First Baptist Church of Tellico Village still growing strong

Melanie Tucker
First Baptist Church of Tellico Village isn’t your typical Baptist church. There are no Sunday evening services. There are no children, teens or college students in the midst. Only 20 percent of the congregation has Baptist roots. And pastor Dr. Charles Barnard doesn’t even like fried chicken despite being born and raised right here.
Barnard has to laugh a little at that last one, but typical or not, this church that was established back in 1997 in Tellico Village in Loudon County, is growing. Enough that they’ve already undergone three building phases, the most recent just getting completed.
Barnard, 56, is the church’s first full-time pastor. He and wife Teresa moved back to the area in 2005. They are both graduates of Porter High School. Both of their fathers worked for ALCOA Inc.
As with many churches just getting started, membership was small. The very first worship service had just eight people attending. They met in the recreation center in the Village. That was in 1995. It was a few more years before it became an official Baptist church. “There were 51 charter members,” Barnard said. “We still have 15 of them.”
Interesting dynamics
The average age here is 63, and that speaks to what this community was established as — a retirement place for people moving from all parts of the country. First Baptist of Tellico Village has members arriving here from Michigan, Florida, New Jersey, California and points in between.
“We are a senior adult church,” Barnard explained. “We are unique in that we don’t have preschoolers, children, teens and college students. But we are also very diverse. We have 19 different denominations represented.”
The original sanctuary was built in 2002 and it seated about 180. There were also four classrooms. Then in 2010, ground was broken on a new sanctuary. It was ready for occupants in 2011 and completely paid for in 2012.
Phase three of this building project included eight new classrooms, an office suite, music rehearsal suite, fellowship hall, commercial-grade kitchen and storage area. This 18,000 square feet of space has doubled the church’s size, Barnard said.
As for going into debt to get this all done, they haven’t much debt to speak of. The first building cost $1.1 million, and the second phase came in at $2.5 million. The one just completed had a price tag of $2.8 million. Barnard said the first two are paid off, and this latest addition is half-way there. They just moved in less than a month ago.
Visit for yourself
Barnard and his congregation will hold an open house on Sunday, May 24. There will be hot dogs, ice cream and fireworks that evening. U.S. Rep. Jimmy Duncan is expected to attend as well as state Rep. Jimmy Matlock.
There are a total of three churches within this retirement community. Barnard said the developers of Tellico Village designed it with one church in mind. But a Bible study that started in 1995 ultimately led to the creation of this Baptist church. The 10 acres on which it stands on Chota Road was donated by Cooper Communities.
The Village itself was established in 1986 after Tennessee Valley Authority decided to dam up the Little Tennessee River at its confluence with the Tennessee River. Tellico Dam was completed in 1979. A long battle ensued, which involved the Endangered Species Act and a fish called the snail darter. TVA acquired land above the high water line by eminent domain and it was later sold to Cooper Communities. It became Tellico Village.
Most of the attendees of First Baptist of Tellico Village reside in the Village, and so does Barnard. He said there are about 3,500 homes here with an estimated population of 7,000.
Adding to the flock
Sunday morning attendance is about 230. This congregation also holds a Wednesday night fellowship meal that is attended by more than 100. That number will probably grow, Barnard said. There is now a larger fellowship hall and a commercial-grade kitchen to make things more convenient. A retired chief out of Chicago provides the meals.
The music rehearsal suite used to be the fellowship hall that used to be the first sanctuary. There’s also a roomy library where groups are now starting to come play cards weekly.
The ministry here also includes a 12-piece orchestra and handbells. Music director is Eugene Hattaway.
These last few years have been busy on the building side of things, but Barnard said this church hasn’t let other important ministries fall by the wayside. They have continued to work building churches in Mexico, South Africa and Honduras.
Mission work also continues close to home, in Mississippi and Oklahoma. A team will be heading to Alaska soon, the pastor said.
Right place, right time
This is the third church Barnard has pastored. The other two were in South Carolina. He said after being away from Blount County for 29 years, he was ready to come home. The couple’s daughter is a teacher at Carpenters Middle School.
The newest sanctuary will seat 430 and on Easter, there were 385 worshippers present. Who can say when the time will come when they outgrow space once again?
Barnard is honored to be leading this mix of congregants. Some are part-time residents while others spend a great deal of time traveling throughout the year. A faith community that is so diverse brings so many possibilities.
“There are a lot of interesting people here,” he said. “I did the funeral for a man who piloted a spy plane that flew over Cuba during the Cuban crisis. We have several retired military.”
This pastor was 46 when he moved here; he’s 56 now and said he hopes to retire here. He said he tells his congregation when he can no longer step from the floor up to the stage, he will step aside.
“I have learned a lot about retirement from watching people here,” he said. “I am starting to plan ahead because of them. I’ve learned along the way.”