Churches adjust to North Suffolk growth

Published 10:27 pm Saturday, November 26, 2011

With the exponential growth that has occurred in North Suffolk over the past 10 years, business and industry aren’t the only areas that have been affected — churches also have seen an influx of people.

As younger and more people move into the new neighborhoods and begin seeking a church home, several area churches have accepted many new members and adjusted their ministries and worship services to accommodate the new members’ needs.

“When I came here in 1990, Nansemond River was still a rural church,” said Tim Piland, senior pastor at Nansemond River Baptist Church. “The church had been around for a while but had not grown a tremendous amount.”

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A few years after Piland’s arrival, the construction of Interstate 664 nearby was completed, and communities like Harbour View and the Shoulders Hill Road developments started popping up.

“We have seen appreciable growth,” he said.

Further down Bridge Road, Ebenezer United Methodist Church also has welcomed many new members in the past few years.

“We’ve seen plenty of steady growth in the past five to six years,” said Brent Seusy, the anchor pastor for contemporary worship at Ebenezer. “We’ve seen a lot of new families.”

Seusy said a lot of the new members are military families, and most are coming from the Bennett’s Creek area and Carrollton.

Both Piland and Seusy said their churches have adjusted the way they minister to their congregations because of the influx of members.

Piland said the newest congregants tend to be between 30 and 45 years old with a number of school-aged children.

“It has caused us to change the whole dynamic of our ministry,” he said. “The millennial generation do have smaller children, and they are big on connecting.”

Piland said Nansemond River has added to its offerings for children and offered more small groups, such as Bible studies, to provide opportunities for personal connections.

At Ebenezer, Seusy said, the worship and ministries have also adapted for the latest members.

Like Piland, he said, the new members tend to enjoy the contemporary worship service and they want enjoyable things for their children.

“We’ve made great leaps for programs for youth,” Seusy said. “I think people are willing to drive for their kids.”

Just this year, Ebenezer gained approval to begin a preschool at the church. Classes will start in January.

But churches also have to accommodate the longtime members.

Seusy said it is a challenge to balance the needs of older and younger churchgoers, but he thinks Ebenezer does a good job of it.

“We’ve had a lot of anchor programs that I think hold on to a lot of tradition, like oyster roasts and the Fourth of July celebration, that create common places for older members of our congregation,” he said. “I think in some real ways, worship is a way of holding on to the deep traditions.”

Piland said some members who have been with Nansemond River for a while weren’t comfortable with some of the changes the church has made.

“As we move away from (traditional services) and toward a more contemporary service, we’ve had families who say they just don’t like it,” he said.

But even with all of the changes, Piland said, there is one area where he won’t compromise.

“There’s got to be good Biblical teaching,” he said. “Because of the growth in our area, we’ve done a lot of repurposing, but the product hasn’t changed.”

Piland said churches have to look beyond their walls to minister to their surrounding area, and Nansemond River looks at North Suffolk as its Jerusalem.

“A church that doesn’t look beyond itself will die,” he said. “To reach our Jerusalem, we had to make changes.”