The evidence of Watermark Church’s growth in Ashford can be at least partially measured with a recent large purchase.
In mid-June the Southern Baptist church bought a neighboring church building that formerly housed Covenant United Methodist Church’s eastern campus and its predecessor, Grace Park United Methodist Church. According to Covenant associate pastor Kyle Gatlin, his church conducted its last service in the facility on Christmas Eve.
Watermark pastor Todd Thorpe said church leaders never hesitated in deciding to purchase the building, which opened as Grace Park United Methodist Church (formerly Ashford First United Methodist Church) in 2014. Watermark purchased the facility for $750,000.
“It fit in with our mission,” Thorpe said. “We decided immediately we wanted it. We are growing. We are struggling (with space), especially with our preschool, children and youth areas.”
Thorpe said the former Covenant East campus contained a basketball court and walking track, features Watermark’s current campus did not have. He added the church plans to offer court space to Ashford High School and Ashford’s recreation leagues if they need it.
“We see it as a way to connect to the community,” Thorpe said.
Currently Watermark is renovating some of its new facility to accommodate its senior high youth groups, including the installation of some kitchen amenities. The church will also repave the parking lot and build a road that connects the two neighboring campuses, Thorpe said.
The project reflects nearly two decades of growth the church has experienced. In 2002 Watermark had an average Sunday attendance of about 150; attendance approaches 950 now, Thorpe said.
In 2009 Watermark changed its name from First Baptist Church of Ashford. The church offers a contemporary style of worship, which has allowed it to attract younger and wider audiences, Thorpe said.
Some attendees even travel from southwestern Georgia municipalities like Blakely and Donalsonville, he added.
The recently purchased building exists after Ashford United Methodist Church constructed it under the name Grace Park United Methodist Church. One year after it opened, Grace Park members voted to merge with Covenant United Methodist Church in an effort to grow, a 2015 Eagle article reported.
Covenant United Methodist Church called the church Covenant East and rotated preaching responsibilities among its staff members. Some services were also a simulcast of the services offered at the main church located in western Dothan.
Gatlin said Covenant trustees decided to accept Watermark’s offer on the property “based on engagement and participation.” He added the proceeds of the sale will be used for debt reduction and some minor improvements to Covenant’s children’s area.