By Michaela Kron
“Somebody said the other day that this isn’t your grandmother’s church,” said Paul Ferrarone, the pastor at Apostles Church of Sandy Springs at 6025 Glenridge Drive.
The church, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a groundbreaking ceremony for an expansion July 12, has changed a great deal since it opened. But Ferrarone said a turning point came when he began as pastor seven years ago with a vision to reach out to the younger generations.
“The traditional denominational church is a church that’s struggling … to reach people in their 20s and 30s and 40s, so we’re trying to do that and do it in an untraditional way,” Ferrarone said.
Apostles Church was a traditional Lutheran church and was “heavily liturgical,” he said. “It had all of its patterns that had been repeated for generations, and I think they were just losing their meaning and significance to the younger generations that had not grown up with any of that experience.”
By attracting younger members, the church has doubled in size from about 150 to 300 members since Ferrarone became pastor.
In response to its growing membership, the church will construct a 450-seat worship center in a separate building at the front of the property on the corner of Glenridge and Hammond drives.
“The building will be nice and really fit in well in the area,” Ferrarone said. “The architecture is beautiful, and it’ll be out close to the front, so there will be a lot of curb appeal.”
Inside, the worship center will feature up-to-date theatrical lighting, sound and high-definition television.
Construction on the worship center is expected to begin this month after the excavation of the property, which will start after the groundbreaking ceremony. Ferrarone expects construction to last about seven months.
In addition to the construction of the worship center, certain areas in the current building will undergo renovations, particularly its hallways, day school classrooms and chapel, which will be used exclusively for wedding ceremonies and smaller gatherings.
The combined cost of the new construction and the renovations will be about $3.5 million, Ferrarone said.
He said he hopes the church’s growth will continue, and he expects the membership to increase to about 800 within a few years.
While growing, the church’s membership also has become more diverse, and African-Americans now make up about 40 percent of the congregation.
Deanna McFarlan, who lives in Tucker and has been a member of Apostles Church for 31 years, said the diversity is “exciting.”
“It was not that way years ago,” she said.
Although Apostles Church has had a presence in Sandy Springs for 50 years, only about half its members live in the city and its immediate surroundings. The rest come from places such as Smyrna, Woodstock and Columbus.
Celestine Rogers, who joined the church two years ago, lives in Jonesboro and drives almost an hour each way to attend services. Rogers said Ferrarone’s spiritual leadership is one of the primary reasons she has stayed at the church.
“He just gives us opportunities to do what we want to do, and he just lets us go for it,” Rogers said. “That’s what I love about Apostles.”
The church’s school, the Apostles Learning Center, mirrors the diversity of the church by enrolling students of many races and nationalities. The state’s preschool agency, Bright From the Start, recently named the school a Center of Excellence, and Ferrarone said it always has a wait list.
In addition to involving younger, more diverse people, community outreach is a large part of Ferrarone’s vision for Apostles Church. The church works closely with the Atlanta Community Food Bank, ToolBank, and 7 Bridges to Recovery, a nonprofit ministry that helps the homeless and offers spiritual recovery programs. The church is also active in the Sandy Springs Community Action Center, which responds to requests for emergency assistance from members of the community.
“Even though we’re building a new building, the focus is really not on this campus so much as it is outside,” said Ferrarone, who calls Apostles a “church with wheels.”
The pastor and church community have high expectations for the future.