Against a backdrop of a world in darkness and turmoil, 28 churches in the Atlanta, Georgia, area united with the Georgia-Cumberland Conference and Southern Union to cast light and hope into their communities.
Atlanta is more than the home to the world’s busiest airport, one of the largest aquariums, and the host city of the 1996 Olympics. The greater Atlanta area is also the largest city in the Georgia- Cumberland Conference, according to Neil Reid, D.Min., Georgia-Cumberland central region ministerial director.
“Atlanta is the heart of our Conference,” said Reid.
In October 2022, Richie Halversen, Southern Union church growth and revitalization director, began conversations with Neil Reid; Victor Maddox, Georgia-Cumberland vice president for pastoral ministries and evangelism; and Richard Piñero, D.Min., Georgia-Cumberland Southern Region ministerial director, about hosting a city-wide evangelistic series. They were excited by the idea, especially as a city-wide evangelistic series had not taken place in some time. Weekly virtual planning meetings followed as the team worked out logistics, including where the series would be hosted.
After much thought, the Atlanta Belvedere Church in Decatur, Georgia, was selected as the main campus for the series. The church was chosen partially due to its location and its streaming production capabilities. The members, including Samuel Bulgin, D.Min., senior pastor, and Donnieval Walker, D.Min., associate pastor, helped plan the main evangelistic series. “We were overjoyed — more than delighted to host this meeting,” said Walker.
With a main campus church selected, on February 25, 2023, the series was launched. Halversen delivered a sermon casting a vision for the series. He preached on the newness of God and being an ambassador for Christ, and encouraged the members to participate in the upcoming evangelistic series activities.
Leading up to the city-wide meetings were monthly training sessions held at different churches in the Atlanta area. Practitioners were brought in to speak on various topics to help encourage and train the members on practical ways to reach their communities.
Pete Maldonado, former associate pastor for the Conyers, Georgia, Church, believes the preparation work was one of the most important parts of the series, stating it helped lay the groundwork for the series’ success. “The preparation is a key point,” stressed Maldonado.
Over time, Halversen observed changing training needs for evangelistic series, and adjusted his budget for greater success. “Before COVID, I would spend 60% of my evangelism budget on advertising, and maybe 40% on equipping the members. Now it’s flipped. In fact, it’s 70% on equipping the members, 30% on the advertising,” explained Halversen.
In late August, many churches came together for a special collaborative effort in Piedmont Park, a park located about one mile from downtown Atlanta. The event, Atlanta Family Fun Fest, featured activities for everyone, with free massages, cooking demonstrations, food samples, games, prizes, and more.
The Fayette Church in Fayetteville, Georgia, was among the participating churches. Christopher Harvey, Fayette Church senior pastor, said the church was heavily involved in the Atlanta Family Fun Fest because the members wanted to “be able to develop a stronger bond and connection with our community.”
Reid reported a strong turnout with more than 1,000 church members and guests participating in the fest.
In September, the Harmony Church in Austell, Georgia, virtually hosted “Unchained,” where Halversen shared his story of addiction, hope, and healing. Harvey said many people could relate to the “Unchained” series as most members know someone or are themselves addicted to something.
As a result of “Unchained” and the other initiatives leading up to the main evangelistic series, some people were eager to be baptized.
“We couldn’t wait for the [main evangelistic] series to start, so I had to baptize a good chunk of saints …. One month before the series started, we baptized 12 people,” said Harvey.
With the groundwork laid, it was finally time for the main evangelistic series, “Darkness Will Not Overcome,” to begin. In-person meetings took place at the Atlanta Belvedere Church, and the message was streamed to the other participating churches.
Every night, the meetings featured praise and worship from different local churches, special music, prizes, and a presentation by Halversen. Some congregations customized the streaming in their churches by providing their own praise music and prizes, but still tuned in to hear Halversen’s messages.
Both in-person and off-site attendees said Halversen’s relevant message and presentation style were captivating.
“I enjoyed how dynamic his preaching style was. And, I enjoyed how he was so willing to share his life experiences with us,” said Irisene Douce, Atlanta Belvedere Church member and Southern Tidings managing editor.
Halversen said the series is presented in a way that is practical and gives hope to everyone, and works in an urban setting. “We touched on all the doctrines, but we do it in a very relevant way that meets people where they are,” explained Halversen.
Maldonado, who helped at a satellite location, affirmed Halversen’s messages were powerful. “I thought the [messages] were very relevant to a lot of what people are going through. Personally, I enjoy them. Each message was phenomenal,” said Maldonado.
Impact and Outcomes
As a direct result of the “Darkness Will Not Overcome” series, thousands viewed Halversen’s messages online, 167 Bible study interests have been recorded to date, and 60 people have been baptized.
For some pastors, the success of the series extends beyond numbers; they are also thankful for what was learned and accomplished along the way. Harvey, in particular, saw the series as a success because of the collaboration which took place from the numerous area churches and various ethnic backgrounds.
“I believe the program was a success on the basis that we were united around this evangelistic series,” said Harvey.
Halversen believes God blessed the series in a tremendous way. He said he is not only thankful for the baptisms and Bible study interests, but also is encouraged by the reports he’s heard from several churches about membership involvement.
“What I’ve heard from the pastors is that revival is breaking out. Members that have not been to church since COVID [and] members who haven’t been to church in years — [I’ve heard] that they were a part of this series,” shared Halversen.
Reid said he feels the series was successful and hopes the Georgia-Cumberland Conference and Southern Union continue to invest in city evangelism. Reid said he hopes this series shows that evangelism is not dead, that it is still relevant in the Church today, and that it is the main responsibility of the Church.
Any church interested in having Halversen come should contact their local conference’s ministerial director, or email Halversen directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Southern Union | December 2023