Perhaps the only thing more depressing than an empty church is a church that is almost empty. An empty church always has the prospect of rebirth, while a church that has gradually dwindled down from being full to almost empty generally only faces the prospect of a gradual, lingering death. But unlike most churches, the worship facility located right off of Pike Street in North Little Rock has fully crossed this spectrum twice and now seemingly stands at the dawn of its third cycle and what just might prove to be its most ambitious and profitable life yet.
The story of “the little worship facility that could” begins 67 years ago. It was 1947, North Little Rock was a bustling, growing community of 102,000, the Park Avenue Baptist Church opened up to the community right off of Pike Street. By 1960, North Little Rock had grown to a city of 108,000 and the Pike Avenue Baptist Church had itself swelled up into a congregation of 300 members. The church remained a vibrant and growing body of believers all the way through the 1960’s, the 1970’s, and well into the 1980’s. But while the city of North Little Rock continued to grow all around the church, the community and the world beyond it gradually changed in ways that made church growth itself more and more difficult. Fewer and fewer young adults came along to replace the aging adults as they began to gradually pass away one by one over time. As faithful members moved away, fewer and fewer new members found their way into the congregation to replenish the waning tide. The happy sounds of children’s voices within the church’s worship facility gradually grew more and more faint until they finally stopped being heard at all. What had been well-orchestrated efforts toward ambitious church growth turned into a desperate battle for simple survival that would ultimately dwindle down into a grim waiting game. By the time the early 1990’s rolled around a scant 10 members remained within the church, a mere reminder of the once vibrant congregation that had radiated throughout the facility. When the church’s seemingly inevitable fate finally arrived and claimed the remnants of the once great congregation, it didn’t come as a surprise to that final handful of the faithful – by that time the small group of believers had seen it coming for a while. And down but not out, they embraced the final option open to them, consolidated their small remaining number with that of another nearby church, and they sold off the worship facility. And that is how the Pike Avenue Baptist Church was born, that is how the congregation lived, and that is how it died.
Enter Cedric Hayes, man of God.
Having himself begun as a pastor in a nearby neighborhood, Cedric Hayes’ held many cherished recollections of the once mighty Pike Avenue Baptist congregation and felt a special attachment to the old worship facility. And where an active membership that had been 300 strong at it’s peak once labored and ultimately fell, Pastor Hayes remained fervently convinced that the prospect of a glorious future yet remained. Could one man succeed where three-hundred had quietly dwindled down to none? In a bold statement of faith that would have made the Old Testament judge Gideon himself proud, Pastor Hayes decided that the answer was yes. In 1993 he arranged for the purchase of the old Pike Avenue Baptist Church property, and through this act of one man’s faith in God, the Gloryland Baptist Church took over the abandoned Pike Avenue facility.
But even then, the new congregation that rose up within the old facility already had deep roots of love within the surrounding community. Starting out himself as the pastor of another much smaller church within North Little Rock, Hayes’ simply wanted to make a positive difference on a spiritual level. He first started Gloryland on a much smaller scale by renovating an old garage. Driven by the simple desire to save some of the local kids who were falling prey to the negative influences that had become prominent within the surrounding neighborhoods, Hayes worked tirelessly in his pursuit. Hayes’ faithful determination and heart-felt desires shined through in the most beautiful ways, too, and that little church began to grow as a result of his continued efforts within the Lord. As the church got bigger, it began to need a larger facility to serve as its headquarters and place of worship. Through his continued hard work, vision, and perseverance, Hayes was finally able to raise enough money to secure the old Pike Avenue Baptist Church in 1993. As the church became more and more of a driving force within the community, they renamed it the Gloryland Fellowship Family Church.
Eventually disharmonies arouse within the church, various factions ended up forming amongst the members, and over time it had a negative impact on the unity of the congregation. Dismayed and confused by this gradual turn of events, members began to lose their faith in the work and leave. Refusing to be daunted, Pastor Hayes continued to pour his heart into his work and he started a new effort amongst the youth of both the church and the community. Working fervently with all of the young people that he was able to draw into the effort, Pastor Hayes ended up forming what he began referring to as “The Pastor’s Choir.” youth that he called “The Pastor’s Choir.” His original intention had been to simply start a choir as a means of getting the kids off of the street, but as he continued to work with them he quickly realized that the kids had some various serious talent and the choir became popular very quickly.
Issues within the over-all membership continued to take a heavy toll on the unity of the congregation, however, and by 2011 the membership had decreased to the point that they were forced to once again close down the Park Avenue facility. First moving just two blocks down the street to a smaller building, next having to relocate to a hotel meeting room on a Sunday-to-Sunday basis, the membership finally decreased to the point that the church simply ceased altogether. But Pastor Hayes, his faith undeterred and his conviction unshaken, continued to work with the children in the special ministry that he had formed around them. The choir continued to grow and increase in scope and stature and today Haye’s tours with them all over the United States as they share their faith, utilize their talent, and inspire all who come into contact with them.
And as for the Pike Avenue facility – it’s spirit remains persistent and it’s outlook remains bright. Always eager to move forward, forever anxious to do more, and determined to serve the community to the utmost of his ability, Pastor Hayes is currently drawing up plans to renovate the old church building yet again, this time converting it into a mass communications school for all of the underprivileged children of the community.
A walk through the currently abandoned Gloryland worship facility today will show a lot of work needing to be done. And yet the previous life of the building also continues to shine through. The various and miscellaneous discarded odds and ends bear silent testimony to the faithful hands that held them back during another, more active time. Rows of church pews continue to look expectantly forward toward the lectern at the head of the auditorium, patiently awaiting yet another blessed installment of the Divine Word. And while the interior of the facility remains empty of people, it continues to be blessed by the memories of all of the decades of believers that passed within it.
Gloryland can never die or completely fade away…not so long as believers such as Pastor Hayes continue to live and hold onto the keys. Indeed, as you speak with Pastor Hayes about his righteous purpose and as you observe him looking at the building simply waiting to bloom again before him, you can almost hear the congregation sing…
There are still some about videos on YouTube explaining everything about this church, including multiple pieces of footage of very talented singers, dancers and speakers. Enjoy!
The Gloryland Pastor’s Choir On KARK 4 News: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BQb3MBG5zVI
“Gloryland Ministies Part 1″: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsiXVxPSAUQ
“Gloryland Ministies Part 2″: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zesx6HAiNGQ
Marvin Sapp “Never Would Have Made It” Gloryland Mime Ministry: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIY1-PKqbns
THIS CHURCH IS PRIVATELY OWNED AND IS GUARDED 24/7! DO NOT GO ON THIS PROPERTY UNLESS YOU HAVE PERMISSION!!