LILBURN, Ga. (BP) -- Locals say the once-cozy country town of Lilburn, Ga., began to attract immigrants and experience "white flight" after the 1996 Olympics.
Photo courtesy of First Baptist Church
The majority of Lilburn's First Baptist Church members -- despite being faced with a drastically changing community and the decision of other local churches to relocate -- chose to stand firm where God had planted them in 1840.
By the time Ken Hall was called as pastor in 2003, the congregation had determined its God-given responsibility for reaching whomever God brought to their community northeast of Atlanta's I-285 beltway.
Many congregations, one church
First Baptist Church has become a microcosm of the multicultural SBC, with 15 distinct congregations, three of which worship in English. Together, the various congregations reported 1,091 in Sunday morning worship, 94 baptisms and a bit more than 10 percent of undesignated receipts given through Southern Baptists' Cooperative Program in the SBC's 2012 Annual Church Profile.
Through the church's ethnic congregations, it is able to reach the world God has sent to its town. Between 1990 and 2010, Lilburn's Anglo population declined from 95.2 percent in 1990 to 69.1 percent in 2000, to only 52.7 percent in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Today First Lilburn's congregations include Hispanic and Asian Indian, both with services in the "heart language" (for first- and second-generation immigrants) and English (to reach the younger generations). Other ethnic congregations are Korean, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, Vietnamese, Hmong, Haitian, Ethiopian, Bhutanese, Arabic and Persian (Farsi-speaking) as well as English.
"I'm from this area so I knew the changes," Hall said. "Gwinnett County was a white, middle- to upper-middle-class area. The world came to Atlanta for the Olympics, liked what they saw, and came back. Now Lilburn has a larger majority of ethnics than Caucasians.... We just began to pray and God began to systematically open doors to reach different groups."
Initially, Lilburn tried to become a truly international congregation.
"It totally flopped," Hall said. "We were quite puzzled about that because we felt it was a great need. But we came to realize every group wants to worship in their own heart language and culture.
"If we were going to reach them, we would have to focus on language-specific groups," the pastor said. "When we first began the process, we were focusing on first- and second-generation, so we needed someone who could speak the language. For that reason, we decided to not start a congregation if we don't have [language-specific] leadership for it." Read More