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Church plant tips off with basketball

 

Connect Church

Identical twins Jaylen and Jasen McGee, foreground, compete against one another in Upward Basketball Action as Solomon Andrews applies pressure. Connect Church Atlanta sponsors the league.

DECATUR — When Tez Andrews was leading a thriving youth ministry in Dallas, TX, people there told him he was crazy to return to Atlanta, his hometown. He had a secure staff position in a 1,000-member church. In his early 30s, Andrews was able to provide comfortably for his wife, Gala, and their four boys. But he felt compelled to leave that position.

“The Lord had given me a passion to come back to Atlanta,” Andrews said of his desire to plant a church in Georgia.

The son of a construction worker, Andrews grew up in Atlanta’s West End. He made a profession of faith at age 16, and by 17 Andrews knew that the Lord was leading him into vocational ministry. He studied Internet technology at Chattahoochee Tech in Marietta and soon began establishing himself in that field, where he still works bivocationally today.

 

Just crazy enough

When Andrews and his wife realized it was time for theological education, he gave up a corporate management job to move his family to Texas. That step of faith prepared them for the return to Atlanta.

The North American Mission Board (NAMB) was launching its Send North America emphasis to ramp up church planting, primarily in metropolitan areas. That initiative provided a base of support to get started. Then through the Georgia Baptist Convention, Andrews did demographic surveys. The results were stunning.

“There are literally millions of people among whom the rate of lostness is 9 out of 10,” Andrews said of his findings.

Then he did a survey of 300 people in southeast Atlanta near South Dekalb Mall, where he felt God was calling him to plant a church. Only five out of 300 could explain God’s plan for salvation.

Andrews’ vision is to strengthen the south Dekalb community by preaching Christ.

“Churches are not built by strategy,” Andrews said. “They are built by the power of God. There is a huge element of lostness here. A lot of religion, but not a lot of relationships with God.”

Bruce Newborn/First Baptist Eagle's Landing

At its Fall Festival held at South Dekalb Mall, new church plant Connect Church Atlanta issued an altar call and received several young men who made professions of faith.

Andrews further describes the church plant community where he now serves as “in the urban grit” area with lower incomes and education levels. The families are mostly blue collar, but within a stone’s throw of upper middle-class African Americans, and each has a desperate need for stability, he added.

“Eight of ten children are being raised in single-parent families,” Andrews said of families where the dad is typically absent. “Crime in our community is seven to 10 times higher than other parts of Atlanta. STDs are seven times higher in our community.

“Because we planted this church here, we know the problem is not an education issue, not an economics issue, the problem is people need the Gospel. I’m just crazy enough to believe those issues will change.”

 

Catching the pulse

Andrews’ surveys also identified something else that became a connection for Connect Church Atlanta, the name of the church plant. Sports, particularly basketball, is important to the community. By renting a local gym and hosting an Upward Basketball league, Connect Church not only formed the nucleus to launch, but also attracted many men.

Connect Church

Laura Davis leads her Upward Basketball cheerleading squad into the gymnasium for a game sponsored by Connect Church Atlanta.

“Sports is that unifying thing that transcends politics and economics,” Andrews said. “My dad was a construction guy. Today with adults, it’s not about learning a trade, it’s about sports.

“Because we’ve caught the pulse of our community, we are using that to preach Christ,” Andrews continued. “That’s what really brought men in.”

His goal is to raise an army of men.

“People would say now that our church is predominantly men,” Andrews said.

Connect Church’s children’s minister is an amateur boxer, and the men of Connect Church often attend his matches.

“Men are seeking a place for men to be men,” Andrews said. When he hosted a recent men’s fellowship at his house, 40 guys attended.

 

From ground zero up

While a gymnasium created the community connection, a theatre is providing Connect Church’s worship venue. Anecdotally, the community refers to Connect Church as the church at the movies.

Now that Connect Church is up and running, people may forget that Andrews started alone.

“When we moved here, it was just Gala and the four boys,” Andrews said of the church, which launched on Easter 2012 and has had as many as 160 attendees. “We started at ground zero building relationships and developing leaders.”

Today, a number of lay leaders have emerged. Connect Church is also participating in NAMB’s church planter apprenticeship program whereby future church planters receive mentoring before starting yet another new church. That commitment makes Connect Church a sending church.

Atlanta Metro and Stone Mountain Baptist associations have provided prayer, financial, and volunteer support as have partnerships fostered by NAMB missionary Jim Haskell, who coordinates Send North America in Atlanta. Much of the Connect Church support comes through the Cooperative Program, which Andrews said he’s wholeheartedly committed to perpetuating.

Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming.