Two of the major churches in Deltona are in transition.
The property of Deltona Lakes Baptist Church is already on the market, and Pine Ridge Fellowship’s campus may be for sale soon.
What is happening in Deltona is a microcosm of the larger changing spiritual landscape across the USA, as declining attendance and rising building-maintenance costs challenge congregations.
Not least, the coronavirus pandemic has affected churches, as houses of worship were shuttered earlier this year. Many churches turned to technology to offer virtual services, allowing parishioners to watch from home.
In some cases, less attendance means less tithing and offering.
Word of the pending changes for Deltona Lakes and Pine Ridge surfaced Dec. 14, as the Deltona City Commission discussed the coming new year.
City Commissioner Dana McCool said she had learned that Pine Ridge Fellowship is selling its property. She proposed the church facilities would be ideal for Deltona to use as a one-stop social-services center for the homeless and for households in need of financial assistance.
The City Commission’s discussion prompted The Beacon to contact the church’s pastor, Michael Wycuff.
“No decisions have been made,” Wycuff told The Beacon.
He said a report that the church’s 7-acre property at 1045 E. Normandy Blvd. is for sale is “a little premature.”
“Nothing definite. No contracts signed,” Wycuff added.
A possible asking price and terms of a sale are not available.
“I have no idea what this would appraise for,” he said.
Wycuff did confirm Pine Ridge Fellowship closed its day care and preschool, known as Pine Ridge Christian Academy, Dec. 18.
Wycuff said child care facilities are difficult for nonprofits to operate.
“The financial side of it — we couldn’t keep it going,” he said.
Wycuff said the future of the church may be known early in 2021.
“If you check back in January or February, I may know more,” he said.
Wycuff noted, too, any sale of the Pine Ridge Fellowship property would be made by the United Methodist Conference, which owns the property, not by the local congregation.
If the property does change hands, the Pine Ridge parishioners must decide whether to continue as a body, and, if so, where to relocate.
Wycuff said Pine Ridge Fellowship’s membership numbers approximately 800. The attendance at a typical Sunday worship service is about 100.
“Like most churches, the membership and the attendance are two different animals,” Wycuff said.
“Before the pandemic, we had about 120 [attending]. Some of those people are watching us now at home,” Wycuff said.
He expressed gratitude for the technology that links people to the services, even if they can’t attend in person.
On the positive side, Wycuff said the congregation’s giving has been sustained.
Looking for a buyer
On the other side of the city, Deltona Lakes Baptist Church is looking for a new owner.
“We need to downsize,” Pastor Fred Lowry said.
The church campus at 2886 Elkcam Blvd. consists of three buildings and 6 acres. Lowry said the church is listed with an Orlando realty firm that specializes in selling larger properties.
The asking price, Lowry said, is “in the range of $2.8 million.”
“We’ve had about four people look at it,” he said.
If someone does buy Deltona Lakes Baptist, what would the congregation do?
Lowry said the members would probably find another place to worship, perhaps even breaking off part of the parcel the church now owns and building anew, but smaller.
“We have discussed that — building on-site,” he noted.
The sanctuary of the church can accommodate “about 800 or 900” worshippers, but Lowry said, “typically on Sunday we have 250 to 275.”
“That church has never been full,” he said.
Like other clergy, Lowry is concerned about the lack of new members and decreasing involvement by current ones.
“You’re finding out more people don’t have much time. The devil is at work keeping people busy,” he said.
While Deltona Lakes Baptist Church has managed to attract some new families, Lowry said his flock is graying.
“It’s been an older group all along. It has become a little more balanced in age,” he observed, as he looked back over his 27 years as the church’s senior pastor.
The Beacon learned Deltona Lakes Baptist is for sale after the City Commission ended its Dec. 8 meeting.
Deltona Commissioner Loren King, who is a deacon at the church, said “the membership has dropped,” and he lamented the seeming inability of the church to attract more young people.
“The youth don’t come. They follow socialism,” King said.
If Deltona Lakes Baptist Church does move, King added, American Legion Post 255 will have to find a new meeting place. King, a former Navy SEAL, is also commander of the post, which now meets in the church’s fellowship hall.
The American Legion’s relationship with the church is a somewhat unusual one, as the church does not provide a bar for the veterans group.
The loss of the church could have other repercussions. Deltona Lakes Baptist has a pantry that gives food to needy households, and became a shelter for homeless people on freezing nights during the winter of 2018.