Published March 7, 2013
Buford — During the early days of Rolling Hills Baptist Church, evidence abounded of God’s hand in the formation of this north suburban Atlanta church plant. Church planting apprentice Dennis Culbreth had come to this area with support from the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association, the Georgia Baptist Convention, and the former Home Mission Board.
As the founding pastor, Culbreth and three families from the former Atkinson Road Baptist Church began ministering in 1986. God honored their efforts. An independent church with an elderly congregation gave them a building. Their founding members included internationally known author and speaker Henry Blackaby and longtime Home Mission Board employee J.B. Graham. Attendance grew to more than 300 with one of Gwinnett County’s largest youth groups.
Then the bottom fell out. After 12 years, Culbreth left to start another church in Virginia. Many members left until Rolling Hills was just a remnant of its former days with about 25 regular attendees. After building a large church facility, Rolling Hills sold their property to a Romanian congregation and now rents space back from them.
Neal Hughes, the current interim pastor, admits that when he joined Rolling Hills in 2011 he thought he was entering a hospice situation. Longtime member Jerry Ulrey paints a similar picture.
“The spirit was very, very low,” he recalled.
Hughes went to Rolling Hills with the assumption that he just needed to help them organize to close down. But that soon changed when, “I saw a little spark in them.”
That spark ignited a fire when Hughes challenged the struggling church to give 50 cents on the dollar out the door to missions.
“That began to heal the congregation, and they started getting proud again that they were doing something good,” Hughes said.
Coupled with a strategy to reach the residents within two miles of their location, Rolling Hills regularly engages in evangelism and outreach activities. The church has seen professions of faith and new members.
More recently, the church hosted an Awakening Weekend, one of four weekends in the Church Renewal Journey sponsored by NAMB.
“They needed encouragement,” said Bob Foy, a NAMB-appointed missionary serving as the national Church Renewal director. “They needed to come together. I think the weekend was perfect for them.
“They aren’t dying out. It’s just a starting over point,” he added.
During the time that Rolling Hills’ membership declined, some former members left in the midst of broken relationships.
In a sermon more than a year ago, Hughes challenged each church member to write down something from the church’s past that was wrong but the church never made corrections. Every member pointed to two particular incidences. The following Sunday, the church voted 100 percent to write letters of apology. Plus, they invited the former members back for a public apology.
“Talk about healing,” Hughes declared. “It was amazing what took place. Tears were shed, and lives that were ruined were restored.
“Evangelism and reconciliation brought about that fresh wind and fresh fire of the church,” he added.
Meanwhile, the discussion has changed at Rolling Hills away from whether or not to close toward moving forward boldly. The church demonstrates that boldness in their missions giving.
Rolling Hills now gives 10 percent through the Cooperative Program, 10 percent to the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association (GMBA), 6 percent to Project Hope (Helping Neighbors (others) Prepare for Eternity), 6 percent to the Gwinnett Pregnancy Crisis Center, 6 percent to support a Georgia church plant – Hope Church, in Madison – and 6 percent to support another church plant, Essential Church in Seattle, WA. Further, Rolling Hills has a prayer ministry and mobilization plan to support missionaries in Mozambique. Rolling Hills has a solid Acts 1:8 strategy funded by approximately $35,000 annually.
“We are kingdom investors,” Hughes said.
And this kingdom generosity is bringing new life to Rolling Hills.
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming and the bivocational pastor of Suwanee International Fellowship in Suwanee. For more information about the Church Renewal Journey, visit www.churchrenewaljourney.net.
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