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More churches fostering fellowship tucked in storefronts and strip malls
Larry Gee, left, and Reverend Ken Martin at the Atlanta Highway storefront location of Heritage Fellowship. - photo by Tom Reed

Heritage Fellowship Church
203 Atlanta Highway, Suite A, Gainesville. 678-776-2220.
Services 10:30 a.m. Sunday; 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Living Stone

The large glass windows that wrap around the corner space of a brick shopping center housing Heritage Fellowship Church lets anyone that drives down Atlanta Highway see services in full swing.

"When you’re a small congregation and you are in a huge building, everybody seems to be spread out ... fortunately when you are in a building this size you are together," said the Rev. Ken Martin of Heritage Fellowship Church.

Heritage Fellowship Church, formerly Emmanuel Baptist Church, has been an established congregation in the Gainesville community and has sat on Atlanta Highway for more than 50 years.

But just like anything else, times change and the church has changed as well. The church decided about a year ago to sell its large church building to Heart Outreach Ministries and move next door to a space it already owned to prepare for a possible move to the Tanner’s Mill area of Hall County.

"We didn’t think we should go out and spend money renting a place when we could just move over here," said Martin.

He added that the changes have helped the congregation move into the future with a focus on a spiritual relationship with God.

"It’s like an old storefront church," he said. "For a congregation the size of ours, it really helps create an atmosphere of intimacy as far as fellowship. I think it does create a sense of fellowship."

The atmosphere also becomes casual, as well, and for deacon and longtime member Larry Gee that is just fine.

"Our motto is ‘come as you are,’" Gee said.

Added Martin, "Our people are like me — they are all blue-collar workers. We don’t want them to feel like they have to dress a certain way."

Storefront churches dot nearby counties as well as Gainesville. The Rev. Mark McClain of Living Stone Community Church just over the White County line said the storefront church is a more welcoming space.

"It definitely is not as intimidating. That’s probably one of the biggest fears that you are taking away is that you are not walking into a church building," said McClain, whose church has been at the storefront for about a year. "To go to a church a lot of times you go to a property that’s just a church ... here you’ve got other stores and other things around it. There is something about it that it takes away that fear of the person who’s not accustomed to going to church."

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