Baptist Life

SUWANEE, Ga. — An annual count of baptisms in Georgia Baptist churches has surpassed 20,000 for the first time since 2017. Steve Foster, a Georgia Baptist Mission Board evangelism consultant, said the total as of Friday morning reached 20,280, just 13 short of the 20,293 reported six years ago. The numbers are expected to continue to grow as more congregations complete what's known as the "Annual Church Profile," an annual census of Southern Baptist churches.

DALLAS, Ga. — In a classy blue suit, striped tie, and starched white shirt, Donald Voyles has the look of a man who has just stepped out of the board room of a Fortune 500 company. He’s every whit the professional, from his freshly trimmed white hair to his newly polished back shoes. At 89, Voyles may not fit the stereotypical mold of the modern church planter, but the Adrian Rogers-look is paying dividends for a congregation birthed from a back-porch Bible study at his home in suburban Atlanta four years ago.

LaGRANGE, Ga. — Georgia pastor Willie Thomas Edmondson is being remembered as a “legend" and a “warrior” as well as a “trailblazer” who served people not only from his church but also from city hall. Edmonson died Friday. In addition to being pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in West Point, Edmondson also served as mayor of LaGrange.

CONYERS, Ga. — Georgia Baptist Convention President Josh Saefkow is hoping for a big turnout for a pair of evangelism conferences, the first of which begins on Sunday at First Baptist Church in Conyers. “The evangelism conferences help us to grow, to be equipped and to be inspired,” Saefkow said. “A big part of these conferences is to be inspired to go and tell others about Jesus.” Georgia Baptists are going into this year’s conferences with an obvious zeal for sharing the gospel. They’re reporting a 30% increase in baptisms over the past year and a more than 92% increase since 2020.

Shorter University President Donald Dowless captured the beauty of a late-winter sunrise  on Tuesday.  Shorter University, founded in 1873, is a Southern Baptist school in Rome, Ga.

BOGART, Ga., — When Josh Smith became pastor of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Bogart six years ago after 11 years at MacArthur Boulevard Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, he succeeded Pastor Bill Ricketts, who had served the church for 43 years. Ricketts had relocated the church from downtown Athens to Bogart, a growing community approximately seven miles west of Athens. The church was poised for growth, but it would take the right kind of pastor to lead the church to its greatest destiny.

COLUMBUS, Ga. – In January, Jimmy Blanton announced his retirement as the missionary of the Columbus Baptist Association by saying, “I realize that the association does not need a new mission, but it does need a new voice, a new vision, and a new missionary.”

CHARLESTON, S.C. — An aspiring young preacher and baseball player who baptized most of his teammates at a Georgia junior college last fall has committed to play for The Citadel beginning next season. Robbie Lane, the starting shortstop at East Georgia State College in Swainsboro, Ga., described being recruited to play for the Division I school in Charleston as a dream come true.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Nearly 800 people gathered in Augusta last weekend for hands-on ministry that including renovating schools and churches, building a playgrounds, providing free dental care, throwing block parties, and so much more. In the process, at least 24 people made salvation decisions.

SUWANEE, Ga. — Nearly half of Christians say they struggle to find time to spend with fellow believers in discipleship activities because they’re too busy, according to a pair of surveys by the Barna Group, an organization that monitors cultural and religious trends in the U.S. Barna, writing about the surveys in an article last week, said they found bright spots in that 58 percent of Christians spend uninterrupted time with God and that 57 percent find time to regularly read their Bibles. But, when it comes to discipleship activities, 39 percent of Christians are not involved in helping others grow in their faith.

JONESBORO, Ga. — Pastor and author Henry Blackaby is being remembered as “a great Bible teacher” who inspired untold numbers of missionaries, church planters and everyday believers to “watch where God is working and join Him.” A funeral for Blackaby, author of the best-selling Experiencing God Bible study, has been set for 3 p.m. on Feb. 25 at Jonesboro’s First Baptist Church where his son, Mel, serves as senior pastor. “He will be greatly missed, but his influence on the lives of untold numbers of people through his Bible teaching will live on,” said evangelist Franklin Graham in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

CONYERS, Ga. — Georgia Baptists are heading into a pair of evangelism conferences with a full head of steam, having seen a 30% increase in baptisms over the past year and a more than 92% increase since 2020. Baptism numbers are rising as more churches submit their Annual Church Profile, a yearly census of Southern Baptist congregations, and, the process, ratcheting up interest in the evangelism conferences to be held on Feb. 25-26 in at First Baptist Church in Conyers and March 10-11 at Northside Baptist Church in Tifton.

NASHVILLE, Tenn.  —  Henry Blackaby, the Christian writer and pastor who impacted millions of lives through his best-selling Bible study "Experiencing God," died Saturday. He was  88.  Considered a spiritual statesman by many, the quiet pastor from Canada had a ministry that reached from pastors, missionaries and lay people, to CEOs, U.S. presidents and world leaders. 

DULUTH, Ga. — It’s not lost on Craig Dale that the $8.4 million in checks he helped to hand out to faith-based healthcare providers on Thursday will have physical and spiritual impacts on untold numbers of Georgians. “It's a cool experience to say the least,” said Dale, chairman of the Georgia Baptist Health Care Ministry Foundation, a philanthropic organization that funds frontline caregivers in communities across the state. “And the really cool part is that each check is going to be converted into life-changing programs.”

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ga. — As a former high school football coach, Dan Wright loves the challenge of building a winning team. So, when Wright transitioned from the playing field to the pulpit in a career change four years ago, he welcomed the chance to serve as pastor at Jeffersonville Baptist Church, a 175-year-old congregation that had fallen into decline a half century ago. Over the past decade, Sunday morning attendance has hovered around  30, according to the Annual Church Profile, a yearly census of Southern Baptist churches.  Even so, Wright sees championship potential in the congregation that will be celebrating its milestone anniversary on Sept. 22.

AUGUSTA, Ga. — Brad Whitt, pastor of Georgia’s historic Abilene Baptist Church, will be nominated for president of the 2025 SBC Pastors' Conference. Dean Inserra, founding and lead pastor of CityChurch in Tallahassee, Fla., announced Tuesday that he plans to make the nomination. “He has displayed strong integrity, unwavering biblical convictions, and has shown himself to be about the kingdom of God and our cooperative efforts as Southern Baptists,” Inserra said.

ATLANTA — Hindsight shows that refusing to order churches to shut down at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was the right move, Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday. “I’m glad we never wavered on that,” Kemp told some 200 Georgia Baptist pastors gathered at the Capitol for an annual prayer breakfast. “If there was ever a time people needed to worship, that was the time.”

FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. — Baseball superstar turned evangelist Darryl Strawberry had a simple message for the 600 people at a men’s breakfast Saturday at New Hope Baptist Church in Fayetteville. “If you fall in love with Jesus, you realize you don’t need anything else,” he said. Strawberry played most of his 17-year career with the Mets and New York Yankees and knows about the heights of success and the depths of failure. The 1983 National League Rookie of the Year, eight-time All Star, and four-time World Series champion had all the fame and fortune the world could offer and lost everything to drug addiction.

A Baptist preacher who lived in bondage in colonial Georgia would go on to help wipe out the final vestiges of slavery in the British Empire. George Leile, with the help of the young deacon Samuel Sharpe, kicked the door closed on slavery through what became known in Jamaica as the Baptist War. Leile became a pioneering African American minister and missionary ater his conversion around age 21. He was ordained by the Big Buckhead Baptist Church in Georgia’s Burke County in 1775, becoming the first African American in America set aside for the ministry.

ATLANTA — Over the objections of Georgia Baptist leaders, a proposal to legalize sports betting in Georgia cleared the state Senate on Thursday, but gamblers may not want to reach for their wallets just yet. A series of legislative hurdles still remain, meaning sports betting remains a longshot in the state. Senate Bill 386, which passed 35-15, would empower the Georgia Lottery Corp. to award 16 licenses to sports betting facilities, but only if voters first approve an amendment to the state's constitution to specifically allow sports betting, just as they did with the state lottery in 1992.

VILLA RICA, Ga. — An organization that exists to prevent and resolve conflicts in churches will hold a southern regional conference in Georgia in April. “I am aware of no greater threat to the gospel and the North American church than internal conflict,” said Todd Wright, co-lead pastor at Midway Church in Villa Rica, the setting for Relational Wisdom 360’s conference April 18-20. “The trauma of a single conflict is often passed down two additional generations. Sadly, for many people, their most vivid church memories center around conflict, instead of the transformational power of Jesus.”

SWAINSBORO, Ga. — A wild game dinner where 55 men committed their lives to Christ is one of the early indications that Georgia’s post-pandemic spiritual movement is continuing into 2024. Billy Brinson, missions strategist in the Emanuel Missionary Baptist Association, said 1,100 men gathered in Swainsboro for the wild game dinner,  some 200 of them standing along walls because all the seats were filled.

ATLANTA — Georgia’s largest religious organization is taking aim at the latest proposal to legalize sports betting in the state. The 1.4 million-member Georgia Baptist Convention, which has long opposed any expansion of gambling, is mobilizing its forces to urge lawmakers to defeat the legislation. The measure cleared the Senate Economic Development and Tourism Committee on an 8-2 vote Tuesday morning and now goes to the Senate Rules Committee, which will decide whether to call it for a floor vote.

GLENWOOD, Ga. — On weekdays, Robert Rogers is a pharmacist, dispensing prescriptions to southeast Georgia residents, but, on Sundays, he is pastor at Stuckey Baptist Church, delivering sermons to many of those same people. Rogers is one of a much-in-demand band of bivocational pastors who feel a calling to Georgia’s small rural congregations. Most of the roughly 300 Georgia churches that are without permanent pastors right now are in rural communities that simply don’t have the resources to support full-time clergymen, which makes bivocational pastors especially hot commodities.

SUWANEE, Ga. — Georgia Baptist churches reported a 22% increase in baptisms last year an an 80% jump since 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic was gripping the state. “This is such encouraging news,” said W. Thomas Hammond Jr., executive director of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. “I am truly grateful for the commitment of our pastors and churches to make sure all Georgians have the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel. I pray we are building on a trend that will go on for decades.”

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