Georgia State-Newton County BCM reports 22 salvations in The Great Exchange

Students gather in December for The Great Exchange, led by the BCM at Georgia State University – Newton County campus. BCM Campus Minister Tony Gray reported approximately 40 Gospel conversations and 22 salvations thorugh that and a follow-up event supported by area churches and the Stone Mountain Baptist Association. TONY GRAY/Special


Campus minister says support from local churches, Baptist association, crucial in reaching students

NEWTON COUNTY – Strange things are happening on college campuses these days. Institutions once known as places where students rallied in support of free speech are now seemingly bent – led by those students – on doing anything to limit speech. Many of these establishments of higher learning are growing more antagonistic toward the very Gospel that they were chartered to advance.

For those commissioned to share that Gospel on today’s college campuses, the challenges are great. But one thing we can learn from Christian history is that challenges are often the fertilizer God uses to grow His kingdom. Regardless of what’s happening on a campus, there’s reason for hope.

Tony Gray, Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) campus minister at Georgia State University’s Newton County campus, became a Christian at a young age. He would develop a desire for missions, but the jungles of South America or large populations of the Middle East wouldn’t become Tony’s primary place of service. Instead, he has spent nearly 40 years ministering to students. The setting for much of those years would be one just as much in need of the gospel as those in South America and the Middle East – the American college campus.

Responding to the hunger

“Our campuses are becoming more and more diverse with population and lifestyles,” Gray explains. “But we have found a hunger within this generation of students that can’t be really helped without them coming to Christ.”

Identifying that hunger doesn’t come without effort on the part of Gray and other leaders. To do that he and his team meet with students weekly during the semester for meals together and to engage in intentional conversations about the gospel. They also lead in The Great Exchange, an on-campus event where active engagement takes place between BCM members and those curious about their faith.

Students at GSUN gather for a free meal provided by the Disaster Relief team at Stone Mountain Baptist Association. TONY GRAY/Special

All those steps coupled with an end-of-semester event brought a result that even the most pessimistic should see means college campuses aren’t beyond reach.

On Dec. 3, over 300 students received a meal through the support of Georgia Baptist Disaster Relief. Somewhere around 40 conversations about the gospel took place. On that chilly day, 22 people were saved by God’s grace.

A time to be proactive

This isn’t a numbers game for Gray, with BCM involvement of those salvations ending after the Sinner’s Prayer. Within 24 hours someone from his team contacts those new believers in Christ, gives them follow-up materials, and connects them to other believers “to help in the discipleship process,” Gray says.

Much of the hand-wringing over collegiate ministry has more to do with politics and sociology than theology. Looking from the outside, many would assume campuses are filled with whiners who are beyond redemption because they’re too busy looking for safe spaces.

Gray doesn’t share that perspective. Rather, he sees these students as image-bearers in need of grace. That’s evident, among other things, in his answer when asked about the worldview clash found on campus.

“The questions we are asked and the responses we receive can sometimes be very sad. But it is encouraging to see the response from students as they ask questions and respond,” he notes. “This is a great time for campus ministries and church college ministries to be proactive in sharing Christ and building bridges with the Gospel to college and university students!”

In other words, the college kid wanting to restrict Christian speech and thinking there are 37 genders should not be viewed as an enemy of the church, but rather a potential object of grace.

A team effort

Those students have questions best answered face-to-face over a meal rather than in angry subtweets or groanings of how much worse this generation is than the ones before it. Gray points out how, yes, sometimes those questions can be quite sad. But they aren’t nearly as sad as the ones left unanswered because older generations of Christians have given up on today’s students.

Reaching those students requires a lot of help, Gray testifies.

“The CM family there at GSUN would like to thank so many for their service! We have seen the evidence of believers working cooperatively together for the Kingdom!”

A ministry leader talks to students.
GSUN BCM members as well as area ministry leaders took part in having Gospel conversations with students. TONY GRAY/Special

For their help at this particular event Gray pointed out Clint Culpepper, associate pastor for Harvest Baptist Church in Covington who serves as head of the BCM Advisory Team for GSUN, as well as young adult pastors Jeff Riley (First Baptist Conyers) and Jeff Clegg (First Baptist Social Circle). The roles filled by Lyman Fisher, head of the Stone Mountain Baptist Association Disaster Relief team, and SMBA Associational Missions Strategist Larry Cheek were also crucial.

“It was truly a great day!” Gray shared in an email. “Please keep these new believers and all the students touched by the good news in your prayers in the days ahead as they are followed up in their decisions!

“To God be the Glory … great things He hath done!”

Jay Sanders
Jay Sanders

Jay Sanders is a writer and serves as pastor of Towaliga Baptist Church in Jackson. He can be reached at


8 Reasons Why Most Churches Don’t Break the 200 Attendance Mark

by Carey Nieuwhof


While social media, and even traditional media, are still preoccupied with megachurches and multisite churches, the reality is that most churches in North America are quite small. The Barna group pegs the average Protestant church size in America at 89 adults. Sixty percent of protestant churches have less than 100 adults in attendance. Only 2 percent have over 1,000 adults attending. Please understand, there’s nothing wrong with being a small church. I just know that almost every small church leader I speak to wants his or her church to  grow. I get that. That’s the mission of the church. Every single day, I want our church to become more effective in reaching one more person with the hope that’s in Christ. So, why is it that most churches never break the 200 attendance mark? It’s not: DesireMost leaders I know want their church to reach more people. A lack of prayerMany small church leaders are incredibly faithful in prayer. LoveSome of the people in smaller churches love people as authentically as anyone I know. Facility. Growth can start in the most unlikely places. Let’s just assume you have a solid mission, theology and heart to reach people. You know why most churches still don’t push past the 200 mark in attendance? You ready? They organize, behave, lead and manage like a small organization. Think about it. There’s a world of difference between how you organize a corner store and how you organize a larger supermarket. In a corner store, Mom and Pop run everything. Want to talk to the CEO? She’s stocking shelves. Want to see the director of marketing? He’s at the cash register. Mom and Pop do everything, and they organize their business to stay small. Which is fine if you’re Mom and Pop and don’t want to grow. But you can’t run a supermarket that way. You organize differently. You govern differently. There’s a produce manager and people who only stock shelves. There’s a floor manager, shift manager, general manager and so much more. So what’s the translation to church world? Here are eight reasons churches who want to grow end up staying small:

  1. The pastor is the primary caregiver.

Honestly, if you just push past this one issue, you will have made a ton of progress. When the pastor has to visit every sick person, do every wedding and funeral, and make regular house calls, he or she becomes incapable of doing other things. That model just doesn’t scale. If you’re good at it, you’ll grow the church to 200 people and then disappoint people when you can’t get to every event any more. Or you’ll just burn out. It creates false expectations and so many people get hurt in the process. Although it’s 20 years old, this is still the best book I know on the subject . The answer, by the way, is to teach people to care for each other in groups.

  1. The leaders lack a strategy. 

Many churches today are clear on mission and vision. What most lack is a widely shared and agreed upon strategy. Your vision and mission answers the why and what of your organization. Your strategy answers how. And how is critical. Spend time working through your strategy. Be clear on how you will accomplish your mission and don’t rest until the mission, vision and strategy reside in every single volunteer and leader.

  1. True leaders aren’t leading. 

In every church, there are people who hold the position of leadership and then there are people who are truly leaders (who may not hold any position in your church). Release people who hold titles but aren’t advancing the mission, and hand the job over to real leaders. Look for people who have a track record of handling responsibility in other areas of life and give them the job of leading the church into the future with you. If you actually have leaders leading, it will make a huge difference.

  1. Volunteers are unempowered.

Sure, small churches may not have the budget to hire other staff, but you have people. Once you have identified true leaders, and once you’re clear on your mission, vision and strategy, you need to release people to accomplish them. Try to do it all yourself and you will burn out, leave or simply be ineffective. Empower volunteers around an aligned strategy and you will likely begin to see progress.

  1. The governance team micromanages. 

If you need permission every time you need to buy paper towels or repaint an office, you have a governance issue. Most boards who micromanage do so because that’s where most people simply default. You need a board that guards the mission and vision and empowers the team to accomplish it and then gets out of the way. This post on governance from Jeff Brodie is gold.

  1. Too many meetings. 

I led a church with a grand total of 50 people in attendance. We had 16 elders. Overall, the church was in evening meetings two to three times a week. Why on earth would a church that small need to meet that often? I eventually repurposed most of those meetings to become meetings about vision and reorganization. We also cut the number of elders down. Now, although we have a much bigger church, I’m only out one or two nights a week (and then, mostly for small group). If you’re going to meet, meet on purpose for the future. Free up your time so you and your team can accomplish something significant.

  1. Too many events and programs that lead nowhere. 

Activity does not equal accomplishment. Just because you’re busy doesn’t mean you’re being effective. If you check into most small churches (remember, I was there … I’m not judging, just being honest), there are a lot of programs that accomplish little and lead nowhere. Stop them. Yes, people will be mad. Even have the courage to cut some good programs. Good is the enemy of great. Then go out and do a few great things.

  1. The pastor suffers from a desire to please everybody.

Many pastors I know are people-pleasers by nature. Go see a counselor. Get on your knees. Do whatever you need to do to get over the fear of disappointing people. Courageous leadership is like courageous parenting. Don’t do what your kids want you to do; do what you believe is best for them in the end. Eventually, many of them will thank you. And the rest? Honestly, they’ll probably go to another church that isn’t reaching many people either. I realize the diagnosis can sound a little harsh, but we have a pretty deep problem on our hands. And radical problems demand radical solutions. What have you seen that helps churches push past attendance barriers?


15 Signs Your Church Is in Trouble by Perry Noble

15 Signs Your Church Is in Trouble by Perry Noble
1. When excuses are made about the way things are instead of embracing a willingness to roll up the sleeves and fix the problem.
2. When the church becomes content with merely receiving people who come rather than actually going out and finding them … in other words, they lose their passion for evangelism!
3. The focus of the church is to build a great church (complete with the pastor’s picture … and his wife’s … on everything) and not the Kingdom of God.


2019 Associational Missions Strategist Report

Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. Phil 1:12 NIV
2019 Associational Missions Strategist Report  
I want you to join me as we seek to Advance the Gospel! The Apostle Paul, although, writing from prison and chains, continued to “advance the Gospel.” As we approach a new decade of ministry, may God use us as His instruments of grace to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the street to every neighborhood and people group in our geography and literally around the world. This report will describe out intentions and plans to advance the Gospel and accomplish the mission! On a personal note, I am grateful for the opportunity of serving as your Missions Strategist for the past 24 years. These have been the most rewarding days of my ministry! Our staff serves the greatest churches and leaders anywhere!
Where Are We as an Association of Churches?
Over 20 years ago we adopted a 2020 Vision:   “We see a day in 2020 when the Stone Mountain Baptist Association has 125 healthy reproducing churches.” While we haven’t achieved this goal yet, we have seen the Association of Churches grow from 39 to 98 congregations. However, in an effort to be a blessing to the larger evangelical body of believers in our geography, we have touched an additional 42 churches through the launch of our Network.  So, in essence we are touching the lives of 140 congregations!
WHY Are We Here as an Association of Churches? A group of our leaders attempted to address this question over the past year. Strategic meetings were conducted with key leaders and input has been sought from participants in our Roundtables. This all resulted in the recommendation that we adopt as our Mission Statement: “SMBAC strengthens churches to start churches and mobilize laity in partnership to ignite a spiritual awakening.”
WHAT Will We Do To Make this Statement a Reality? Several action words compose this statement: Strengthen Churches! Our Association will continue to provide the best we can offer in resources to our churches to strengthen them as they fulfill the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. We will continue to offer Roundtables for ministers to encourage one another and to share best practices and resources. If you aren’t attending a Roundtable, I encourage you to join one or help me start another one! We will also provide quality conferences from practioners in our Association of Churches as well as those from other areas. Start Churches! Biblically Churches start churches! Healthy organisms reproduce. We want to help your church grow and multiply. We have added Larry Black to our staff this past year as our Church Planting Strategist. He, along with Bill Johnson, our Multi Cultural and Community Strategist, are developing our church planting system. Along with the support of our New Work Foundation led by Dr. Bobby Gilstrap, Executive Director, we are the more resources available to new churches than any other Association in the State of Georgia.
HOW Will We Accomplish the Mission? By Mobilizing the Laity! It is imperative that the Pastors, staff and leaders in our churches, fulfill the Biblical job description of a leader to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry.” (Eph. 4:12) Our Association provides many opportunities to deploy On Mission Christians to the mission field. Here’s some great opportunities:
Stone Mountain Missions: Our Association is the sole provider of Christian ministry in the 3rd most visited Park in the country and the largest park in our State. People from all over the entire world visit this Park every year. Through the deployment of volunteers we share Christ at the Park festivals in the park (Yellow Daisy and Pumpkin Festivals) We also plan and present the Sunrise Service on Easter Sunday morning where thousands of people gather on the mountain to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. For years we have provided worship services in the campground. In 2020 we will be expanding this ministry by planting a Campground Church! You are encouraged to lead your church to participate! Contact Rick Kirkland at
Bold Mission Builders:  Currently we have over 500 volunteers in our database. Our Builders have served all over the southeast. This past year under the leadership of Joel and Bernice Brown, the team completed many projects including Peace Baptist’ expansion and a church roofing project in Thomson, Georgia. Plans are underway for 2020. If you are interested in joining our Bold Builders contact Joel Brown at
Disaster Relief:  Our Association has been involved in Disaster Relief since the early ‘90’s. We are the first responder feeding unit for Georgia. We own equipment capable of feeding over 15,000 meals a day. Training is required to be a volunteer and is offered annually by the Georgia Baptist Mission Board. To view the training schedule visit this site:
What will be Necessary for us to accomplish the Mission? Partnership Together: Our Association of Churches is like an extended family of churches filled with all kinds of people in large and small churches who worship and serve the one true God! The New Testament referred to believers as a body, a fellowship, a flock and as a family.   The primary term Paul used to refer to the church was “brother”. It is recorded 98 times in the New Testament! In Galatians 6:10 the Apostle Paul shared with the church at Galatia, “Therefore as we have opportunity, Iet us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Paul thanked the Church at Phillpi for their “partnership in the Gospel.” (Phil. 1: 5)   We are seeing glimpses of Churches “partnering together! “Here are a few examples:
  • Seven of our churches of similar size and location, led by Pastor Kendrick Meredith of Life Abundantly, and Dr. Richard Bumpers, of Park Place have led this group of churches to conduct a workshop together and a Men’s Rally. They have plans to help each other to evangelize each church’s community.
  • First Baptist Stone Mountain needed some assistance with maintenance and building repairs in preparation for hosting our Annual Meeting. Discover Point Church sent over 30 volunteers to help. The Baptist Collegiate Ministry of the Newton Campus also brought a group of students to help.
How can your church benefit in partnership with other churches? The opportunities are endless! Let’s talk about it!   Our Ultimate Goal….   To Ignite a Spiritual Awakening!   It has happened before in our area and I want you to join me in asking God to do it again! You can listen to a video about that awakening in the Sandtown community of Newton County in 1827 as told  by Claude King here: The Great Georgia Revival of 1827 began in prayer and impacted a region in the revival of God’s people that led to a spiritual awakening in communities across the state. Adiel Sherwood was pastor in Eatonton, GA where over 100 were converted. Revival struck a crowd of 4,000 at the annual meeting of the Okmulgee Baptist Association where Sherwood spoke. Others pastors, churches, and denominations became involved in preaching and sharing Christ. During the season of revival over 16,000 were added to Baptist churches. In Sandtown, GA every person of accountable age was saved, and they renamed their town Newborn, GA. Revival is the preparation of God’s people to be used in a Spiritual Awakening where large numbers or high percentages of people are converted to Jesus Christ and communities and cultures change for God’s glory. I am encouraging you to lead your church to embrace this mission statement and let’s join our hands and hearts together to see God ignite a spiritual awakening in our community once again!
Respectfully Submitted,
Dr. Larry Cheek
Associational Missions Strategist


Why Should I Attend the Associational Annual Meeting?

The 180th Annual Meeting of your Stone Mountain Baptist Association meets on Thursday, October 17th at the First Baptist Church of Stone Mountain. You and your church family are encouraged to attend.
You might be asking yourself, “Why should I attend?” Our Association of Churches is like an extended family of churches filled with all kinds of people in large and small churches who worship and serve the one true God!
The New Testament referred to believers as a body, a fellowship, a flock and as a family.  The primary term Paul used to refer to the church was “brother”. It is recorded 98 times in the New Testament!
  In Galatians 6:10 the Apostle Paul shared with the church at Galatia, “Therefore as we have opportunity, Iet us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Paul thanked the Church at Phillpi for their “partnership in the Gospel.”
(Phil. 1: 5)
So I encourage you to come to our “Family Reunion”! You will be blessed and equipped to
“Ignite Your Passion for Evangelism!”
Space is limited in our workshops, so I encourage you to pre-register at our website:


Ignite Your Passion for Evangelism!?

Ignite Your Passion for Evangelism!
That’s the theme for this year’s Annual Missions Celebration, Thursday, October 17th at the FBC of Stone Mountain. My prayer is that God will truly “ignite” your, 
-Passion for Jesus!
-Church’s desire to blanket your church community with Good News!
Why do we need for our souls to be “set on fire”? 
Over 200 people move to the
20 county Atlanta area
-80% of our churches are in
Baptisms reported by our
churches are down 28% in the
last 5 years.
Attendance is down 6% in the
last 5 years.
This meeting will provide you with practical tools to reverse this decline. Participants will have the opportunity to hear two inspiring preachers and participate in two practical workshops.
CLICK HERE for a list and to register! Space is limited! Pre-register today! You don’t want to miss this incredible event!


Where is Your Focus?

Where is your focus in life? In your church? For several months now we have been talking about this matter as an Association of churches. We have determined that this statement encapsulates our focus: “Stone Mountain Baptist Association of Churches starts and strengthens churches in  partnership to ignite a spiritual awakening.” There are several key components to this statement:
  • We are partners: We are better together as churches work in partnership to fulfill the Great Commission starting in our Jerusalem.
  • We are an Association of Churches: We aren’t a separate entity. We exist because of the church and our focus is to serve you.
  • We start churches: When churches partner together then we can send others out to unreached people groups and underserved communities of lostness.
  • We strengthen churches: As we partner together, we strengthen one another and we continue to build the Body of Christ
  • Our outcome is Spiritual Awakening: An awakening takes place when God sovereignly pours out his Spirit and it impacts a culture.
I am continuing to share this statement and unpack its meaning so we can gain understanding and your feedback. Please send me your thoughts!


Would You Treat Me as a Visitor or Guest?

 On Jul 21, 2019 10:32 pm Walking down the sidewalk of a non-specific city, I noticed a woman about a half block ahead of me. She raised up from rummaging through a trash can on the sidewalk. Her appearance was not like everyone else on the sidewalks that day. Her hair dirty and oily, her clothing tattered, wrinkled and unclean, everything about her appearance was alien to her surroundings. The reception of the people around her? To ignore, avoid, and avert getting close to her.

Sitting in a restaurant enjoying lunch while on a road trip, I noticed a homeless man, dressed much like the woman in the earlier scenario, enter the restaurant. He walked straight up to the counter, said something (that I could not hear) to the young man preparing sandwiches. In less than a minute the man was handed a wrapped sandwich from behind the counter. He nodded and I believe said thanks and exited the restaurant with his head down. It turns out the restaurant has a policy of feeding the homeless one sandwich a day, if they come in orderly without troubling the customers inside or outside the restaurant.   The main difference in these two scenarios is one is expected, the other is considered a nuisance. We often go out of our way to avoid those not like us, men and women that we do not expect to interact with or meet. The woman on the sidewalk just happened to show up as we were walking that way. We were not expecting her and did not desire to spend time with her. The restaurant on the other hand expected and prepared for the homeless. The difference is one is a visitor, one is a guest.   Let’s turn this to the church (or other organization). In your church do you have visitors or guests? There is a difference. The difference is how you treat them. A guest is someone you are expecting. You prepare for them and you want them to stay. A visitor is someone who shows up unexpectedly and you hope they do not stay.   A personal example: Let’s say you invite me to your home for a meal. Before I arrive, you spend time cleaning, cooking and preparing for me. You are expecting me to be your guest. You anticipate my arrival and expect me to stay a while.   On the other hand, if you do not invite me, yet I show up on your doorstep one evening and announce, “I’m here for supper.” You are not expecting me. You are likely hoping that I am joking and not planning to stay. In this scenario, I am a visitor.   In your church are newcomers treated as guests or visitors? Are you genuinely planning for their arrival and want them to stay even if they do not look, dress, smell, or talk like you? What can you do to make every newcomer feel like a welcomed guest?   George Yates is an Organizational Health Strategist and coach, assisting churches, organizations, and individuals in pursuing God’s purpose for life. Learn more by visiting   Your Association of Churches is equipped to help you with training for Greeters and Ushers, call us today!


Holy Land Trip

Cathy and I would like to invite you to join us as we visit the Holy Land! I will be leading a 10-Day Tour to Israel beginning November 1-10, 2020.
This is a trip that will impact your life, result in a new spiritual awakening and awareness, and leave you with memories like no other excursion you have ever experienced. We will be visiting exciting sites such as the Mt. of Beatitudes, Old City Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Masada and the Dead Sea, along with many other wonderful locations.
Sail in a boat on the Sea of Galilee where Jesus and his disciples traveled, visit the tomb where Lazarus came forth, explore the tunnels under the Temple Mount, visit the pool of Siloam where Christ healed the blind man, walk on the Mt. of Olives and in The Garden of Gethsemane, and so much more!
For additional information or questions, you may contact me anytime at 770-289-3489 mobile or via email at We look forward to you joining us on this incredible trip of a lifetime.
To view the itinerary, for our tour


Cheeks’ Challenge-July 2019 Newsletter

Henry Blackaby author of the bestselling book, Experiencing God, stated, “Find out what God is doing and join him!”
Just the other day I was at breakfast with a group of Newton County Pastors. A discussion ensued about a strategy to reach a new community. Many ideas were discussed such as block parties, door to door, etc.
Chad Caldwell, Pastor at Journey church stated, “We have left something out, prayer!” He then began to tell us that God had impressed upon him to call his church to prayer and suspend Bible study prior to the morning worship service each week. They have been doing this for several weeks and they are asking God to do what only He can do in their lives and the church.
Talk about a God sighting!
God is at work everyday and I am already hearing reports of raindrops of his blessings to our churches even as we are in the middle of strategic planning for our Association of Churches.
I have been sharing the outcome of our process which is, “Stone Mountain Baptist Association of Churches starts and strengthens churches to ignite spiritual awakening.”
Join me in praying that God will ignite spiritual awakening among our churches!