Name most cities in the Deep South and you will find a First Baptist Church there. But there is one city we know of in the South which has no First Baptist Church.
Can you guess where that town is?
That’s city’s First Baptist Church dates back to May 17, 1872, just after the founding of Norcross in 1871. But it is no more.
The former First Baptist Church, these days a giant red brick building on North Peachtree Street, is now called One Heart Church, after a merger between this congregation and the First Baptist members. One Heart Church, also a Southern Baptist Church, was started in 2005 at the Ravinia Club in Dunwoody, and began meeting on South Old Peachtree Road in 2006. That’s about a mile as the crow flies from the former North Peachtree Street location. One Heart Church had 400 members … and no debt previously.
The First Baptist Church had seen its membership fall off in recent years, with attendance at Sunday services less than 100. That was tough for a congregation that had a $3.8 million debt on its facilities. Its members sought several solutions, and at one time thought that a growing Woodstock church was going to buy the building. But tough banking executives ruled that out. First Baptist members were in a quandary about what to do.
About that same time, representatives from One Heart Church heard of the First Baptist availability. In less than six months, a deal was consummated, allowing the One Heart Church to assume $2.775 million in debt and merge with First Baptist. The merged church has 550 members.
The Rev. Dr. Gearl Spicer is One Heart’s pastor. A native of Paris, Arkansas, Dr. Spicer, 56, earned his bachelor’s degree at Oklahoma Baptist University, got his master’s at Central Oklahoma University, and a doctorate from Carver Bible College in Atlanta.
He has held pastorates at Del City, Oklahoma, for six years; and at Geyer Springs First Baptist in Little Rock, Ark. for 13 years, before joining the staff of Dr. Charles Stanley for 17 years at First Baptist in Atlanta, where he was administrative pastor. He supervised the move of that church to its new campus on I-285 in the former Avon Products building.
Dr. Spicer says the move has been “an amazing merger of people’s hearts to become the new One Heart church. We’ve moved to a new name for a new era of ministry on North Peachtree Street.” He says the One Heart name is anchored in the Bible in the Book of Acts.
“People of First Baptist have embraced the new name, the new ministry and the new future in front of us. It’s been a miraculous transition, from two church bodies, two locations, to one. We’ve had 12 new members in the first three weeks, and feel we can grow to 1,000 members in three years, and pay off the debt in five years.”
Already the congregation has given $1.2 million in cash toward the new facilities. One Heart is making $300,000 in improvements, much of it deferred maintenance. Among its changes will be a lighted steeple. Prior to the merger, One Heart’s budget was $1.3 million.
One heart is a mission church, with ongoing work in Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Tanzania and Argentina. Seventy of its members will be on foreign soil in 2013, accounting for $400,000 in costs. Members raise their own funds for the travel.
We lament the passing of the name of the historic First Baptist Church in Norcross. However, a robust One Heart Church provides the Southern Baptist tradition in this city.