Life has become complicated at Simplified Church.
Pastor Patt Gilbert said this week the building the church has been leasing on Hamilton Road in Columbus has been foreclosed on and Columbus Bank & Trust has informed the congregation it must vacate.
“I was told it had to do with insurance,” Gilbert said. “We were hoping to stay three years before buying or building a new place.”
He said the church will lose about $8,000 since the lease for a year was paid in advance and the church has been the occupant for only about seven months.
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“We’ve started looking for a new home,” he said.
While Gilbert wants a large place with showers and a kitchen so members can serve the needy, he realizes the church will likely have to settle for much less.
The first two months the church was in existence, it held services in a martial arts studio.
“It took us two hours to set up and another to break everything down each Sunday,” he recalled. He was usually drenched in perspiration from the work by time he was ready to preach.
The 18,000 square foot building that is currently home was formerly a church.
“When we moved in, everything was pink. It was interesting. It took a lot of work to get it the way we wanted,” Gilbert said.
Despite a roof that leaks badly, Gilbert said members are pleased with the location.
Gilbert feels the latest hassle is all part of starting a new church. He remains confident.
“I trust God to put us where he wants us,” Gilbert said.
Currently, about 45 people attend Sunday services. The number fluctuates, Gilbert said.
The church motto is “Love God. Love Others. Live to Serve.”
He called his church “interdenominational” accepting those from all faiths but insists he does not try to lure people away from their present church.
“We have people from all over the city,” Gilbert said. “Some have not been to church, some have been hurt by a church.”
A big emphasis of this church is that all are accepted.
“Here, it does not matter what you look like or what you wear,” Gilbert said.
He gave as an example a member who was removed from another church because he refused to wear a jacket covering his tattoos.
There has been no advertising budget to get new members. “It’s all been word of mouth,” he said. “My Tahoe is a rolling billboard. We have some T-shirts.”
Social media such as Facebook and Twitter are used.
It is difficult to get couples with children to join, Gilbert said, because so few children are in the current congregation.
Money is always tight.
“It is hard to budget,” he said. “You can’t look at what you did last year. You do not want to overextend yourself.”
His wife Joni Gilbert, a compliance analyst at Aflac, has been an active partner in this venture.
“At times, we have looked at each other and said, “Can we handle this? It has been hard work but the reward has been great,” said the mother of three. It is frustrating that we have such limited resources and want to do so much in the community such as soup kitchens and a clothing bank.”
Her husband said he enjoys meeting with other pastors to get “spiritually fed.”
One of those is Otis Robinson Jr., an analyst at Aflac. In June, Robinson, a former youth pastor at Peaceful Holiness Church in Columbus, began his own church, Foundation Point, in Phenix City. The approximately 35-member congregation meets in a house on 14th Street.
Of his time spent with Gilbert, he said, “I can’t really give him any advice but we discuss the challenges we both face with beginning a church and being head pastors for the first time. Most of all, we encourage each other.”
Members have to do a lot of work to get the church started. Being a parishioner means more than sitting at services.
Teresa Wing, assistant cafeteria manager at Jordan High, a married of mother of two, has been a member of Simplified Church since the beginning. She said losing the building is like being “slapped” but “God has it all under control.”
She believes in her church’s vision of reaching out to the less fortunate.
“The Lord directed me here,” she said. “This is where I need to be.”
She came to the church after Third Day Baptist in Columbus closed. At the time, Gilbert was youth pastor there. He had come to that church from a similar job at North Highland Church.
Gilbert, 39, is a 1990 graduate of Hardaway High School. He attended North Florida Junior College, where he played baseball, and Columbus State University. He got the calling and went to West Georgia School of Ministry in Macon, Ga. Joni Gilbert, 37, is a Kendrick High graduate.
Gilbert said members of his church are family and the personal growth of the members is more important than growing numbers and becoming a huge church.
“I encourage people to grow in their faith,” he said.