By Rev. Blair Boyd Zant, Rev. Scott Parrish, and Rev. Bernice Kirkland
In our commitment to be disciples who make disciples, churches across the North Georgia Conference will focus on engaging our communities as a community.
North Georgia is a fascinating place. It's an incredible mission field in which to serve.
We are GROWING. Georgia as a whole is the 8th most populated state in the US. The North Georgia area has approximately 8million residents, with 8.6 million projected by 2026.
We are YOUNG. The average age of those living within our North Georgia communities is 35.
We are DIVERSE: ethnically, racially, and culturally. We are 54% white, 29% African American, 10% Hispanic, and 4% Asian. In 2021, Gwinnett County was tied as the 7th most diverse county in the entire United States. We as a Conference are also home to the 6th largest concentration of 1st and 2nd generation Korean Americans in the US.
We are EVERYWHERE. We have United Methodist churches, ministries, colleges, universities, and affiliated nonprofits in almost every zip code in North Georgia. This means that North Georgia is our neighborhood. And together, we have the unique opportunity of reaching every part of it.
The church has been, and can be an essential source of hope. For our neighbors we provide food, meeting space, Christian education, music, recovery ministry, housing, volunteers… the list goes on. Of course, our unique role is to point to Christ as the source of our creation, our salvation, and our transformation. To BE disciples who make disciples, engaging our communities for Christ.
Especially in the last 28 months, we celebrate the ways that you, the people called Methodist, have engaged your communities as witnesses to Christ. And done so through partnerships and community connections. As we look to the future, we know that we must continue this work with courageous innovation.
Atlanta First UMC is 160 years old, one of the oldest churches in the City of Atlanta! This congregation, including senior pastor Rev. Jasmine Smothers and leaders Alisa Smallwood, Mary Jackson, and Wayne Pierce, is determined to actualize their mission of worshiping God, serving the community, growing together in faith and engaging the community through addressing the housing and homelessness crisis within their city. Earlier this year Atlanta First announced that the redevelopment of their campus, in partnership with the City of Atlanta will include affordable and attainable housing, childhood education and much more. This is a gamechanger for the next 160 years.
Elizabeth Lee UMC
Now that they steward almost half of the property along the main intersection of downtown Chickamauga, Georgia, Elizabeth Lee UMC has taken seriously their role in shaping the heart of their town with the heart of Christ. In 2020 and 2021, ELUMC acquired, prayed over, discerned, and launched Matthew’s House, a historic mansion turned missional outpost whose every square foot of space and grass is intended to engage their community’s needs with the love of Jesus.
This year, they have started ESL classes, a Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Support Group, hosted a Mental Health Awareness and Advocacy Seminar, and have plans to add a Prayer Labyrinth. Senior Pastor Rev. Zach Fitzpatrick and ELUMC leaders Charles Wallace and Ansley Neel agree: At Matthew’s House, middle schoolers, faith-explorers, job seekers, coffee drinkers, foster families, and adults in recovery are all welcome, because here, everybody has a place at the table.
United Methodists Congregations in Lincolnton
The need for affordable access to mental health resources is clear. But what if you live in a rural community where such resources are inaccessible due to distance, cost, and stigma? Four United Methodist congregations in Lincolnton, Georgia have recognized this great need in their county, and believe that meeting the need is possible if done through strategic partnerships. This Fall, Lincolnton, Bethany, Midway and Pine Grove UMCs will partner with the Psychological Studies Institute of Atlanta and Richmont Graduate University to launch Barnabus House.
Says Lincolnton UMC’s pastor, Rev. Randy Kanipe: “This rural mental health initiative will practice the church’s core values of Love in action, Unity of spirit, and service beyond our walls by providing individual, marriage, family and children’s counseling for the citizens of Lincoln County.”
College Park UMC
In 2018, College Park UMC made a bold choice to disrupt their current way of doing church in order to open themselves up to God-sized possibilities for the future. Like the church of Acts 2, they decided to move out of their building, and gather weekly in one another’s homes, to share together in prayer, in the breaking of bread. They discerned a vision for being the church to reach the City of College Park and beyond. Under Rev. Jeannette Dicken’s leadership, and in partnership with Good Places, Inc and other stakeholders, College Park UMC is well underway in developing a community church who contributes affordable housing, entrepreneurial incubation, green space, and Christian discipleship in the heart of College Park.
United Methodist Congregations in Newnan and Beyond
Around midnight of March 25, 2021, a violent EF4 tornado began a 39 mile path of destruction across Heard, Coweta, and Fayette Counties. At 6 am the next day, Georgia Emergency Management Agency contacted the North Georgia Conference requesting United Methodist assistance. Rev. Scott Parrish quickly contacted Bill Pound, an experienced Early Response ministries leader and trainer who is a member of Cornerstone UMC in Newnan, to respond. Soon Cornerstone, Newnan First, and Newnan Chapel UMCs were leading the response to their community.
That morning Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson requested a solidarity grant from UMCOR on behalf of the North Georgia Conference and by noon UMCOR responded with an emergency funding grant. Over the weeks and months more than 25 North Georgia churches responded by sending early response teams, and many of you gave financially so that we had almost $100,000 available for recovery. The state and community need the church in such times of disaster.
There are countless tools to help your church connect with your community! Check out these four resources to get started.
Disaster Ready Church
What if a natural disaster hits your community or community nearby? Is your church ready to respond? Learn more about Early Response Teams and becoming a Disaster Ready Church.
Of course, there are always opportunities for every church in each of our communities in blue sky days.
Want to learn more about your neighborhood? MissionInsite is available to each United Methodist church in our conference. It is an incredibly robust demographics and people mapping software, available to you at no cost through our apportionment giving. It can give you greater insight into the needs all around you. If you are a pastor moving to a new church, or a church ready to engage your community, dig in!
Fresh Expressions: Take a Prayer Walk
Consider taking a Prayer Walk in your community. This is a fantastic tool for covering your neighborhood in prayer, while also listening well to neighbors.
Adaptive Church Leadership Cohort
Are you a congregational leader whose church is ready to go all in for the mission, vision, and engagement of your community, you just need an accountable strategy for getting it done? Then look into the Adaptive Church Leadership Cohort, featuring Tod Bolsinger, author of Canoeing the Mountains and Tempered Resilience. This year, through the generosity of this Conference and our partnership with Fresh Expression US, North Georgia UMC’s can access this 18 month experience for 50% off the normal cost.
Let's engage the Holy Spirit and our mission as a community, as one church in limitless missional expressions. Reminded by John 17 that our oneness is our witness. This is aspirational, of course. It’s a way of living together that feels very far off. But it’s a vision of the body that is built one disruptive, inquisitive, Christ-centered conversation at a time.
This, we believe, is a crucial way that Christ will help us become disciples who make disciples… by engaging our communities as a community.