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Pastor Kenny Rice spreads seeds for new churches, but hopes Life Connection will be his final stop

POSTED: February 25, 2012 1:30 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Pastor Kenny Rice established Life Connection Baptist Church in Flowery Branch at the beginning of the year. Since moving to Georgia, Rice has started two other churches - Set Free Biker Tabernacle in Dahlonega and the Good Samaritan Baptist Church in Gainesville.

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Based on the seeds he has sown across the country, Pastor Kenny Rice is in for a mighty harvest.

In the last 20 years, Rice has planted nine churches between here and the Pacific Northwest.

His wandering spirit isn’t because of a lack of commitment. In fact, it’s because of his total commitment to being faithful to Christ that he’s become a gypsy of sorts.

"I found a church in 1985 called Set Free Church (in California) that would accept people like me. People who had prison records. People who had drug and violent backgrounds," said Rice, pastor of Life Connection Baptist Church in Flowery Branch.

"They they didn’t hold it against me. My life totally changed when I found someone to love me despite my background. I was ordained and licensed in 1992."

After that life-altering encounter, Rice set out on a mission to change "hopeless dope fiends into dopeless hope fiends."

He started with six churches on the West Coast, then he received a request to relocate his mission to the East Coast.

"My goal is to be obedient to the Lord in everything I do, but I had no idea I would be moving to Georgia. That’s just the way God wanted to deal with me," Rice said.

"The Southern Baptist Convention wanted to start a biker church in North Georgia, but they didn’t have pastors that came out of the background I came out of, so they contacted me.

"I accepted and (my family) came to Georgia and started Set Free Biker Tabernacle in Dahlonega."

That was in 2005. It was a challenging time to say the least.

"That first year we saw no growth," Rice said.

"Although the Southern Baptist Convention wanted a biker church, God didn’t. He wanted a church for everybody, so we changed the name to Set Free Church and it really began to thrive.

"People say you don’t wanna put God in a box. That could never happen, but we can get in a box and limit our effectiveness.

"We tore the box down and God has been doing amazing things since then."

When it comes to church, Rice believes in thinking all the way outside of the box. Set Free started out as two abandoned chicken houses.

"Other people saw falling down chicken houses, but when I looked at them, I saw them as fixable," Rice said.

"We went in and started cleaning them out and fixing them up. Me and my boy worked on them everyday for five years. The transformation is amazing. It just takes vision.

"It’s the same with people. A person’s life can be devastated, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. It’s not about judging the outward appearance, but looking at the potential."

In August 2010, it was time for Rice to relocate his vision to Gainesville. Here, he began Good Samaritan Baptist Church. Without an official "home," the congregation moved around a bit until it found a temporary residence at the Chattahoochee Baptist Church Association on McEver Road.

When Rice moves on to a new church, he doesn’t leave like a thief in the night. Instead, he stays put until opportunity matches leadership capabilities.

After starting Good Samaritan in October 2010, Rice brought in Ed Worth as associate pastor. When it was time to leave Gainesville at the end of last year, he "passed the baton to (Worth)."

"He really is a great guy and loves God with all of his heart," Rice said.

"(Worth) had really blossomed and it would have been foolish to not have him leading a church."

With Worth leading Good Samaritan, Rice set his sights on starting another church.

"It worked out really well," Rice said.

"(Life Connection) was a church that was floundering for many years, their congregation dwindled to just a few people. They were gonna close the church, so the (Chattahoochee) association contacted me and we all met."

After that meeting, the original church decided to vote Rice in as its new pastor. He moved his Life Connection congregation in and held the first official service on New Year’s Day at its new home at 5801 Black Jack Road in Flowery Branch.

"We’re just starting out, but we’re growing faster than my previous churches did," Rice said. "I don’t know why that is, though."

It may be the rapid growth is a sign Rice’s ministry was just what the community needed.

"Everyone is welcome here. I just want to love on the unlovable. Homeless people, bikers, everybody," Rice said.

"A lot of the people who are attracted to me, a lot of them don’t have jobs. A lot of them are impoverished. Because of that, our tithes base is real low. We don’t have a lot of money, but God dropped this property on us that’s completely paid off. We just pay the light bill and the water bill and do ministry."

That ministry includes free movie nights on Saturdays and an "open mic jam session" on Fridays.

"We say the jam session is from 7 to 10 p.m., but if somebody wants to go longer, that’s fine by me," Rice said.

"We use the music from a lot of old rock ’n’ roll and Motown songs and change the words. That really attracts people who knew the song, but they don’t know the new words.

"That’s what attracted me in 1985. It was like a rock ’n’ roll concert. I was drawn in by the music, but that gave (the church) an opportunity to love on me. I’ve been (in the church) ever since."

On Sundays, the church has 9 a.m. Bible study and a 10:30 a.m. worship service, but there’s also an unconventional bonus.

"We barbecue every Sunday," Rice said. "That’s really my favorite time of the week. When we’re sitting around laughing, talking and eating, there’s a lot of ministry going on at that point.

"At a lot of churches, folks jump in their cars to leave as soon as the service is over, but that’s our fellowship time."

Although he has the know-how to jump-start another church, Rice is hoping that God sees fit to make this one his last.

"If you would’ve told me what was going to happen during those years at the beginning, I probably would’ve run off to Mexico or something," Rice said with a laugh. "It’s been a wild ride.

"My plan is to always settle down wherever I’m put, but if God wants me to move, then I move."

 



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