Prattville's East Memorial experiences growth, considered one of state's 'healthy' churchescomment (0)
July 29, 2004
By Sarah E. Pavlik
Church attendance nationwide may be the lowest it has ever been, but Alabama Baptists refuse to be counted in that statistic. The Barna Group is reporting low church attendance as a trend across the nation.
In Alabama, however, baptisms have remained steady, with 22,315 recorded in 2003. Membership at Alabama’s Southern Baptist churches reached more than 1.1 million and gifts to the Cooperative Program rose past the 40 million mark in 2003.
The overall atmosphere in the state is that most of Alabama’s churches are healthy and growing, according to the office of leadership/church growth at the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM).
So what’s the secret? The following feature is the first of five articles that will take a closer look at individual churches and what they’re doing to stay healthy.
East Memorial Baptist Church, Prattville, is nestled in a quiet suburb just outside Montgomery. Led by senior pastor Glenn Graham, the 23-year-old church has grown by leaps and bounds throughout the last decade.
It has increased by 1,200 members since 1994 when Graham became pastor. Graham chalks the growth up to two things — a diverse needs-based ministry and a burgeoning area.
East Memorial, one of the larger churches in the Montgomery sprawl, takes its ministry cues from a diverse constituency.
“We have a little bit of everything,” said Graham. “Some of our members live in big beautiful homes, others in trailers.”
So their worship service, a combination of contemporary, southern gospel and traditional hymns, resonates with all the members. Graham describes their worship as celebratory. “It speaks to everyone,” he said.
Simple in its ministry approach, East Memorial doesn’t rely on the latest trend to reach the lost or disciple its own.
“In everything we do — Sunday School classes, Awana, adult and children’s choirs and women’s ministries — our purpose is to reach the lost and disciple the saved,” he said.
“If that’s not taking place, then we’re not doing what we should be doing.”
Although East Memorial relies heavily on the more traditional elements of ministry, they are not afraid to venture out when a need arises.
Last year Graham said God led the church to build a house for a struggling single mother. “This mother (Tambi) was raising two teenage sons in a 60-year-old trailer that couldn’t be repaired,” said Graham. “She was disabled because of back problems and couldn’t work anymore.”
Church members combined their talents to build her a modest home on property she already owned.
Area businesses donated supplies and other churches contributed to the project, which took a little more than four months to complete.
“There are no ‘have tos’ at our church,” Graham said. “You just get on the field and get a feel for where God is leading.”
Six years ago, Graham said God led them to start a Sportsman Camp — a day full of hunting and angling seminars, sportsmen-related vendors and a hearty end-of-the-day meal.
“There are a lot of outdoorsmen in southern Alabama who wouldn’t normally come to church,” said Graham. “So we came up with the camp. They can come and get all sort of valuable information by professionals, and then at dinner, we share the gospel.”
This year, more than 900 people from across Alabama attended the camp. Thirty-five made professions of faith.
Through numerous ministry efforts in 2003, East Memorial added 305 members to the roll and baptized 76.
Members also began a K–10th grade school. One hundred and twenty students turned into 160 by the end of the year. This year’s enrollment is already at 220.
This year the church will move from its congested neighborhood plot to 184 acres located behind the Cracker Barrel just north of the city off Interstate 65.
Wider spaces, Graham hopes, will mean more room to grow.
“East Memorial is a church that ministers effectively,” said Edwin Jenkins, director of the SBOM’s office of leadership/church growth. “They are reaching people with a bold mission.
“Numbers are the byproduct of a healthy church,” he added. “East Memorial is an example of one of those churches that is growing numerically because it is healthy.”