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From Barely Surviving to Flourishing

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A small Assemblies of God church in Georgia that was barely surviving is now flourishing thanks to outside-the-box ministries such as blessing bikers and providing air conditioners for the elderly. 

In 2016, First Assembly of God in Fort Valley had dwindled to under two dozen attendees, with the 70-year-old congregation led by an interim pastor.

Fort Valley was surviving, but just barely," AG Georgia District Superintendent Rick D. Collins says. I heard that a part of the core group might be moving away, and this would further injure its prospects of survival.

So, Collins felt prompted to challenge pastors-in-training at the Georgia School of Ministry to consider heading the Fort Valley congregation. Student Wayne Lenderman, a 52-year-old first-time pastor, was the only one to respond to Collins' offer. He and his wife, Wanda, committed to the assignment.

They had been praying for growth and a new pastor for over a year, says Lenderman, who took over in June 2016. When my wife and I walked in the first Sunday we visited, we felt welcomed and at home.

After he came on board, First Assembly began a prayer meeting on Wednesday nights, restructured Sunday morning service ministries, and started a team-building program.

The church also embarked on unusual projects for community outreach, including a “blessing of the bikes,” which drew 87 motorcycles and their riders to the church campus. A dozen people who came to the outreach decided to make First Assembly their church home.

Now the church is regularly drawing 120 Sunday morning worshippers. In the past year, 22 people have made salvation decisions and 21 have been baptized in water.

Additionally, First Assembly has taken first responders food and treats, and “adopted” a local elementary school by feeding teachers and donating items such as school supplies, clothes, and backpacks. The church also has worked with Fort Valley’s nondenominational community service center and food pantry, Grace House, to pay for and install air conditioners in elderly people’s homes in the community of 8,600.

The Lendermans know how to love both the people who are in the church as well as those who are outside its walls,” Collins says.

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