Traditional churches across the nation that once bustled with activity now sit largely empty on Sunday mornings.
As more and more parishioners opt for contemporary styles of worship or quit church altogether, the Holy City is no exception.
Many congregations, declining in membership and unable to maintain the old church buildings, placed their houses of worship on the market. Some are demolished to make way for apartment complexes. Others are revamped into restaurants and fancy homes.
But while many Charleston area edifices with dwindling congregations have shuttered their doors, one church will get a new lease on life.
First Baptist Church of St. Andrews Parish, located at 913 Wappoo Road, is now the permanent home of the City Church of Charleston, a growing, 10-year-old multiethnic church.
"We realized that they were in a better position to do for the building ... for the community than we were," said Pastor Leroy Huthmacher, who's served as pastor of First Baptist since 1984.
Like many churches across Charleston, First Baptist was once a vibrant congregation. The church outgrew its original structure, built in 1942, and established the current sanctuary in 1964. A two-story educational building was attached 10 years later to accommodate Sunday School classes and other activities.
The sanctuary, which seats 450 between the floor and balcony, was filled some Sundays, Huthmacher said.
But over the years, members died. Shortly after Huthmacher arrived in 1984, some left the church over internal disputes.
By 2018, the church's membership had declined to about a dozen, mainly elderly parishioners who couldn't afford to maintain the 55-year-old, 21,000-square-foot church.
Huthmacher's hopes of returning the church to its former glory had seemingly failed and the congregation was forced to face the bitter truth.
"We didn't want to sell," Huthmacher said. "But a number of different churches came to talk to us. (City Church) had the power. They had the numbers. They could reach out better than we could. Now, we’re going to start over.”
Established by John Pharis and his wife in 2009, City Church established itself as a multiethnic congregation that embraces evangelism.
Its affiliation with the United Pentecostal Church International is evident in its worship style. Blending old-school and contemporary gospel, Sunday morning worship consists of members clapping, dancing, singing and shouting.
By 2018, the group that originally started as nine members welcomed up to 180 for services. But its 5,000-square foot space inside a West Ashley strip mall proved too small and inconvenient.
Above them, dancers exercise in a pole dancing studio, causing the church ceiling to creak during service. Pressure washers roar on Sundays outside the next-door restaurant.
The parking lot is also too small for social activities. The church, in its second home since moving out of a Charleston County middle school, needed a permanent home. They set their eyes on First Baptist, located just around the corner, and the congregation offered the church at an affordable price.
"We were looking around for a building of our own, but everything was so expensive," Pharis said. "We're so in need of a building like this."
City Church will use the larger facility to accommodate its growing Sunday school classes, evening Bible studies and youth groups. Several rooms will be used as office space for outreach coordinators to host food giveaways.
Leaders also believe that having a church building will give them some legitimacy to help draw more members. They got a few calls from interested residents after posting a City Church sign outside the church building.
There will be challenges with maintaining the aging structure. The new owners already had to replace the roof and they are gearing up for other maintenance work, such as replacing the carpet and repainting the walls in the sanctuary.
"We know it's a big leap," Pharis said.
But the members are excited about worshiping in a traditional church building. Pharis said that many sanctuaries have a theater-like feel with dimmed sanctuaries and strobe lights. But First Baptist is fronted with a porch and four white columns, and its sanctuary lined with wooden pews.
Pharis said City Church doesn't plan to change the overall design of the sanctuary, save for clearing out some seats in the pulpit area for the praise and worship band. The church where parishioners once sung traditional hymns will be soon be filled with members singing to the tunes of keyboards, guitars and drums.
"When you inject that youth and that energy and our worship into this space, this place is going to be live," Pharis said.
City Church also feels that First Baptist is a godsend because its located in an area ripe for redevelopment. City and county officials have discussed revitalization efforts for the area that includes Wappoo and Ashley River roads, Savannah Highway and Sam Rittenberg Boulevard.
Members feel that City Church's diverse congregation will appeal to the surrounding neighborhoods.
"There's such diversity here (in West Ashley)," said Danita Eldridge, an associate pastor with City Church. "I'm excited about getting out into the community and meeting some folks. (City Church) appeals to everyone. We've got different generations. We've got different cultures. We have single mothers. We have doctors. We have a little bit of everyone."