In the last 20 years, attendance at American houses of worship has dropped 20 percent, according to Gallup. Last year, the percentage of Americans reporting church or synagogue membership reached an all-time low of 50 percent.
So, why would anyone want to start another church?
That’s what I asked a group of Dunwoodians who five months ago started a Bible study in a private home that is now preparing for its official launch as an independent church in a 70-year-old stone chapel in Sandy Springs. Miracle? You decide.
It all started last March when a popular worship leader left his position at a prominent Dunwoody church. Doug Allen had followers, but no job prospects.
“It was blind faith,” said Allen. “I walked away from my only job not knowing what was next, but my wife and I knew He would provide.”
He joined a small group that started meeting in a private home in Misty Creek, in the Sandy Springs panhandle. The group soon became a nondenominational “house church” with guest preachers.
Meanwhile, Stephen Streett, a popular former Dunwoody church youth minister who had moved to Dalton to head another church, had left that church to become a hospital chaplain. Ironically, Streett and Allen had both served at the same Dunwoody church, though at different times, and had never met.
“One of the people in our home church suggested I meet Stephen. We met at the Dunwoody Starbuck’s. It seemed like a divine appointment,” said Allen.
The next Sunday, Streett drove down from Dalton as guest preacher.
“Not knowing it would become a church, I came down every Sunday,” said Streett. “After five weeks, they decided to become a church and asked me to become the pastor. Everything happened very fast.”
He was made official in June.
“We didn’t have much to offer and were asking him to move his family from Dalton,” said Allen. “The fact that he would uproot his family for this little home church didn’t make logical sense.”
Despite the lack of logic, things moved quickly. As word spread that the two popular Dunwoody church leaders were involved, the home church grew.
“The music and preaching are a big part,” said founding member Ragan Defreese. “But it’s also the genuineness of the people.”
By late spring, the group had grown to more than 40 and needed a real church building. Once again, things that didn’t make sense somehow came together.
Over in Sandy Springs sat the little stone chapel of the First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs. Built between 1938 and 1949, the chapel had gone through many iterations. Now rented to Orbit Arts Academy during the week, it sat sadly unused on Sundays.
Luckily, Defreese knew a member of First Baptist who told him about it. But would First Baptist be willing to rent it to a “competing” church? Once again, the unexpected happened.
“We’d been praying for a church to occupy that building,” said David Shivers, First Baptist senior pastor.
The deal was struck. The new church, now called Misty Creek Community Church, would become the resident at the old stone chapel.
“It’s a story of God pulling strings to bring us together,” said Shivers.
Though not officially launched, the new church has been meeting in the stone chapel since July and has been growing steadily, with an average weekly attendance of 90. Non-denominational, Biblically based and conservative, it invites people to come as they are, meet after service under a tent on the front lawn for refreshments and fellowship, and join small home groups to explore every week’s message.
The church will launch officially with a meet-and-greet on Sept. 15. On Oct. 6, the two churches – Misty Creek Community Church and First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs – will have a joint service featuring bluegrass music and a free barbecue.
“We’re bringing in one of the best bluegrass fiddle players I’ve ever heard,” said Allen, now official worship leader of the new church.
Services at Misty Creek Community Church are Sundays at 10:30 am at 590 Mt. Vernon Highway NE. The joint service on Oct. 6 will be across the street at First Baptist Church of Sandy Springs at 10:30 am at 650 Mt. Vernon Highway NE.
For more information, go to facebook.com/mistycreekchurch.