News Articles

Multifaceted Greenforest shares principles, methods

DECATUR, Ga. (BP)–Lots of people have asked the pastor and members of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., “How did you do it?”
The Greenforest phenomenon, growing from a membership of 25 to 4,500 active members, has aroused the curiosity of many, including Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church, New Orleans, and former second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Hearing about Greenforest is different from seeing the real thing,” said Luter, also a trustee of the Sunday School Board who attended a Greenforest Web Association and Ministry Fest in July. “I had no idea that this ministry is so massive — not only the church grounds but the apartment complex, credit union, houses, Christian academy and its many other ministries. Coming from a city like New Orleans, this type of ministry is unheard of.”
Dennis Mitchell, executive pastor at Greenforest, oversees the day-to-day operations of the church and takes care of several of its major ministry projects, including the Greenforest Web Association and Greenforest Ministry Fest, soon to be known as the Atlanta Ministry Fest.
The Web Association concept is borrowed from the Willow Creek Association sponsored by the Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago, Mitchell explained. “The idea is to serve as a catalyst to bring churches together for the purpose of networking. We want to lift up various models for ministry in different contexts.”
The Ministry Fest is designed for equipping, resourcing and exposing churches. “In the SBC we have access to resources that many others, especially urban and African American churches, do not,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we forget that.”
Mitchell, who calls himself the church’s “official flincher” (he winces, then questions exorbitant charges or bills), said Greenforest has been successful in its Community Economic Development Corporation (CEDC), which searches for opportunities to infuse dollars into the African American community. The ministries of the CEDC include transforming a 160-unit apartment complex into a condominium community and arranging financing to help some residents become homeowners for the first time.
Other CEDC ministries include a child-development center and an office complex with 45 tenants. As part of its CEDC, Greenforest also initiated the first nondenominational Federal Credit Union which began with six African American churches.
Greenforest was featured by the Sunday School Board in a National Teaching Church Seminar, July 13-17, 1997, at the church.
“We want to use what God has blessed us with to mentor pastors who are just getting started,” Mitchell said. “We want to link deacons and church volunteers with other churches that don’t have the expertise to begin such ministry programs.”
Luter said Greenforest is at “the forefront of what many SBC churches, of any race, are doing.”
He observed that McCalep has succeeded in pastor/staff relationships where many African American pastors have failed.
“Lone-ranger mentality and insecurity can cause a pastor to be intimidated. That’s an old plantation mentality that we’ve got to get beyond. If God has put you in a position, nobody but God can get you out of that position.”
Luter, who was invited to preach a revival at Greenforest during the week of the Web Association Ministry Fest, said he learned more than he taught.
“One of the ways I think the enemy has defeated Christians is that he isolates so many of us.” Luter said. “If the Greenforest Web Association can take off nationwide, statewide, citywide, as churches, we can do a lot more in healing the wounds of our families, our communities and our cities.”
The Greenforest story “is phenomenal.” Luter continued. “If other African American leaders see what Greenforest is doing, they will ask, ‘A black church is doing all of this?’ But you’ve got to pay your dues. This ministry did not happen overnight. It is possible for other churches to do what Greenforest is doing.”

    About the Author

  • Olivia M. Cloud