Less than three years old, Georgia church has started two more

ALPHARETTA (BP) — When leadership from Union Hill Baptist Church approached Hope Church in February of last year, both congregations were at an important point in their history.

The COVID pandemic had dealt Union Hill a devastating blow in terms of membership and momentum. On the other hand, Hope Church was born during it in August 2021. The former had a building largely devoid of young voices and the sound of children. The latter needed space for them.

Tyler Joyner, pastor of Willeo River Church (left), talks during the sending service with Hope Church Union Hill pastor Chris Renfro.

“It happened on, literally, the same day we started a prayer campaign about finding a permanent home,” said Hope Church lead pastor Chris Renfro. A part of the Send Network and Send Atlanta, Hope Church had been meeting at the North American Mission Board offices in Alpharetta.

As someone with years of ministry experience in the areas of Alpharetta and Roswell north of Atlanta, Renfro had led a vision for what is now called Hope Church Union Hill focused on church planting. It includes raising up 15 ministry leaders, supporting ten church plants and planting five churches by the year 2030.

“It’s a Calling Out the Called mentality,” he told Baptist Press. “We want to give these ministry leaders seminary training and ministry experience to grow. We want to send them on mission trips. We want to support them and church plants financially.”

The first, Somos Ecclesia, had already launched in September 2022 in Buford, Ga. The second arrived last October with Willeo River Church in Roswell. Between those two events, in February 2023, the paths of Hope Church and Union Hill Baptist Church literally began to merge.

In February 2022, six months after his church had launched, Renfro was at a gathering of ministers for the Roswell Baptist Association, which is part of the North Central Mission Center. Pastor Larry Braley of Willeo Baptist Church was there, too, and wanted to talk about gifting his church’s property to Hope Church. That took place in May 2022, but the problem was that no one from Hope Church lived in the immediate area.

“In the first meeting when leaders at Union Hill talked about merging with us, they explained our desire to plant churches and what we were in the process of doing with Willeo Baptist,” said Renfro. “One of the members of the committee started crying, because she had grown up at Willeo Baptist.”

Tyler Joyner, an associate pastor at Hope Church Union Hill, had also grown up in the area, as had his wife, Natalie. Hope Church Union Hill had paid his way through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. That training would go toward giving Willeo Baptist new life under a new name.

“Tyler felt called to plant a church in the area and had completed NAMB’s assessment process,” said Renfro. “This wasn’t about one church closing and another starting, but a passing of the baton to the next generation so we can do our best to run the race faithfully. That’s why we freely gave over $2 million in assets to them.”

Willeo River Church had 46 new members join on April 14th. Renfro left his church’s service early to get to Willeo River in time to present them the deed to the property.

On April 21, Hope Church Union Hill held a family meeting to officially announce the property had been given to Willeo River. It was also shared that $5,000 had been given to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering for North American Missions, the church had doubled in size since merging last year and that they were planning to move to two services this August.

Tears come when a church closes or its time stops with a particular name. But those tears don’t have to be over a work coming to an end.

“We’re partners together,” said Renfro. “I’ve told our church how there may come a day when we’re in the same situation of handing over our building to another generation. We want to do that joyfully.

“It’s all Christ’s Church, just in different locations. We want to be a blessing, to support, pray for and send as many as we can to do a great work for the Kingdom.”

Published April 22, 2024

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