The truth is Gerald Gibson had never heard of the term “church planter” until about two years ago.
Ironic, considering Gibson’s vision for church ministry is very much a parallel to the theory and logic behind the recent Southern Baptist Convention’s push to plant new churches and “re-plant,” or revitalize existing, dying churches.
“I never wanted to just be a part of church that just does church on Sunday and goes away,” Gibson said. “I’ve always thought about church ministry as a community that happens to do church.”
That passion, coupled with what he called an “unshakable” unction or calling from God, is what led him to plant Grace Temple Christian Church in Decatur.
Gibson, 46, has joined his church planting work with the Atlanta Metro Baptist Association and says he’s grateful for what his entrance into Southern Baptist life has done to fuel his desire for planting community focused churches.
The birth of his passion
He comes from the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church, led by Timothy Flemming – a long-time fixture and legend, particularly in Atlanta’s African American church scene. A Gospel preacher for 15 years, Gibson said there was one main question that permeated his spiritual conscience, no matter where he was, that eventually served as his chief church planting fuel.
“I realized that before there was ever a church, there was always community,” Gibson said. “So I’m wondering why aren’t churches emphasizing community?”
At first Gibson, like many preachers who begin feeling a nudge to pastor, started looking to fill vacant pulpits at already-established churches.
“But every time I’d go to preach in one, after I finished, it was like God was saying, ‘That’s not it. You’re not going into a vacant church. It ain’t gonna happen.’ So I went through a time where I was asking, ‘If I’m not gonna do that, what am I going to do?’ After a year, I felt God leading me to start something new.”
Gibson began the pre-launch phase of Grace Temple in March with a team of about 15 people. They have weekly worship and Bible study sessions on Sunday and a monthly time of launch team vision casting. He’s also going through the necessary process to be a recognized church planter of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
“The training and the information is something I truly needed,” Gibson said.
And beyond that, he says he’s already seen some examples of God’s hand being upon Grace.
Gibson has received support from places that he wasn’t expecting, including the ability to move into a storefront building in downtown Decatur where he and his wife live and work. The church has also connected with organizations with specific intentions to help it reach millennials and children in his planting context.
Gibson works bi-vocationally as a compliance inspector for the DeKalb County government. In the very early weeks of his planting experience, he tried to plan for a ministry in the Jonesboro area. But immediately he realized that wasn’t going to flex well with his heart for community ministry.
“We want to be a very family-oriented church,” he said. “We want to be in the community where we live and serve. That’s why moving things to Decatur was perfect for me and us, because we’re already working and living among the people we want to serve.”
Vision for Grace Temple
Gibson said he envisions a ministry that provides help and assistance to those needing job skills and employment as a means of opening the door to plant seeds of the Gospel in their hearts. As one who is “committed to expositional preaching,” he wants to lead a Bible-based ministry that gives people more than spiritual cotton candy.
“The challenge I see in today’s church is that people are more interested in what a word from God can do for me,” he said. “It’s like if you’re not telling them how you’re going to be blessed, they don’t want to hear it. But tangible blessings is just a small part of things.
“It’s about building a lifestyle and relationship with Christ to where, even if you’re not getting all of those things you want, you can still trust and love God.”
Ready to work
Currently, Gibson’s main thrust is to continuously keep his launch team connected to and reminded of this vision. They’ve been working to plan several community outreach events and are hoping to partner with schools and other local community organizations, just as a way of developing connecting points for the community to his ministry.
“We’re really excited about the opportunity to partner with the DeKalb County Crisis Center,” he said. “We’re connecting with them to do worship services there, and provide donations of items people in a crisis may need. My next step is reaching out to the principal of nearby Columbia High School.”
And it seems as if his team is ready to embrace the work.
“I tell them all the time. Let’s go back to not just going to church but being the church,” he said. “And really this challenge is not my vision. I believe this is what God wants to do in our communities, and I think they’re starting to see it.”
Grace Temple Christian Church is located at 4151 Memorial Drive, Suite C108 in Decatur. Current Sunday worship times are 12 noon until 1:30 p.m. He can be reached at (678) 763-7454, or call the church at (404) 492-4832.
Gibson said his church’s main prayer requests are for continuing partnerships in the community and partner churches that may want to come alongside and help Grace become a thriving church plant that plants other churches.