Members of the Portal football team raise their hands to indicate a decision for Christ at an event hosted by Elam Baptist Church in Millen. EBC/Special
MILLEN — To gather, to grow, to give, and to go isn’t just a motto, it’s life at Elam Baptist Church.
Branching out has led to church attendance growth and many coming to know Christ as Savior.
“That is what’s proved to be successful and beneficial for the growth of the church here, to leave the campus and go throughout all the world and share the Gospel to those who have never heard about Jesus,” said Senior Pastor Jody Bryant. “Snatch them out of the devil’s hands and from going to hell and place them in a discipleship environment where they can get to know the Lord better and grow, and again go out and make disciples and grow.”
That has led to Elam increasing in weekly average attendance from 70 to 175 while also seeing additions in visitations, salvations, and baptisms.
“That is a very strong indication that God is at work among them,” says Bobby Braswell, associational missions strategist for Middle Baptist Association. “They’re making good decisions about how to lead ministry. Everything is contingent on leadership and Jody is a good leader.”
Since Bryant arrived as pastor in 2016, Elam has seen 96 baptisms and averages three to five visitors per week.
The key is going into communities like Portal, 11 miles away. There, the church has hosted three block parties, giving away Bibles, lunches, and school supplies. One Sunday in August witnessed 30 visitors and five salvations at Elam the week after an event in Portal.
Building His kingdom, making disciples
There have been 48 salvations from efforts to reach the sports community there. Bryant said the Lord has really opened the door and confirmed through what they are doing in the area.
“I’m looking for the lost, the people who need to be loved. The people who need to hear the Gospel. We didn’t go in to say we are coming to build the kingdom of Elam. We came in to build the Kingdom of God. It’s not about the church, it’s about His mandate in making disciples.”
Their next town focus is Twin City, 15 miles or so away. Steps for ministry will begin there “when we feel like we have a grasp on Portal,” said Bryant.
In 2017 Elam established a foster care ministry. Through it they help foster parents by providing resources, supplies, and support. According to livethepromise.org, there is an estimated 400,000 foster children in the U.S. Georgia has 15,000 children, up 60% from 2014.
Jody and his wife, Ginger, are foster parents, having done so in their native Virginia and now Georgia.
The church currently ministers to nine families from the surrounding area. “They are open to spiritual and tangible help,” said Bryant. Called advocates, they pray with families, check on them, and help with housework, yard work, childcare, babysitting, food, and temporary respites. They also provide resources for physical, financial, emotional, and most importantly, spiritual needs.
“When you do it to the least of them, you are doing it for Him. A two-dollar or three-dollar can of formula goes a long way when you are doing it in Jesus’ name,” said Bryant.
A place of calm
Quarterly support meetings are also part of the foster care ministry. Meloney Brown attended those meetings regularly when she recently fostered a child. Brown said the support is invaluable.
“It’s nice to have somebody who knows what you are talking about, knows what you feel, and knows the frustrations,” she said.
“They say, ‘I’ll give you a ride’ and ask, ‘Can I pray for you?’ I know that if I ever needed anything – whether foster-related or not – I could go to Elam and they would meet my needs.”
Bryant said the emotional roller coaster accompanying a child who enters your home is the hardest thing about being a foster parent. “Just hearing their stories, hearing what they are going through [is difficult]. Just trying to work through those issues with them from the home to the court system.”
The hope is to calm the storm in the life of the foster child.
“We just want to pour love into them and that God is love. Your boat has been tossed and the waves have been crashing in, but Jesus is still in the business of calming the storm. He’s still in the business of speaking to the waves and they obey him. He can speak into their situation and into their family. He can speak into their biological family’s lives.
“There is more. Look to the cross, look to Jesus, and look to the empty tomb. It doesn’t matter where they came from. Jesus can radically change that and we are here to model that in the direction of following Jesus.”
Elam’s future plans include community outreach within a three-mile radius, then five miles and beyond.
“We are not targeting a specific group,” said Bryant. “We just want to make sure that every house within three miles of here, we have been to that home. We have knocked on the door and shared with them the Gospel. [We’ve] let them know we are here and the church is here to love and support them.”
Jason Queen is a freelance writer based in Epworth.