth center; atrium with food service; library and bookstore; and an
activities/family life center with three full-size basketball courts, fitness and weight
rooms, and running track. Completion of Phase One will more than double Southland’s floor
space. The second phase will include a 100, 000-square foot worship center and a 45,000
square-foot children’s ministry building.

Just the Facts

Southland Christian Church,
Lexington, KY
Established:
1956
Average Weekly Attendance:
6,200
Total Budget:
$5,466,607
Staff:
97, half full- and half part-time
Pastor:
Rev. Mike Breaux