One down, 14 to go: Cokesbury West opens with high attendance

One down, 14 to go: Cokesbury West opens with high attendance

Holston Conference leaders have a goal to begin 15 new churches in five years. The first churched opened on Sept. 13 with 538 in worship attendance -- and is still holding strong with about 340 regular worshippers.

Cokesbury United Methodist Church launched its "Cokesbury West" campus at Hardin Valley Academy high school with a celebration and high turnout, according to the Rev. Richard Edwards, Holston director of congregational development.

"Cokesbury West is what is called a 'multi-site' new church," Edwards said. "It is the third campus of Cokesbury UMC. The new Cokesbury West campus is six miles from Cokesbury North and Cokesbury South."

The new congregation meets in a west Knox County high school, which opened in fall 2008. Besides ample parking and a large lobby for fellowship and information tables, the school has a sloped auditorium seating 690, according to Cokesbury Senior Pastor Steve Sallee.

The location for Holston's first church start in recent years follows the 2007 purchase of 22 acres near Pellissippi State Technical Community College. The Hardin Valley property was purchased for $1.22 million by Holston Conference and the Oak Ridge District.

The property will eventually serve as the location for Cokesbury West's new building, Sallee said. "But we've got such a wonderful place to worship, and we want to grow two services before we start building."

Strong start

Holston's goal to begin 15 new churches is part of the denomination's Path1 initiative to start 650 total congregations and train 1,000 church planters the United States over the next five years, Edwards said. "At the same time, our denomination will seek to start 400 new churches overseas."

Holston is currently identifying and training pastors to launch new churches, Edwards said. "There are also conversations underway about which churches in Holston might be able to help birth new churches, through either initiating another site ... or by serving as a mother church."

Cokesbury used its own funds, staff, and other resources to begin the new church, Sallee said. An anonymous donor who attends the traditional worship service at Cokesbury South gave $100,000 for the new campus. Half of that sum was used for advertising.

Eighty families from Cokesbury's 11 a.m. contemporary service signed up to attend and serve at the new West campus. Cokesbury's total average worship attendance is about 2,700.

On Nov. 8, Cokesbury expects to take in 100 to 150 new members at the West campus' first Membership Sunday, Sallee said.

Sallee attributes the good turnout to "high quality worship," greeting and hospitality efforts, and a strong children's ministry.

Cokesbury West was able to recruit worship leader Paul Jones from Ginghamsburg UMC of Tipp City, Ohio. Cokesbury staff are also providing strong leadership, Sallee said.

"We've had to neglect some things on the other two campuses for a while. But now that we're up and running, things are back in balance," he said.

The national economy delayed the explosive building growth originally projected for the Hardin Valley area, consequently delaying the Cokesbury West opening a few months, Sallee said.

"But when the economy changes, Hardin Valley will be the largest growing area in Knox County. The infrastructure is already there, so it's just a matter of time," he said. "In five or 10 years, without question, Cokesbury West will be the largest of our three campuses."