AUGUSTA — For 15 years under three pastors Cyndy Lifsey watched the slow death of Glenn Hills Baptist Church. The congregation was healthy when she came but the neighborhood was not.
Declining property values followed the influx of new neighbors as the neighborhood began its transition from solidly Anglo middle-class to lower middle-class and now high poverty African-American. It was a condition that affected all cities and churches nationwide and Glenn Hills epitomized that change in community values.
The congregation was getting older and found it hard to reach out to a different culture. Reciprocating, the new culture did not feel welcome and declined to join. It was a death spiral which eventually ended with the congregation voting to disband and giving its property to the Augusta Association of Southern Baptists.
Lifsey served from 2000-2015, right up to the end. But when Associational Missionary Director Dwayne Boudreaux learned of her history and background with the church, he invited her to join his team in a similar role. Part of her administrative assistant role would be to partially oversee the reincarnating of Glenn Hills into a more healthy ministry.
“I had a good bit of family history with the church,” she says. “My aunt and uncle were founding members back in the mid-60s. I was already a Christian as a youth but they brought me to Vacation Bible School and revivals.”
‘Lot of good family memories’
“In 1973 I was married in the church and my second son was baptized there. My second daughter had her baby dedication service there. I have a lot of good family memories through the decades.”
And that included teaching Vacation Bible School, preschool, children, and youth.
When she eventually joined the church staff, founding pastor Robert Boyd had returned as interim, a role he played more than once between pastors.
“We had a real good run there for about 10 years under the next pastor but the congregation began ‘graying out’ and we were no longer attracting young families. Couple that with the neighborhood changing and you could see the future not too far over the horizon.”
Glenn Hills is not on a major highway and was founded as a neighborhood church. The lack of visibility from drivers-by did not help attract new members. If you did not live in the community or were visiting a friend, you would most likely never be in the area.
The next pastor, Craig Foster, came with the deck stacked against him as an Anglo pastor in an African-American neighborhood.
“He clearly saw the need for change but many of the older adults just could not adapt. He knew the church needed at least one African-American staff member, perhaps a worship leader if not the pastoral position itself … someone the community could identify with,” she reflects.
From one of fastest-growing churches to a shell of its former self
In its early days the church was one of the fastest growing in the state with “a couple hundred” active members. The sanctuary was always full. But at the end there were only 30 to 50 attending on a good Sunday. Bills were piling up, maintenance was being delayed.
“The decision to close its doors really hurt my heart because I and some others saw the vision to grow and the needs to be met. The pastor tried a lot of ministry options but it was just too little, too late,” she adds.
That’s when Boudreaux stepped in and asked if she wanted to join the team and see the vision fulfilled. She didn’t think twice and today serves as standing member on the Board of Directors of the Augusta Missions Center at the former Glenn Hills site, and recording secretary for the Board. She also serves as administration assistant for the Association with responsibilities for operations of the Mission Center.
“Seeing an African-American pastor there now aggressively reaching the community, seeing people baptized the first Sunday of every month, seeing the church rebuild itself and slowly come back … it’s amazing,” Lifsey adds.
Being restored to its original vision
“I am so glad to see the decay has stopped and the decline is over and it’s being restored to the vision on which it was founded.”
New African-American pastor Larry Glover and his wife, Sean, are building a team to bring the gospel to the community and are seeing regular growth. As funds allow, parts of the massive building housing the congregation will house a variety of ministries from how to dress for an interview to how to write a resume. Lifestyle skills and parenting classes will be added to help stabilize the community.
A woman’s conference, evangelism conference, and Appalachian Summit have already drawn crowds. And this past summer, five different cultures from 11 different states – Anglo, Hispanic, African-American, Korean, and Chinese – all worshiped together through a group of World Changers and P2 gathering.
“I believe the building is now becoming a true missions hub that has unlimited potential for reaching its community for Christ.”
For more information
The Augusta Association of Baptist Churches is accepting missions banquet reservations now for its annual meeting in late October. The Association will host its Augusta Bridges to Missions Celebration on Oct. 22-23 at Pine View Baptist Church at 119 Pleasant Home Road. The gathering will be part of its annual meeting.
A free missions banquet for member churches, co-sponsored by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 22. For reservations call the Association office at (706) 736-8705 or visit theaugustabaptistassociation.org. Six guests are allowed per church who are members in the Augusta Association.
State missionaries are also available as guest speakers on Sunday, Oct. 23 to share about the work of the partnership between Georgia Baptists and the Association.