By Michaela Kron
As the city considers an application from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Riverside Drive in Sandy Springs to expand by 2,000 square feet, some neighbors think the church’s low membership is a cause for concern.
St. Andrew’s, which has 48 members, about 30 of whom are active, requested the expansion to provide more room for Tabula Rasa — The Language Academy, the language immersion school that rents space in the church.
Sara Eads, a resident of Fair Oaks Manor off Riverside Drive and a member of Citizens Against Commercial Growth on Riverside Drive, said the church at 5855 Riverside is surviving on the rent paid by Tabula Rasa.
“The church is in decline, and the neighbors believe that the church is using the school as a viable means of support while the church attempts to garner new members,” Eads said. “They are doing this at the expense of the neighborhood and the traffic flow within the neighborhood.”
Eads taught kindergarten at St. Andrew’s for seven years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the church had about 300 members.
In a March 3 e-mail to Sandy Springs officials, Eads wrote: “Hopefully, the Church will be able to garner new members and rebuild to its former strength of 300 or beyond, but the nagging question remains, what will happen in this R-1 zoned area if the for-profit, commercial enterprise of Tabula Rasa continues to grow and the Church continues to decline.”
Lynne Schlosberg, the church’s treasurer, said St. Andrew’s has nonfinancial reasons to host Tabula Rasa: “We consider the school as part of our mission to the community. We think that it contributes a niche that is not only needed but interesting.”
She acknowledged St. Andrew’s membership has declined over the years, but she said the church is growing under the leadership of Jan Warren-Taylor, who has been the senior pastor for a year.
“We’ve been holding very steady, and now with our new pastor, we’ve already started taking more people in,” Schlosberg said.
Schlosberg, a member of St. Andrew’s since 1988, said membership began to decline in 1990. The church faced another major decline during a transitional period after the 2005 retirement of pastor Iain Inglis, after which a couple of visiting pastors, an interim pastor and a designated pastor led the church.
When Warren-Taylor began as senior pastor of the church last June, she started working to attract new members by reaching out to the community.
Last year St. Andrew’s hosted an art exhibit featuring works by art students at Riverwood International Charter School, and the church participated in volunteer efforts to beautify Hammond Park.
In January, the church introduced Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, a 13-week, Bible-based, small-group study that taught families to overcome debt and build wealth.
Warren-Taylor expanded the staff at St. Andrew’s by hiring a nursery attendant and a part-time employee to oversee youth activities.
The pastor said the church has a “contemporary feel” that has attracted new members. Services include a band ensemble with a guitar and violin, as well as a drummer, and during sermons the words are projected onto a large screen.
The members of St. Andrew’s range in age, averaging about 40, and are otherwise demographically diverse, Warren-Taylor said. While about 60 percent of the members live in Sandy Springs and Marietta, others come from areas such as Duluth and Lawrenceville.
Both Warren-Taylor and Schlosberg have high hopes for the future of St. Andrew’s and view the church’s Sandy Springs location as an asset that could garner new members.
“Apparently, Sandy Springs is beginning to boom again,” Schlosberg said. “Young families are moving in, and we will definitely be reaching out to those new families.”
She and Warren-Taylor expect the church to be on Riverside Drive just inside I-285 for years to come, regardless of what happens to Tabula Rasa and the school’s growth plans. “The church will survive whether Tabula Rasa is here or not,” Warren-Taylor said. “We have plenty of funds in reserve accounts. I believe that we’re turning the tide on the church.”