By MAGGIE BEAMGUARD
Seven Lakes Plaza is getting a makeover courtesy of the Seven Lakes campus of Grace Church of Southern Pines.
What started as a spiritual small group meeting in THE Seven Lakes West home of Dr. Ron and Peggy Walters a dozen years ago under the direction of Senior Pastor Randy Thornton has grown into a worshiping community of around 300 members.
The congregation is bursting the seams of its current storefront, a space first leased 10 years ago. As the congregation grew, it purchased the shopping center in 2019 with a vision of expanding. The church will continue to lease space to local businesses. The new worship center, coffee bar and children’s wing will anchor Seven Lakes Plaza in the center of the L-shaped building. The expanded worship center will double the seating capacity from 150 to 300 seats.
The crowding of the current space drove the decision to start this project.
“Our goal is to be a welcoming church,” said Pastor Jimmy Coxe. “We don’t want to turn anyone away, so we had to expand. Our services right now are both full.” The Seven Lakes campus holds 9:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m Sunday services.
Besides more spacious seating, Coxe sees the new building as an opportunity for Grace to live out its vision for reaching out to the entire Sandhills region. The design includes a cafe area that could become a connecting point for the community.
“There’s some conversation around opening that up during the week as a coffee shop,” said Coxe, who is excited about adding value to the larger community. “We don’t have a coffee shop in Seven Lakes. So we are making that kind of a welcoming place to serve the community, not just to serve the church.”
The new space was designed by Pat Morgan, who also designed the Southern Pines campus of Grace Church. The Seven Lakes campus will have a cohesive look with its parent church, sharing similar colors and style. Bolton Builders is carrying out the construction.
An open design will give the congregation flexibility in how the space is used.
“I want the building to be used every day of the week, not just Sunday,” said Coxe. “We wanted to have a design that could be used for multiple things. We’re very open.”
The project is also an investment in the lives of children and youth. The youth will be able to use the space where the congregation currently worships for study and activities. A playground and sports field are also in the works after the church acquired additional land adjoining Seven Lakes West through a donation.
“We want to make that playground really nice,” Coxe said. “We’ve got an engineer who joined us here from San Diego, and that was his forte when he was working for the city of San Diego. It was building playgrounds.”
Having the right people around to make this expansion project a success isn’t an accident, according to Coxe. “God sent this man all the way across the United States to come and help us with this playground.”
Another church member, Jeff Allen, has been helping the church with the process as a project manager. As an engineer with a background in building dams, Allen has been a blessing as Coxe and the congregation have navigated conversations with contractors and the architect and planning ahead.
“He’s been a huge help,” said Coxe. “It’s kind of cool that God let him use his gift to help with this project.”
There is one thing that is of primary importance to Coxe, who has pastored at the Seven Lakes campus from the start with his wife Joanna at his side.
“We just want to love people well,” he said. “I’d say that’s probably the biggest thing. My wife and I fell in love with the people of Seven Lakes, and we just want to serve this community well in all that we do.”
Coxe hopes the congregation will be enjoying the new auditorium by Christmas. Grace Church Senior Pastor Randy Thornton, as well as other special guests who have been involved with the project, will hopefully be there to celebrate the grand opening.
New visitors can expect to be welcomed by friendly people who want to love others well.
“A welcoming environment is probably a trademark thing,” said Coxe. “We put a lot of emphasis on the Sunday services to be welcoming to all people.” Dress is casual, and the service is contemporary.
Contact Maggie Beamguard at email@example.com.