August 4, 1999

What about a church at a Whataburger?
___By Mark Wingfield
___Managing Editor
___Imagine you are a bank loan officer, and you're approached by a group of African immigrants who want to buy an old Whataburger store to house an international church.
STANDING OUTSIDE the former Whataburger that now is home to African Baptist Church of North Dallas are Emad Elias, assistant pastor, Tito Olaleye, chairman of deacons, and Paul Franka, pastor. A loan from the Baptist Church Loan Corp. helped this congregation purchase the building. The congregation includes members from five African countries. (Photo by David Clanton)
___Would you make the loan?
___Most banks wouldn't, but the Baptist Church Loan Corp. did. And the result is a thriving northeast Dallas congregation that encompasses natives of eight African countries, Canada and Jamaica.
___The Whataburger location was an answer to prayer for Pastor Paul Franka and members of African Baptist Church. The congregation, which Franka started in 1994, had been meeting at Audelia Road Baptist Church in Dallas but was outgrowing the space available there.
___"We started praying and asking God to show us where to go," Frank explained. "We seriously took it to prayer, and we prayed for about three months at least. Every Sunday, someone would come up to the pulpit and pray to God for a place for us to go."
___Finally, the chairman of the church's deacons found the Whataburger location. The only problem was how to pay for it.
COUNTRY BAPTIST CHURCH of Mesquite isn't yout typical Baptist Church, but the Church Loan Corp. helped this country music-themed church to purchase a permanent facility with creative financing. Two other congregations also share the facility. Eight of ten people who join country church were previously unchurched.
___"We knew the Lord was going to take care of it," Franka recalled. And God's answer turned out to be the Baptist Church Loan Corp., a ministry of the Baptist General Convention of Texas.
___Baptist Church Loan Corp. exists because of the special needs of congregations like African Baptist Church, said Bruce Bowles, who recently retired as president of the corporation but still works as a consultant.
___In 1951, when the loan corporation was founded by the BGCT, few commercial lenders would considering financing churches, Bowles explained. Most churches could not get a loan, and the few who did had to pay above-average interest rates.
___Even the most stable churches were considered a lending risk, he said, because they were dependent upon the voluntary giving of church members.
THE BAPTIST CHURCH LOAN CORP. helped Paramount Baptist Church of Amarillo support the work of its mission which serves the Panhandle city's deaf community. The mission congregation now meets in the renovated facilities of what used to be Ridgecrest Baptist Church, serving about 130 people each Sunday. Here, Sharon Goar teaches children in Sunday School, using Sign Language.
___That attitude has changed somewhat in the last 50 years, Bowles said, but the Baptist Church Loan Corp. still fills a vital role in helping churches obtain competitive financing, especially smaller churches and new church starts.
___The corporation, which was started with a $250,000 note from the BGCT and a guaranteed $750,000 loan from First National Bank of Dallas, now has assets of $104 million. A majority of the 70 to 90 loans made to churches each year are funded out of the corporation's own equity.
___The Baptist Church Loan Corp.'s existence not only has benefitted churches who get direct loans but has helped shape the newfound willingness of commercial banks to make loans to churches, said Mary Hunter, vice president and chief financial officer of the corporation.
WHEN FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF RHOME decided to relocate to a growth area near the Texas Motor Speedway, it also changed its name. With help from the Baptist Church Loan Corp., they are building a facility at the new location. It will be completed none too soon, because the temporary building they obtained with help from North Central Baptist Association is overflowing with people, prompting a need for two Sunday services.
___Through the years, the church loan corporation has helped other Texas lenders see that churches are good credit risks, she said. And the availability of money from the Baptist source has caused some local lenders to offer churches more competitive rates as well.
___Even so, the church loan corporation offers distinct advantages to the churches which use its services, said Charles Pruett, the corporation's new president.
___For one thing, participating churches know the interest they pay goes to help other Baptist churches who will benefit from future loans, he said. For another, the staff of the Baptist Church Loan Corp. knows more about church finance and church growth than any commercial banker.
LOCATED IN A BOOMING AREA of North Texas, leaders of Preston Ridge Baptist Church in Frisco drew upon the expertise of the Baptist Church Loan Corp. in making plans for their first permanent facility. Pastor Gerald Griffin leads the congregation in a contemporary worship style, a good match for a church with an average age of 31. the church has grown to 330 in Sunday worship.
___That expertise paid big dividends at Preston Ridge Baptist Church, a new church start in the booming north Texas city of Frisco.
___The congregation, led by Pastor Gerald Griffin, has grown from 18 people to an average Sunday attendance of about 330 in just four years.
___The was not only Griffin's first time to start a church, it was his first pastorate. And the help he received from Bowles and the church loan corporation's staff was invaluable, he said.
___"I can't say enough good about Bruce Bowles and the Baptist Church Loan Corp.," the pastor explained. "Bruce had a great combination of both encouraging us and making us live up to what we said we were going to do.
___"He didn't say: 'Oh, I see your faith. God bless you. Here's 2 million bucks.' He said: 'This is wonderful what God is doing. Let's keep this up, let's work our numbers, let's work the people, let's encourage, let's exhort, let's get the kind of numbers in here we need. And he led us by the hand."
___The Baptist Church Loan Corp. offers a special financing package to new churches that "allows debt service to follow growth," Pruett said. For the first year of the loan, the interest rate is 2.5 percent below the corporation's normal rate. Then the spread between the adjusted rate and the market rate is increase by one-half a percentage point each year.
___While the church loan corporation offers special expertise to help new congregations (23 percent of their loans go to churches five years of age or younger), loans are available to churches of all sizes and ages.
___Older, more established churches may not think of the Baptist Church Loan Corp. as a source for financing, but they should, Pruett said. The church loan corporation has financed everything from first buildings to church gyms to renovations.
___"We'd like to help every church in Texas," he said.
___That may sound like a Texas-sized vision, but the reality is that Texas' Baptist Church Loan Corp. makes more loans each year than the Southern Baptist Convention's church lending agency does nationwide.
___But even in Texas, the size of the bank account isn't the primary thing that should commend the church loan corporation as a lender, Bowles said.
___"The Baptist Church Loan Corp. is concerned for the health of the churches," he said. "There's not a bank anywhere that can say that."
___With reporting by David Clanton of the Standard staff

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