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As South Hall has grown, so has the number of churches

POSTED: January 24, 2010 11:30 p.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

12Stone Church campus pastor Jason Berry preaches during the Sunday morning worship service Jan 17.

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They might be tucked away in office parks or lack the traditional look and feel residents are familiar with, but churches have been springing up in South Hall during the past few years.

For Jason Berry, campus pastor at 12Stone Church off Martin Road, the reason for the explosion is simple.

“Come on, there’s a lot of people (in South Hall),” he said. “It’s not rocket science ... it’s just, ‘Wow, there are people here who need Jesus, so let’s go and get ’em.”

12Stone Church, based in Lawrenceville, opened the Flowery Branch church last year, taking over space vacated by a previous Baptist church and sitting across the road from another Baptist church.

“As we began to look (for other campuses), we saw Flowery Branch as a very strategic area, along the (Interstate) 985 corridor,” Berry said.

“We had about 250 people coming to our church from that area, so we had a core group to launch with. And they were fired up about getting involved in the Flowery Branch area and having a church in their backyard.”

Alan Foster, pastor of East Lanier Community Church, has been at 4907 Golden Parkway in Buford for eight years but is considering a move to a more permanent location.

“My family and I moved up here from Suwanee about 10 years ago and just saw all the growth,” he said. “There was a Publix (grocery store) here and that was about it.”

Commercial development has sprang up all over Friendship Road, particularly between Atlanta Highway and I-985. Foster also noted the commercial boom off Spout Springs Road between I-985 and Hog Mountain Road.

Farther from the interstate, subdivisions have sprung up throughout South Hall, although that growth has stalled because of the economic downturn the past couple of years.

“That’s why we’re here, as a church,” Foster said. “We see the south part of the county basically catching the spillover growth from Gwinnett County.

“The recent recession notwithstanding, I think that (as the economy begins to rebound), Atlanta will continue to sprawl out this direction.”

A place to call its own would not only give East Lanier more visibility but the chance to offer more amenities, such as a ball field, or “things we could use to do community ministry,” Foster said.

Brian Rhodes, pastor of Lakeland Baptist Church, is in a similar situation — and location — as Foster’s church.

A neighbor on Golden Parkway in Buford, Lakeland has been at its location since March 2008 and has a three-year lease on the property, he said.

The church began in March 2006 with 17 members, operating initially out of a home and a member’s basement, and has about 100 members now.

“We’re trying to decide whether we’re going to renew the lease or look for land or somewhere else to move to,” Rhodes said. “I don’t know what we’re going to do yet.”

Church startups “are good for a number of reason,” he said.

“Each church has its own personality and offers different opportunities,” Rhodes said. “... There is no competition between churches being started and planted.

“The end result and the end goal, in my mind, would be to advance the cause of Christ and see people come to know the Lord — that’s our primary motivation.”

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints opened a new church last year off Cash Road, about a couple of miles from Hog Mountain Road.

Growth helped drive the effort to build the new church.

“A study was done and it was determined, based on where the membership lived and where members were moving to, that this would be an ideal location of the next building,” said George Wangemann, a Gainesville Ward member who helped prepare for the church opening.

Prince of Peace Catholic Church moved to Flowery Branch in 2005 after outgrowing space in Buford, where it had been for 30 years.

“We are very blessed to be here in Flowery Branch,” according to the church’s Web site. “We continue to grow in numbers and in opportunities for ministry.”



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