WOODSTOCK — When Alan Morris arrives on a Tuesday morning at Living Stones Church in Cumming, several Lanier Baptist Association pastors are already waiting there for him. They greet him warmly as he steps into his element as the Georgia Baptist Convention’s (GBC) North Central Area Missions missionary, serving not just Lanier, but also Hightower, Etowah, and Roswell Baptist associations.
Those associations cover North Fulton, Cherokee, Forsyth, Pickens, and Dawson counties and include an estimated 900,000 people, of which Morris says only 22% are active in evangelical churches.
Lanier Baptist Association meetings happen monthly, as do similar meetings with the other associations. Morris said the goal is always the same: to “alarm and inform my churches so they see that their number-one task is to fight back the lostness.”
“We’re losing the battle,” Morris said. “We’ve got to engage.”
The former International Mission Board missionary to Indonesia talks about evangelism in terms of a battle, one that will become more intense as an estimated eight million lost people will call Georgia home by 2020. The army needed for that battle sits in the pews.
“We’ve got to engage those already in our pews to realize that their number-one job as a Christian is to shine the light of God in those circles where God has placed them,” Morris said.
Morris points to Jesus’ statement that, “the gates of hell will not prevail against it (His church).”
“The first picture of the church is of us gate crashing hell and taking back His souls,” Morris said.
New churches and a school
During the five years Morris has served as an area missionary, he has seen 25 churches and one school planted in the associations. The churches are mostly ethnic, ranging from Iranian to Vietnamese. There’s even a Cowboy Church in Pickens County.
“The whole world is in our backyard,” Morris said.
Pickens County also now has a one-room Christian school that serves eight grade levels for free. The students typically are ones who have been in trouble at school or with the law.
The county has a history of poverty, addiction, and abuse, and ranks 67 out of 159 Georgia counties for teen pregnancies, according to the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power and Potential.
“We stuck our finger in the eye of the devil when we did this,” Morris said of the school that his wife, Rebekah, runs.
After returning from service in Indonesia, Morris and his family settled into a culture not unlike what they experienced overseas.
“My culture has left,” Morris said of modern-day America. “I used to live in a Judeo-Christian culture; now it’s a Greek culture. They don’t know what sin is, or that God created them.”
GBC state missionary Frank Nuckolls consults with the state’s associations.
“Alan Morris is well-suited to serve as an area missionary because he brings a wealth of missions and pastoral experience to the associations where he serves,” Nuckolls said. “He has been a pastor as well as an international missionary in addition to planting churches.”
Area missionary role
The GBC created the role of area missionary around 1957 to service associations that could not afford to support a missionary. The GBC’s Cooperative Program and the churches’ area missionaries serve as partners to support them financially. Besides Woodstock, where Morris has an office, area missionaries serve in Fitzgerald, Cleveland, and Cornelia.
“We provide resources to allow our churches to engage in lostness and to be aware of the lostness [surrounding them],” Morris said.
He celebrates success stories including Oak Leaf Church in Canton that meets in an old theatre on East Marietta Street. Formed in 2010, Oak Leaf now runs up to 250 in worship. Sojourn Church in Woodstock is another new church plant that’s building strong marriages. Morris affirms the way these and other churches are engaging the community and making disciples.
“We can’t be satisfied with our discipleship parties,” Morris said. “We make groupies. We’re not told to make groupies, were told to make disciples.”