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North Georgia membership grows by nearly 4,000 in ’04

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Bishop G. Lindsey Davis
July 12, 2005

By Alice M. Smith*

ATLANTA (UMNS)—North Georgia United Methodists charted a net gain of 3,971 members in 2004, for a total conference membership of 337,635.

While the gain is not as large as in the past several years, it continues North Georgia’s record of growth over the past two decades. 

“Frankly, I was disappointed,” said North Georgia Bishop Lindsey Davis. “We’ve been above 5,000 several years in a row, and we got close to 7,000 one year. I think we are capable of doing much better. I continue to believe this conference, if we are really serious about our evangelistic outreach, should be growing by 10,000-plus every year.  I yearn for that kind of effectiveness from our conference.”

Davis pointed out that North Georgia likely will lead the denomination in membership growth again, but to assume any smugness in that regard “is indeed disastrous.”

“We’re not really in competition with other annual conferences,” he said. “We’re in competition with evil and loneliness and despair, so I’m not at all satisfied with where we are. I know we can do far better than that.”

Eleven of the conference’s 12 districts posted an increase, led by Atlanta-Marietta with 1,595. Both Atlanta-Marietta (40,913) and Atlanta-Roswell (41,781) have overall memberships exceeding 40,000. Atlanta-Roswell’s increase last year was 588.

Other district increases were in Gainesville, 617; Athens-Elberton 609; Atlanta-College Park, 423; Atlanta-Emory, 380; Rome-Carrollton, 261; Northwest, 113; Augusta, 93; LaGrange, 60; and Griffin, 16. Atlanta-Decatur-Oxford recorded a loss of 784.

The 10 churches with the largest memberships in the conference were Ben Hill, Atlanta, 10,050; Mt. Bethel, Marietta, 7,638; Roswell, 7,370; Cascade, Atlanta, 6,964; Mt. Pisgah, Alpharetta, 6,798; Peachtree Road, Atlanta, 6,466; Snellville, 4,395; Dunwoody, 3,802; Northside, Atlanta, 3,614; and Marietta First, 3,593.

While these large churches are known for their evangelism records, other churches not as much in the limelight have “consistently over the last few years done extraordinary work with the leadership of current pastors,” Davis said.

One is Cumming First United Methodist Church, where the Rev. John Cromartie is pastor; it has added 180 to 200 members each year for the last six years. While Cromartie described the growth as “fairly modest,” the 2,300-member church remains in the top 15—maybe around the top 10—fastest-growing churches in the conference, he said.

The fact the church is located in a growing area helps, but another contributing aspect is that Cumming “has done some careful work that adds some clarity about who we are and what we’re becoming,” Cromartie said.

While most new churches in Forsyth County—United Methodist and otherwise—are choosing to offer a more contemporary service, Cumming decided its niche is maintaining a more traditional worship style. “We try to do that well, and young and old are attracted to us,” Cromartie said. 

Instead of trying to expand rapidly, the church has emphasized “moderate growth and assimilating people” into the congregation, Cromartie said. “We’re passionate about our role in helping a new generation understand the Christian story. If it’s not taught, we lose contact with it. We’re only one generation away from losing the Christian faith unless it’s passed on.” 

The church has a large Disciple Bible study program, and each pastor is expected to teach at least two Bible studies each year.

The church’s intentionality of living into its vision is working.  New members include people who are reaffirming their faith after drifting away from the church, as well as new Christians who have never been baptized.

Another steadily growing church is the 2,800-member Athens First United Methodist Church. Though located in a small county, it has added about 600 members under the leadership of the Rev. Bill Britt, who became the pastor eight years ago.

Like Cumming church, Athens First has found that most of its members prefer more traditional worship, and its beautiful sanctuary is attractive to people looking for “mystery, holiness and awe (as they) gather for worship in God’s presence,” Britt said.

Still, the church offers a casual worship service—one of four services each Sunday—in the rented Morton Theater. That service attracts about 200, but about 1,000 will attend the other three.

Also like Cumming, Athens First offers a number of nurture and outreach ministries and has undergone a huge building program, which includes a new $5 million structure and a $4 million renovation of the existing building. The church recently bought an office building across the street for small group studies and other ministries.

While Cumming and Athens First have primarily Anglo memberships, an African-American church that is charting success is 137-year-old St. James United Methodist Church in Alpharetta.

The Rev. Marvin Moss said that when he was appointed to St. James in 1999, “it was packed the first day and has been packed ever since.” The church had grown from about 185 members in 1999 to almost 1,350 at the end of last year.

Soon after Moss’ arrival, the congregation vacated its existing building, and for two years worshipped in rented facilities—first a school and then an office park. 

Last Sept. 11, St. James moved into its new, 23,000-square-foot, multipurpose building on 15 newly purchased acres. While the congregation hasn’t completed its first year in the new building, “we’re actually making plans to start phase two,” Moss said.

The church has primarily grown by “word of mouth,” he said.  “When anyone comes to St. James, they will experience in the people a true love of Christ, a sense of family and a spirit of excellence.  They come back and bring folk with them.”

*Smith is editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper of the North and South Georgia annual conferences.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or

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