Though the brimming church attendance after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, waned in the months that followed, some ministers say Columbia County's population growth since continues to help fill pews.
The Rev. Bill Harrell, of Abilene Baptist Church, said his church saw a surge in attendance immediately after the attacks that he called a normal reaction to a tragedy on a national scale.
"Right after any big event or tragedy like that you will find people will be made aware they need God and aware of their own mortality," he said. "And they're desperate for help and they rush to the church, which is a good place for them to rush."
Harrell said that "rush" lasted for about a month before attendance returned to normal, but for about three or four Sundays the sanctuary was swelling with people.
"All of a sudden there was more people than you could seat and we had a lot of people in our TV overflow," he said. "It wasn't just a full church. It was packed."
Harrell and pastors at other churches say Columbia County's growth is responsible for their churches' increased attendance and the formation of new churches in the area since 2001.
David Kenner, the pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, in Evans, said since about three to four months after the attacks, when attendance returned to normal, his congregation has grown by about 15 percent.
He said the demographics of his congregation have changed in the past five years, with many being drawn from Fort Gordon.
"Since then we've had a higher number of young military families and singles than we were seeing before," Kenner said.
"With the prospect of war and being shipped out, more people are thinking about it (coming to church)."
Just as it did before the attacks, Christ the King offers three worship styles every Sunday: traditional, blended and contemporary. The message, he said, hasn't changed, but the reception has.
"People are listening closer when you talk about the evil in the world and the violence in the world because people are being touched by it more than just a TV newscast now," he said.
Gary Dean, the district superintendent for the Augusta District of the United Methodist Church, said continued growth in Columbia County led his denomination to open two churches in the Evans area since the attacks, with a third to open in January.
"We try to target those areas (of growth) and get into those areas early on and make sure that the church is there to greet them," he said.
He said the Sept. 11, 2001, attendance boost tapered off on a district level within a few months of the tragedy.
Covenant United Methodist Church will join The Quest and Mosaic United Methodist churches, which have opened in the Evans area since the attacks.
Covenant's lead pastor, the Rev. Randall Monk, said he witnessed the surge of attendance after Sept. 11 while at Asbury United Methodist Church, in Augusta, but the founding of Covenant has more to do with the spiritual needs and growth in the Greenbrier area than the tragedy.
Covenant, which will begin meeting at Greenbrier Elementary School in January will offer traditional services but will use technology to help convey the message, he said. Covenant is part of a plan by the Methodist church to found 200 new churches in north Georgia.
He agreed that people sought spiritual comfort after the attacks and said that in some way the church failed to hold those people in the months that followed.
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