History of the Vineyard Christian Retreat
The history of The Vineyard Christian Retreat Center goes back to the early 1970’s. Gene Smith, a new graduate of the Bible Baptist Institute in Graceville (Baptist College of Florida), resigned his position as minister of outreach at Calvary Baptist Church in Dothan, AL to devote his time exclusively to Christian evangelism. In July 1972, Gene and a group of Christian laymen and ministers formed the Gene Smith Evangelistic Association.
The Lord led Gene into summer camp youth ministry. Gene leased many facilities across the Southeast to hold the summer camps. In three years, the number of young people attending his camps grew from 84 to 1,000. Due to this increase in attendance, Gene and the board of directors felt the Lord leading them to build a place to hold camps. So, in 1982, they purchased 80 acres of land in the Ariton, AL area and constructed a conference retreat center named The Vineyard.
In 1984, Gene expanded his ministry by building “My Father’s House” home for boys just across the six acre lake from The Vineyard conference retreat center. The purpose of the boys’ home was to meet the needs of orphaned, abused, neglected, and rejected children in a safe, Christian atmosphere. Today we call the 5,000 square foot home the “Lake Lodge.”
Gene Smith later sold The Vineyard to the Kings Ranch who continued using the conference center for camps and the lake lodge became the Kings Ranch Boys Home under the direction of Tom Owen. The Kings Ranch sold The Vineyard Conference Center to the Coffee County Baptist Association on February 12, 1991 – with dedication services being held on June 8 of that same year. In the meantime, the boys home (lake lodge) grew into a home for battered women and children.
In 2000, the Coffee Baptist Association purchased the home for battered women and children (lake lodge) because that ministry was moving to Montgomery. The Coffee Baptist Association made several improvements to the Lake Lodge and opened it to guest lodging. Today, the Lake Lodge sleeps about 50 guests. The Conference Center sleeps 160 guests.
Since the Coffee Baptist Association purchased and re-combined both facilities, many other facilities have been built and collectively are called The Vineyard Christian Retreat Center, encompassing about 90 acres today. Many groups (youth as well as other types of groups) from many different denominations and schools utilize The Vineyard facilities each year for camps, retreats, conferences, family reunions, picnics, etc.