Building Bridges

It was about four years ago that my friend, Jim Gillikin, invited me to his church to present some awards from my department to a few of the boys’ ministries leaders at their church. I had just left a church where I’d been wounded and wasn’t actually looking for a church. But when I walked in with Jim’s family that day, I just knew I was home.

The church was Whitley Church in Princeton, NC. You’ve probably never heard of Whitley Church—named for the local railroad crossing—or the little town of Princeton—which is just about a mile inside of Wayne County, just over the Johnston County line. And when I started attending, we were a simple country church with a contemporary flair. We had early service at 9:00 and late service at 10:30 and most weeks, we had a fair-sized crowd of 800 or so.

Three years ago, we stepped out in faith and started a satellite of our main campus. Because Whitley is about twenty minutes outside of the city of Goldsboro, we decided to plant our satellite in the middle of downtown Goldsboro. Ultra-casual. Ultra-contemporary. And open to EVERYBODY. On opening night, it was almost standing-room-only.  We called it The Bridge and had services on Saturday night. Over the three years, we’ve moved to a larger building (which we’ve already grown out of) and have added a Thursday night service.

But then, our leaders started to feel another urgency. If you leave Whitley Church headed the opposite direction from Goldsboro, you come to another city called Smithfield. It’s the county seat of Johnston County (the county I live in), it’s on the main north-south interstate (I-95), and there’s a big community college there. And our leaders felt strongly that we should plant our second satellite church there.

We rented a billboard on the main drag and put up this sign:

We spent a Saturday going door-to-door around town. And by yesterday, we’d already had some 2,000 hits on the website. Today, I watched in awe as the local news stations picked up the story of the billboard and the church opening. And then, I watched the announcements roll in from our church secretaries all day today… We’d been talked about in all the local papers, many of the local news stations, and then on Rush Limbaugh’s show and in USA Today.

Tonight at 7:00, we kicked off our opening service in our new location. For six months, we will rent the auditorium at Johnston Community College. And then, we will hopefully move into our own facility. But for tonight, in the lobby of the auditorium, there was a sea of blue shirts that read: “Ask Me! I Can Help!” And I was the “Designated Hugger.” Rumor is that we had around 170 folks for our opening night… Including volunteers. And this is how we kicked it off:

Before I wrote this post, I asked myself why I was writing it. Was I bragging about my ridiculously awesome church? Well, yes, but it’s more than that. When the volunteers arrived at 5:30, we all sat in the auditorium and they showed us a video that they would be showing during the service. And ONE THING stuck out to me from the video. It asked, “What if there was a place where you could BELONG before being asked to DO anything?” And my answer is YES! I want somewhere to belong. Somewhere that I’m loved and supported and cared for. And because I have that, I want to help give it to others. And that’s what tonight was about for me. Giving Smithfield a place to come—just as they are—and belong. To be loved and cared for, not just because of what they can do, but simply because of who they are. And that’s why I’m helping to build bridges.

Photo Credits (from top to bottom): Sarah Salter, Whitley Church Media Ministry, & Lisa Powell

About Sarah Salter


  1. Fantastically awesome Sarah! Love that you feel “your church” is the place you belong and you matter. Everyone needs that. I pray this new venture is a bridge to many others who need Jesus.

  2. I believe we should always brag about what God is doing! I love hearing testimonies like this. It gives me hope for all the vision and plans He has for our city. They can’t stay hidden and unfulfilled. His word must come to pass! Thanks Sarah. I’m greatly encouraged. 🙂

  3. So very cool Sarah! Be as outrageously excited about what God is doing as you can…I think that excites the heart of the Father.

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