Friendship’s first services were held in a railroad boxcar that had been donated by Ninth Street Baptist Church of Cincinnati, Ohio. On weekdays, it served as a classroom during the early days of Atlanta University (now known as Clark Atlanta University). The church has been integral in the support of black higher education, which still holds strong to this day. In 1879, Morehouse College moved from Augusta to Atlanta and set up classes in Friendship Baptist. In 1881, Spelman College was formed in the basement.
Membership of Friendship Baptist Church grew rapidly in its early years. The congregation, in need of a larger facility, moved to the corner of Haynes and Markham Streets before finding its ultimate home on Northside Drive in 1895, where they remained until 2014. Strong, dedicated leadership has fostered community involvement throughout the church’s existence. Despite its continued growth and prominence, Friendship Baptist Church has had only seven pastors serve and lead the congregation during its 156-year ministry.
Friendship’s prime downtown Atlanta location garnered them many purchase offers over the years, yet the church remained anchored in the community. Throughout the late 1800s, the 1900s and early 2000s, Friendship Baptist purchased more property and added several buildings in order to enhance its ministries. Their beautiful church campus, robust with strength, sat just south of the Georgia Dome and the Georgia World Congress Center on Northside Drive. In 2012, this location became the target of those planning for the construction of the new Mercedes Benz Stadium. This historic church in Atlanta had to relocate from their home of more than 130 years.
Friendship was determined to stay in the area and build a new church that would honor their history and the community that they had loved for so many generations. The church leadership formed a team, called the Building Council, to strategically plan for the displacement. They had to find both a site for the new church and temporary accommodations for the move. The Building Council knew this would be a challenging but rewarding task. They established several goals so that they could spend their resources wisely and maximize the use of a new site. In the end, they targeted a limit of five acres for the new church facilities and parking.
CDH Partners had the great privilege to work with Friendship Baptist Church to help them develop a plan for their new home. The design team worked with focus groups that included church leadership and all ministries. During this series of meetings, CDH Partners discovered what really mattered to the church, and this guided us to a successful design solution.
After prayerful consideration, the collaborative team decided to build the new home for Friendship Baptist Church on the 5-acre site of the former Willis J. King Building at Gammon Theological Seminary. CDH Partners worked very hard to develop a plan that would accommodate a new 44,290-square foot church, 140 surface parking spaces, extensive landscaping and multiple site access points.
The limit on acreage led CDH Partners to create an efficient design concept. After crossing the threshold of the new facility, congregants enter a large narthex that provides excellent prefunction space for the sanctuary, fellowship hall (known as Friendship Hall), history museum and prayer chapel. This space also allows easy access to major circulation corridors that lead to the administrative and education wings. With a single level design solution, the facility is accessible for elderly church members so that they can move easily around the campus.
Friendship’s interior includes a variety of spaces to suit its many needs. The sanctuary accommodates more than 500 for worship. The chapel provides more than 100 seats for prayer, weddings and funerals. Friendship Hall provides seating for more than 400 for church meals and banquets, and with assembly seating, it accommodates approximately 650. A fully equipped commercial kitchen facilitates any of the food service needs.
CDH intentionally designed the church in a traditional architectural style to honor the former church and ensure it serves them in the future. Friendship’s new exterior has similar forms and fenestration as its old home, and the brick and cast stone accents chosen by the firm are durable and require lower maintenance costs. Despite these traditional touches, the campus includes modern technology and very efficient building systems.
The team wanted to incorporate many elements of the former Friendship Baptist Church into the new design. All the stained-glass windows, the church bell, numerous plaques and memorials, cornerstones and pipe organ were all salvaged and stored away so that they could once again be part of the community. Additionally, they preserved a large church archive of historical documents and photographs, which are now housed in a one-of-a-kind museum within the new church.
Friendship Baptist’s relocation posed a unique set of circumstances. But by listening to their needs, CDH Partners was able to develop a creative and successful solution. The firm helped the church envision the possibilities for the compact site by using efficient design, which saved them construction costs and inspired them to imagine more for their church and community. The results of the planning and visioning sessions provided an exciting and dynamic ministry tool for Friendship Baptist Church. We are honored to have been a part of the newest chapter of this historic congregation in Atlanta, Georgia.