Published June 12, 2014
ATLANTA — When Matt Dye drives his commercial shaved-ice truck through Midtown, Buckhead, Piedmont Park, and Georgia Tech, he meets thousands of people in the community where he now lives. The mobile business also connects him with other business owners who show respect for his entrepreneurship.
But when they learn he’s also a pastor, the dynamic changes.
“As a pastor, I’m not trusted by the community,” Dye said.
That mistrust doesn’t stem from anything that Dye has done, it’s because of what he is.
Dye is a bivocational church planter who chose this community to plant M28 Church, based upon Matthew 28. He brought his family, including four children, from a comfortable rural pastorate in Kentucky. The multicultural neighborhoods that M28 Church seeks to serve are packed with many affluent people who just don’t care about church. To many, the Bible is archaic, and they’ve moved beyond its tenets.
When Dye first sensed a call to urban church planting, he wasn’t interested in Atlanta. Figuring that it was the Bible belt, he looked elsewhere. But during a visit hosted by Jim Haskell, who now serves as the city coordinator for the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Send Atlanta initiative, Dye’s heart changed as he prayed over a map of the nation’s major metropolitan areas.
The strategy document Haskell presented to Dye for Midtown and Buckhead struck a chord.
“It was like I had written it myself,” Dye said. “I was stunned by what I found inside the [I-285] perimeter.”
In 1965, Georgia Baptists counted 166 churches inside the perimeter. Today, there are 36. Of those, 25 average less than 100 in attendance, according to Haskell.
“Ninety-two percent of people living inside the perimeter are totally disengaged from any church involvement and rarely think about church,” Haskell said.
“We have spent the last 50 years offering programs to get people to drive back to churches they grew up in,” he added. “During that time we ignored the people who moved into the neighborhoods around our facilities.
“Now people are not driving back in, and our neighbors see us as disinterested. They see us as irrelevant.”
That irrelevancy is so prevalent that Dye has met one 35-year-resident who couldn’t even point him to a church.
Dye doesn’t encounter hostility, just indifference. He often hears people say, “I don’t go to church, and I don’t know anyone who does.”
M28 volunteers recently surveyed people in the community to ask what they were looking for in a church. While a few mentioned they were looking for good teaching, most were looking for a place to serve in the community and to engage in social justice issues.
The diversity of Midtown also met a special need for Dye’s family. Besides a biological son and daughter, Dye and his wife, Teresa, have adopted two children from Ethiopia.
While Midtown matches that family need, it presents scores of ministry challenges with its multiple high rises and other multi-housing complexes. Traditionally, research indicates that less than 10% of people living in those settings attend church or profess faith in Christ. To reach multi-housing dwellers, the church must go to them.
Into the DNA
Dye hopes to incorporate that strategy through M28 Church. With average attendance between 35-40 people, he’s beginning to challenge attendees to be missional in multi-housing complexes. The goal would be to start multiple home Bible studies that gather monthly for a celebration service.
“We are doing ministry in a very difficult place,” Dye said. Real estate is very expensive, and the demographic isn’t interested in church. Finding committed people within that context is also challenging.
Dye knows that planting M28 Church will be slow. He is grateful for the Cooperative Program (CP) funding from NAMB and the GBC, plus NAMB’s Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. During the early days of M28, Dye has been intentional to build missions giving into the church’s DNA.
“I came from a 160-year-old church whose CP giving grew from 11% to 16% (during his pastorate),” Dye said. “The more I understood what the money was supporting and walked with missionaries locally and around the world, I was for it.”
Though small and struggling, M28 Church gives a percentage of its undesignated receipts to CP, plus 1% to the church planting fund at the GBC. They have also supported the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.
“That is one of the ways I love about being in the [Southern Baptist] convention,” Dye said. “We have churches partnering with us.”
Jim Burton is a photojournalist living in Cumming.
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