A Baptist church is shutting its doors after more than 40 years in Sandy Springs, and is on the market for $1.485 million for possible redevelopment into single-family houses.
“The plan is to, after 48 years of ministry, to dissolve the church,” said Dr. Nate Bednar, the senior pastor at Metropolitan Baptist Church at 4795 Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. “It’s been a very difficult decision for me and the remaining members here at the church.”
But with only seven congregants remaining—and that’s counting Bednar and his wife—there was little choice for the small, suburban church. Bednar recently left his position as a Sandy Springs Police chaplain to focus on the church sale.
Located in southern Sandy Springs close to the Brookhaven and Buckhead borders around Windsor Parkway, the church opened around 1973 with about 100 members. While attendance has dwindled, the church’s significance remains for such one-time congregants as former Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis.
“That was the church I grew up in,” said Davis. “That’s the church where I was baptized.”
Davis’s mother, Mary, attended for over 40 years before her death in 2014, and her funeral was held there. Davis recalled attending meals after Sunday services led by founding pastor “Brother Bob” Spencer.
Bednar – who has been with the church 26 years as assistant and senior pastor – said he wants those good community memories to survive the church. The possible redevelopment has been vetted by neighbors, he said, and proceeds of the sale will go to other Christian organizations.
When a church closes, Bednar said, “Sometimes the pastor flees the state and leaves a mess … My desire is to leave a good testimony here in Sandy Springs.”
He said he expects the church, located in a residential neighborhood, will be sold to a housing developer, though bringing in another church is a possibility.
“All of our neighbors are on board with tearing down our church facilities and putting one to three homes” in its place, he said.
The High Point Civic Association, a community group representing the area in Sandy Springs zoning cases, is not taking a position until it sees a specific, written redevelopment plan, said president Bill Gannon.
The 2-acre church property went on the market the week of Oct. 31 and several potential buyers have reached out already, Bednar said. Most are developers, while one was a church, but it needed a much larger building, he said.
The money will go to such organizations as Christian missions, Bednar said. “So in a sense, the Metropolitan will cease here in Sandy Springs, but will continue in the lives and ministries of approximately 17 to 20 missions and agencies,” he said.
Bednar is facing his own transition. While he’s a natural evangelist – he made sure a reporter left with a Baptist pamphlet – he has no new preaching position lined up and, at least for now, will be returning to the “secular business world,” where he once worked as a project management consultant.
Struggles and history
In a time of dwindling church attendance and rising real estate values, Metropolitan Baptist is not the only local church facing closure. Apostles Church on Glenridge Drive closed earlier this year after a contentious senior housing redevelopment plan faltered; a Catholic church later bought the property and moved in. And elsewhere in the High Point neighborhood, the struggling former Church of the Atonement is attempting a rebirth as Highpoint Episcopal Community Church.
Bednar said his small, independent, no-frills church also was hit by other trends: the modern expectation for lots of music and “entertainment” in church, and the Southern Baptist boom in gigantic megachurches that drew off congregants.
“For smaller churches like ours, this is becoming a common theme,” he said.
Metropolitan Baptist was founded in a different time—1969, with 40 members who started meeting in a private home. It came to Sandy Springs in the early 1970s with about 100 members, buying a formerly residential property at a discounted price. It was named “Metropolitan,” Bednar said, to reflect that it welcomed members from the entire metro Atlanta area. He said that one founding member, now 96 years old, remains in the seven-member congregation today.
Davis recalled that the land was once a hunting ground and the original Sunday School was a former hunting lodge dating to the 1910s or 1920s, built of stone and still sporting “antlers on the wall.” It became too expensive to repair, Davis said, and it was demolished in the 1980s and replaced with an addition to the church. However, the lodge’s stone fireplace and chimney remain standing behind the church.
Davis also recalled that the church property was originally larger, with a piece sold off for redevelopment around that 1980s period.
Now Metropolitan Baptist faces the end of that history. The church held an annual anniversary celebration in June that served as a de facto farewell ceremony, Bednar said. But its doors will remain open to all for every Wednesday and Sunday service, Christmas and other special events that remain until the ink dries on a sales contract.
For more information about the church, see metropolitanbaptistchurch.org.