Published March 7, 2013
LITHONIA — First Baptist Church of Lithonia was founded in 1848 in a small log schoolhouse about 15 miles east of the city of Atlanta. For the next 116 years the church was a centerpiece of the city, but in 1965 the church made a decision to move to a location just about a mile south of town – a location better suited for the growing congregation.
The city of Lithonia purchased the downtown property, which enabled them to develop Main Street, very much as it exists today. The church’s new site, encompassing a seven-acre tract of land adjacent to I-20, has become the launching pad for Christian outreach and benevolence in the city.
On Feb. 17 the church celebrated 165 years of ministry in Lithonia. More than 325 people gathered for the celebration and Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Director J. Robert White was the preacher for the grand occasion.
However, this article is not so much about the recent anniversary as it is about a church being revitalized. Howard Greer, who was on the staff at FBC Conyers from 2001-2009 and pastor for five of those years, became the Lithonia church’s transitional pastor in October of 2010, but in February of 2012 the church decided that they wanted him on a more permanent basis and so dropped the adjective “transitional” and made him the pastor.
Greer stated, “We are in the process of revitalization. For years the church had only baptized two or three people annually, but in 2011 we baptized ten and last year we baptized 17.
“Our people have become incredibly responsive and engaged. Our offerings have increased substantially. In fact, our church administrator, Linda McCullough, has been expressing delight in being able to pay all our bills in a timely manner.
“Furthermore, our people are beginning to reach out to others. Our mission statement is: ‘First Baptist exists to reach the greater Lithonia area and the world for Jesus Christ.’”
Maxwell Medley is an incredible example of the Lithonia church rolling out the welcome mat into the community. Medley lives in a shed made up of scrap pieces of lumber and old carpet. His small 9-by-4 shelter has no electricity or running water. At 47 years of age and with faltering health, he refers to himself as a panhandler.
Medley showed up one Wednesday when the church was providing food for those in need, but he was reluctant to enter the building. The pastor went out into the parking lot where Medley was standing and invited him into the church building.
In his own persuasive way, Greer put his arm around Medley and stated, “My life has not always been upright and in my younger years I was rebellious and wayward, but God’s grace found a way into my life and I was changed by His redeeming love. We are glad
When Sunday morning came Medley showed up for the worship service. Greer asked him if the church could pray for him. Medley said, “Yes sir.”
At the end of the worship service the pastor called Medley to the front of the church and said, “I want you to meet my new friend, Maxwell; and I want us to pray for him.”
Greer called the men of the church to come to the front of the worship center, surround Medley, and pray for him. After the service Greer and his wife, Betty, invited the visitor to go with them to lunch. A lieutenant from the sheriff’s department who was a very strong believer also joined them for lunch at Captain D’s.
The next Sunday that same lieutenant was scheduled to give his testimony in Betty’s Sunday School class, so Betty invited Medley to come to her class to hear his life story.
Medley showed up for Sunday School and listened to the testimony of the officer from the sheriff’s department. At the conclusion of the worship service that morning Medley walked down the aisle and said to the pastor, “I want what that lieutenant’s got.”
Medley was saved that morning and baptized two weeks later. Greer added, “And he has only missed one Sunday since he came the first time. I believe his salvation is for real, but that is just one example of what God is doing in the church.”
Greer continued, “The North American Mission Board sent us 50 Bibles for distribution. We ordered another 150 Bibles from NAMB, because we want to be able to give them to people who are hurting.
“Many people will not read the Bible, but they will not likely refuse to accept a Bible as a gift. It is also true that everyone is eventually going to have a crisis and when they do they may well resort to their Bible and hopefully also turn to the church that distributed them.
“We are also planning three block parties this year. These events will be scattered all across the area. Additionally, we will have a fall festival here at the church. Sheldon Landy, who was saved while in prison, will be working with us on some of these special events. He is extremely well versed in the Bible and knows how to organize these special outreach projects.
“Linda Johnson, former GBC employee who is on our staff, teaches our Sunday afternoon and Wednesday afternoon Bible studies for children. She also provides leadership in our effort to supply backpacks to young students. We gave out 60 fully-supplied backpacks to needy children when school started last fall.”
Greer, at 68 years of age, is as excited over his pastorate as a kid with a new toy and praying that God will give him a 10-year vision for leading the church forward. He said, “I want us to be able to transition into a church that will meet the needs of this changing community for years to come. This Gospel lighthouse must forever shine for Christ.”
Greer, who spurns the idea of retirement for God’s servants, says he has simply redirected his ministry. He is leading the charge in rolling out the welcome mat for those who live in the Lithonia area.
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