Clayton ministers say county primed for spiritual re-birth

Clayton County ministers from left, Daunta Long, William Hill, Alfred T. Lands and David Arnold are part of a network of ministers and churches interested in spiritually impacting Clayton County.

Clayton County ministers from left, Daunta Long, William Hill, Alfred T. Lands and David Arnold are part of a network of ministers and churches interested in spiritually impacting Clayton County.

JONESBORO – A group of area pastors converged on Calvary Baptist Church in Jonesboro Monday to discuss the current spiritual climate of Clayton County, and to do something about it.

The Rev. Bernard Miller, leader of the Southwest Atlanta Baptist Association called a meeting of pastors, ministers and other church leaders to address a thorn in the side of Clayton County’s Christian community — Spiritual lostness.

“As an association, we want to plant 118 new, healthy churches by 2018,” Miller said. “With a specific emphasis on church planting in Clayton County.”

The strategy, dubbed by Miller as the “118 by 2018” strategy is part of the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board’s larger plan – called SEND Atlanta – to plant 667 new churches in the 18-county metro Atlanta area over the next 10 years.

It is an ambitious goal, but one that the Rev. Alfred T. Lands, founder and pastor of Family Life Missionary Baptist Church in Forest Park, believes is one that should get the community’s full support.

“The first thing the church has to do in this area, since we’re talking about Clayton County, is own up to the fact that it is the lead institution, period,” Lands said. “We have to own up to the responsibility of meeting the needs of the county, starting spiritually and building from there.”

Lands, whose 17-year old ministry has operated in the area for its entire existence, said he’s seen a lot of changes in Clayton demographically. The county, once predominantly white, began to experience a culture shift around the time that Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympic Games.

Currently, according to NAMB demographic data, 56 percent of the county is African American, 15 percent Hispanic, 15 percent White and five percent of Asian descent while another 11 percent is categorized as “other.”

Eighteen percent of the 260,170 county residents speak a first language other than English.

That creates not only a mixture of ethnicities and cultures but a variation of needs and ministerial challenges. Especially when combining that with the fact that half of the county’s homes are either being rented or unoccupied. It can sometimes create a tough climate for viable ministry.

The well documented school accreditation issues and awkward race for sheriff have all created perfect conditions for Clayton County to carry a bad stigma.

But Pastor Daunta Long of Essence Church believes that it’s about time for that stigma to change.

“I think the future here looks very promising,” said Long whose church is planning to officially launch at Jonesboro’s Calloway Elementary School later this year.

“I think you’re starting to see the political climate stabilizing a bit, schools are rebounding and starting to see a little new growth in terms of home purchasing again. I think these are steps in the progressive work to rebuild a solid path for the community.”

And Miller said it is a part of his vision for SABA to be right in the middle of the county’s rebirth. Of the 667 dots on the SEND Atlanta church planting map that represent prospective congregations, only three represent new works in the Clayton County area.

Miller said that he doesn’t believe the county was overlooked. But he wants to make sure that it isn’t either.

“We want to look at the possibility of planting 10 strategic new churches in this area,” he said. “Those can be anything from traditional site churches, to house churches or churches that meet in apartment complexes and other non-traditional places.”

The venue isn’t as important, Long said, as the mission of seeing lives impacted by Jesus Christ’s message of love and salvation.

“It’s our goal to really impact the community with all aspects of community involvement. Primarily developing healthy relationships with schools, functional needs of the community and always maintaining a Christ-like presence of spirituality in what some see as a declining moral community,” Long said.

Some fear that such an aggressive effort to build new congregations may cause other established churches to feel threatened. But with close to 80 percent of the county staying home on Sundays, rather than worshiping with a church family, Lands said there is no room for competition.

There are enough souls to go around.

“I think we churches that already exist need to really embrace new churches being planted to the point where we can help them get their legs and start them walking or running faster,” he said. “Established churches know the needs of the community. Hopefully they will join forces with the new congregations so that needs can be met on a larger and greater scale.”