Sharing the Gospel in Atlanta: Embracing the Challenge of a Free-Spirited City

By Samantha Arp

“Now all the Athenians…spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new. Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said, ‘People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious…Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it— he is Lord of Heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands” (Acts 17:21-24).

The city of Atlanta is a modern-day Mars Hill, a free-for-all pursuit of hedonism—full of entertainment, food, drinks, smoke, sex—any pleasure human beings can engage in.

There is a vague sense of spirituality and “religion,” but none resembling the true gospel. At every turn, people resist any outside forces that could hinder their full liberty to live exactly how they want.

While sharing the gospel here, I couldn’t help but think of Paul in Acts 17 when he addressed the philosophers of his day: “in every way very religious,” worshipping and sacrificing to manufactured idols and “spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” (Acts 17:21-22).

When I told people that I would be spending my summer sharing the gospel in Atlanta, many had the same reaction, had questioning looks and an attitude of “You can try, but I’m afraid they’re not going to listen.”

Atlanta’s similarities to the city of Athens in Acts 17 don’t end there. The city is also similar in its free exchange of ideas, especially on the Beltline, a walking and biking path that runs through Atlanta.

Groups of people constantly approach strangers to start discussions about belief systems, businesses and politics—mainly willing to engage in dialogue about similarities and differences—which creates a prime location to share the gospel.

While on the Beltline, I met a woman named Hannah*— a musician in Atlanta. When I heard one of her songs, I felt it was about religion and asked her about the experience that led to writing it. As I engaged in that conversation, I heard the story of her upbringing with and ultimately rejecting Christianity because of the neglect and abuse she experienced in the Church.

Heartbroken for the mistreatment she endured, I told her that although she endured mistreatment by those claiming to belong to Christ, Jesus is different from the broken sinners that represent Him.

Pleading with her to return to Christ, to the One who loves her all the same and is waiting and able to welcome her back gracefully, I offered her the chance to return to Jesus. Although that conversation did not end with her intention to repent, I trust His sovereignty over her heart.

The intense worldly culture of Atlanta deters many from approaching it with the hope of the gospel, and understandably so; there is almost no consistent moral structure, racial tensions are high, and most peoples’ schedules are much too busy to make time for any kind of church gathering.

And yet, for the same reasons that Atlanta intimidates, I think Paul’s actions in Acts should encourage believers to engage the culture with honest truth, willingness to listen and unhurried hospitality. People eagerly hear ideas freely exchanged— we must remain faithful to show up.

Published July 14, 2023

Samantha Arp

Samantha Arp is a summer intern at the North American Mission Board. She lives with the GenSend Atlanta team and works with church plants in the Atlanta area.