SUWANEE, Ga. — Georgia Baptist churches gave nearly $36 million last year to support state, national and international missions through the Cooperative Program, a Southern Baptist initiative that’s been described as the greatest evangelistic initiative of the modern church age. David Melber, chief operating officer for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, said financial contributions from the state’s 3,400 churches exceeded budget projections by some $2.5 million in 2023.

SUWANEE, Ga. — Churches are seen as playing an important role in helping people deal with the epidemic of loneliness that is sweeping through modern America but not as key players on other pressing issues. That’s according to a researchers at the Barna Group, an organization that monitors cultural and religious trends.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Thousands of pro-life advocates rallied under falling snow on Friday at the annual March for Life, as speakers urged the impassioned crowd to capitalize on the movement's major victory in the Supreme Court and keep fighting until abortion is eliminated. They packed the National Mall carrying signs with messages such as “Life is precious" and “I am the pro-life generation.” After listening to speeches, the crowd, braving frigid temperatures, marched past the U.S. Capitol and Supreme Court. One group was beating a drum and chanting: “Everyone you know was once an embryo."

COLUMBUS, Ga. — Columbus Roberts’ life was a rags to riches story of a struggling sharecropper who overcame long odds to become a wealthy businessman and one of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s most influential laymen. Born in 1870, Roberts was the oldest of 11 children born to a hardscrabble family shortly after the Civil War. He dropped out of school when he was 10 to labor in the cottonfields. From this humble start, with only a fourth-grade education, Roberts would amass a great fortune, be elected Georgia’s agriculture commissioner, make a strong bid for governor, and later serve as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention.

LIBURN, Ga. — Pastor Samuel Aleman, an architect who inspired a long line of other Spanish-speaking professionals to become ministers, has retired after more than three decades leading Atlanta’s oldest and largest Hispanic Southern Baptist congregation. “He opened the door to many Hispanics to say, ‘I have a career, and I can serve the Lord,’” said Javier Chavez, a Gainesville pastor and university professor.

SUWANEE, Ga. — Jenni Carter, a beloved children’s ministry leader who has served as the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s statewide kids ministry consultant for more than 10 years, has announced her retirement, effective Feb. 29. And in an interesting twist, one of Carter’s longtime colleagues in children’s ministry, Krista Staton of Tifton, will replace her. “I’m leaving them in very capable hands,” Carter said of Staton, the children’s ministries director at Northside Baptist Church in Tifton.

ATLANTA — If one ponders the successes achieved by Mark Price as a collegiate and professional basketball player, you might suspect that he would gloat or revel in those accomplishments. On the contrary, Jeremiah 9: 24 seems to characterize this former Georgia Tech and Cleveland Cavalier point guard - “Let him who boasts, boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.”

CONYERS, Ga. — The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has pulled together a strong lineup of preachers for a pair of evangelism conferences that will be held in Conyers and Tifton in February and March. Keynote speakers from Georgia and beyond will be on the main platforms while a litany of others will lead smaller breakout sessions on a broad range of evangelism strategies.

LILBURN, GA – Johnny Mercer, the songwriter went to church and heard a sermon that contained the words, “You got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.”  The phase inspired Mercer to write the lyrics to the song Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive in 1944.

WAYNESBORO, Ga. — Botsford Baptist Church endured the difficult years of the American Revolution, ministered through yellow fever outbreaks, and survived on little through the Great Depression. Now 250 years old, Botsford Baptist is one of Georgia’s oldest churches, continuing to proclaim the gospel just as it did when Baptist preacher Edmund Botsford and a small group of hardscrabble pioneers built a log meeting house near here some three years before American colonists declared their independence from England.

ATLANTA — Supporters of legal sports gambling in Georgia renewed their push Tuesday, but it's unclear whether they're any closer to assembling a winning coalition after they went bust last year. The Georgia Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious group with some 1.4 million members, continues to oppose the proposal, saying sports betting would be more detrimental than beneficial to the state’s residents because it produces “increases in human misery.”

SUWANEE, Ga. — Christians who routinely share their faith are finding a willingness among people to engage in conversations about spiritual matters, including salvation. That’s according to one of the latest articles from Barna Research Group, an organization that monitors cultural and religious trends in America. “Part of the reason may be that the U.S. is culturally Christian,” Barna wrote, citing past surveys. “In fact, 72 percent of people in the U.S. say they were raised Christian.” Barna said Christians aren’t being met with strong resistance when they converse with others about the Bible, because a significant number of non-Christians tend to reverence scripture.

COVINGTON, Ga. — Georgia Pastor David Wheeler’s love for old cars is turning him into a YouTube celebrity. Nearly six million people have tuned in to watch Wheeler and his family restore rusted clunkers on their YouTube program Revstoration. “We take old, forgotten, abandoned things left for dead and bring them back to life,” said Wheeler, who is typically on screen in worn jeans, boots and greasy T-shirts, trying to get long-abandoned cars and trucks back on the road.

HARTSELLE, Ala. — Southern Baptist evangelist Junior Hill is being remembered as a powerful gospel preacher and a selfless follower of Christ who preached in churches throughout the Bible Belt and beyond for nearly 70 years. Hill died Wednesday at his home in Hartselle, Ala. He was 87.

DULUTH, Ga. — The Georgia Baptist Mission Board has sold a five-story office building and adjacent property in Duluth to a hotel developer for $23.5 million, bringing an end to a years-long search for a buyer. “We are grateful to the Lord and to all those who worked so hard to make this happen,” said Mission Board Executive Director W. Thomas Hammond Jr. “The proceeds from the sale of this property will be used to expand the kingdom and continue to grow Georgia Baptist missions and ministries.”

STATESBORO, Ga. — An electronic timer on display at First Baptist Church in Statesboro showed the alarming rate at which people around the world are dying without the hope of salvation. The number climbed as seconds ticked by. Within 10 minutes, the count had reached 325 people. Each successive 10 minutes added that many more. And in the next 24 hours, according to the International Mission Board, the total would climb to 157,000. Pastor John Waters used the display during his sermon on Dec. 10 to highlight the urgency of the work of missionaries serving in countries around the world. Since then, he has seen an outpouring of financial support to get the gospel to the nations.

STATESBORO, Ga. — Tom Kollars walked into a Starbucks coffee shop in Statesboro not long ago, chatting with people as they waited for their cups of java. By the time the 64-year-old college professor left a short time later, he had led five strangers to Christ. Pastor Mike Dann of Botsford Baptist Church saw it all unfold and was amazed by the ease with which Kollars was able to successfully engage people in lifechanging conversations about the gospel. “He’s the most incredible soulwinner I’ve ever met,” Dann said.

CLARKSTON, Ga. — A 12-member team of Mississippi Baptists have visited Clarkston, an Atlanta suburb that has become home to refugees from around the world. Once a largely white community, Clarkston is now home to people speaking some 100 different languages, and many of them can be heard in the multi-ethnic and multi-generational Clarkston International Bible Church.

VALDOSTA, Ga. — More than 350 Georgia students made commitments to Christ at the Wild Adventures amusement park in Valdosta on Thursday and Friday, providing a spiritual grand finale to a year that will be remembered for large numbers of salvation decisions. More than 2,500 people attended the Georgia Baptist Mission Board’s annual MOVE Conference, a two-day evangelistic outreach for middle and high school students at a venue billed as 170 acres of rides, slides and exotic animals.

PEMBROKE, Ga. — First Baptist Church of Pembroke is a midsized congregation in a small town, but, thanks to a massive Hyundai automotive plant under construction, it could quickly become a large church in a bustling industrial suburb. Pastor Tommy Smith and his congregation are preparing for a population explosion. Pembroke is poised to grow by thousands almost overnight. Local governments have already begun expanding infrastructure to accommodate additional residents. School districts are planning building expansions. And, if churches are to minister effectively to the newcomers, they need to be prepared as well.

BAXLEY, Ga. —Signs of spiritual renewal swept across Georgia in 2023, producing thousands of new believers in the Bible Belt state. Church leaders reported a widespread “spiritual hunger in communities large and small” that they said generated a huge spike in numbers of commitments to Christ. Evidence of that was on full display in Baxley in October when some 10,000 people attended a four-night evangelistic crusade in the local football stadium. Some 1,600 of them responded to the gospel.

Georgia Baptists were busy people over the past year. Here's a sampling of photos of them in action, as seen in The Christian Index during 2023.

SNELLVILLE, Ga. — Fayetteville pastor Josh Saefkow will serve a second one-year term as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, the state’s largest religious group with some 1.4 million members. That’s one of a long series of significant stories reported in The Christian Index during 2023.

NEWNAN, Ga. — Christians crowded into churches across Georgia on Christmas Eve where they heard words of hope in a world that’s rife with turmoil. Doug McCart, pastor of Unity Baptist Church in Newnan, preached to a congregation that has survived a series of tornadoes in recent years. “We can’t save ourselves,” said McCart, who sheltered with his wife inside the church last year while a tornado ripped it to pieces around him. “We need a savior.”

Churches across Georgia have been celebrating the Christmas season with candlelight services, Nativity scenes, and theatrical productions, all geared toward heralding the birth of Christ. Here are photos churches have posted to Facebook in recent days.

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