DENHAM SPRINGS -- Down one hallway at Abundant Life Church, proudly displayed on a long and curved freshly-painted white wall, hangs a complete timeline of the church’s history.
The 24-photo timeline begins at the church’s opening back in March 1980, when founding pastor Richard Beatty started the church on Eden Church Road before moving it a year later to its current location on Edgewood Drive in Denham Springs.
The timeline looks like most you would expect to find in a church — there are photographs of missions trips, revivals, worship services, and remodel projects — until you get to a section titled “August 2016.”
Two photos in that section show Abundant Life’s Dome — the church’s Sunday sanctuary since June 1997 — inundated with debris and water following the Great Flood of 2016, when the church’s campus took on more than 3 feet of water.
A man was gazing at the timeline Sunday evening, just before the start of a special church service many long months — and years — in the making. He stopped short when he reached the end, noticing an empty space below the description labeled “March 2018.”
The picture for that section of the timeline would come later that night, when Abundant Life Church celebrated the reopening of its beloved Dome with a special rededication service and 38th anniversary celebration on Sunday, March 11.
Nearly all 712 seats in Abundant Life’s new-look sanctuary were filled as church members gathered in their familiar place of worship for the first time since before the August 2016 flood. Before Sunday night, church services had been held in the ALC Outreach Building, which can only fit about 300 people.
Special guests of Sunday’s night service included Congressman Garret Graves, Denham Springs Mayor Gerard Landry, and Livingston Parish Sheriff Jason Ard, as well as several pastors from the Baton Rouge area.
It was a long journey — and a lot of money — reaching this point, but lead pastor Greg Beatty said it was well worth the wait.
“We got knocked down a lot,” Beatty said, “but we kept getting back up every single time. That’s what I love about our church. We’d get knocked down a lot, but every time, we got back up.
“Now look at it.”
The entire Abundant Life Church campus — about 120,000 square feet or 13.5 acres — took on 38 inches of water during the Great Flood, resulting in a pricey $3.2 million renovation project. The damage hit hardest in the sloped Dome, where water reached 7 feet down at the stage.
When all is said and done, the church will have lost five buildings of the 10 buildings it owned prior to the flood: one house near Range Avenue, three T-buildings, and a maintenance building.
There are no plans to replace those buildings — but with a newly-remodeled Dome, there may be no need to.
The 65,000-square-foot building underwent a complete renovation starting last May. Kevin Kron, a member of ALC for 20 years and owner of Kron Enterprises, served as project manager for the rebuild, while children’s pastor and volunteer cooordinator Miranda McGraw served as his assistant and helped come up with the “look and design” of the church.
Though the color pallet is similar in some areas, Kron said they used this as an opportunity to get “everything up to date.”
Inside the sanctuary, pews were thrown out and replaced with gray cushioned seats, all installed on top of new carpet. A 40-foot screen was added behind the stage, and new modern-looking sound panels were placed on opposite sides of the sanctuary. The stage was also brought out to give it more square footage.
And of course, all the sound equipment, lights and instruments that were lost during the flood were replaced.
Outside the sanctuary, the connect center was moved to the center of the front lobby, the children’s church area was expanded to 3,500 square feet and moved to one side of the front lobby, and the celebration room was completely refurbished — as well as the 30 or so offices, bathrooms and other meeting rooms in the building.
“We basically picked everything from the carpet to the color of the lights bulb and everything in between,” Kron said. “Greg gave us what he wanted to move forward with, Miranda and I came up with some ideas and tossed them around, and it’s been an open concept with the congregation.
“Just a conglomerate of everyone’s input to get to where we are today.”
Though they didn’t want to take credit, Beatty brought Kron and McGraw on stage to recognize them for their work during Sunday night’s service.
“I didn’t have a whole lot to do with this,” Beatty joked. “I’d say, ‘that looks good to me,’ and that was about it. Other than that, it was pretty much all [Kron and McGraw].”
But Kron, McGraw and Beatty had plenty of help. More than 300 volunteers from nine states assisted in the rebuild, and about $500,000 in donations came from people outside of the church body. One group from Virginia stayed in Slidell since that was the closest hotel they could find and drove to the church everyday for 10 days, picking up supplies from Home Depot every night.
Church members also volunteered on weekends and covered the costs for the children’s church area and the sanctuary’s seats (about $350,000).
After Sunday night’s service, church members and guests were allowed to walk around the Dome to see all the new features it now has to offer. No one appeared to be disappointed in the outcome.
“People ask me how we made it through it, and the answer is God’s grace and God’s people,” Beatty said. “I was just amazed at the generosity of people through the flood, in this church and outside of it.
“My dad didn’t leave me the manual on how to rebuild a church after a flood, but we pressed on. We got knocked down plenty, but we kept getting up, and our congregation didn’t quit. They gave, hung in there with us and believed in their church. It’s all been worth it.”