Nation’s oldest church planter? Age no deterrent for 89-year-old Donald Voyles in starting one of Georgia’s newest congregations

Georgia Baptist Mission Board focuses on planting more churches to accommodate the state’s growing population, which has surpassed 11 million

Donald Voyles stands in front of Mt. Tabor Community Baptist Church in Dallas, Ga., on Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. (Index/Roger Alford)

DALLAS, Ga. — In a classy blue suit, striped tie, and starched white shirt, Donald Voyles has the look of a man who has just stepped out of the board room of a Fortune 500 company.

He’s every whit the professional, from his freshly trimmed white hair to his newly polished back shoes.

At 89, Voyles may not fit the stereotypical mold of the modern church planter, but the Adrian Rogers-look is paying dividends for a congregation birthed from a back-porch Bible study at his home in suburban Atlanta four years ago.

Tears moisten his eyes as he talks about how the Lord is expanding Mt. Tabor Community Baptist Church in a well-heeled neighborhood in Paulding County, population 175,000 and growing rapidly.

“The Lord has blessed beyond anything I could have imagined,” he said, sitting in the sanctuary of his third successful church plant in 70 years. “I feel a greater anointing on my preaching and my teaching than ever. I couldn’t be more thrilled.”

Georgia, one of the nation’s fastest-growing states with a population of more than 11 million, has been mustering an army of church planters, all far younger than Voyles, to accommodate new arrivals. W. Thomas Hammond Jr., executive director of the state Mission Board, said Georgia “desperately” needs more churches.

The Georgia Baptist Mission Board announced in November that it is sending an additional $300,000 to the North American Mission Board (NAMB) to be used for church planting in Georgia. Ryan McCammack, Atlanta Send City Missionary for Send Network said, “We are grateful for the generosity Georgia Baptists have demonstrated and for the opportunity to partner with them in planting new evangelistic churches.”

Buck Burch, who oversees church planting for the state Mission Board, said as many as 40 new, Southern Baptist churches are currently being planted in Georgia.

Nationally, church plants are popping up at a rate of nearly three per day. At that pace, a third of Southern Baptist churches will be under 20 years old by 2030.

What’s clear is that Voyles is one of the oldest church planters in the nation, if not the oldest.

“A 2019 obituary of a Texas church planter made the claim that the deceased held the record of being the oldest Southern Baptist church planter at age 72,” Burch said. “So, Don Voyles beats that record by almost two decades.”

Mt. Tabor Community Baptist is Voyles’ third church plant over his 70-year ministry. He has a 100% success rate with his plants.

Voyles had retired in 2019 as pastor of Unity Baptist, the Dallas church he had planted 33 years before. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced churches to suspend worship services, he started the Bible study on his back porch. Initially, it was family and friends getting together, but soon neighbors began showing up.

“We realized we needed more space, so we started looking around for a larger building,” he said.

A real estate agent found a former Methodist church building for sale. Voyles and his fledgling congregation saw the building as the answer to their prayers, so they purchased it.

“We actually bought it before they put a sign up,” Voyles said. “We thought it was going to be $120,000, but they came down to $80,000. The amazing thing is we paid it off in January, in just two years. God put it in our hands.”

Voyles has baptized four people in the church’s baptistry since moving in and one person in his bathtub while still meeting on his back porch.

As he approaches his 90th birthday, Voyles said he has no reservations about planting the church. He remains physically and mentally strong.

“When he preaches, it’s God-given,” said Nancy Anderson, one of the 30 or so regulars at Mt. Tabor. “He preaches the Bible, chapter and verse. His knowledge of the Bible is amazing, but his sermons are so simple that anyone can understand them. He’s an inspiration to all of us.”

“My dream and my goal is simply to keep reaching people and helping them to grow in the Word,” Voyles said. “My desire to preach and teach the Word of God has only grown over the years.”



Published April 15, 2024

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