Atlanta area megachurch practices small-church hospitality.
When people walk into Word of Faith Family Worship Cathedral, it feels like home, and they feel like they belong. That’s what many have told Bishop Dale C. Bronner of their first visit.
“I’ve sort of used as a theme over the years, ‘A place to believe, a place to belong, a place to become,’” Bronner says. “I’ve grown up in a family business, and so from day one when I started the ministry, my whole idea was to just build a family for God. We’re connected in purpose, in loving one another, loving God and being able to serve our fellow man.”
Word of Faith, located in Austell, Georgia, about 15 minutes from downtown Atlanta, is a large church, but even people who come from small churches feel like they’re noticed, he says.
“We try to get [visitors] immediately connected to a small group, a discipleship group,” he says. “I’ll stand there and greet them after the service. We’ll have a little room that we take them to and serve them refreshments and dialogue with them. We ask them what they got out of the service. We want to find their needs and meet them. We find an itch and scratch it.”
According to 25-year member Amika Fannin, people are also drawn to Bronner’s wisdom.
“Over the years I’ve heard a lot of people say they come because of the wisdom of our bishop,” says Fannin, who serves on the intercessory prayer team, in small groups and in the guest pastoral service ministry. “It’s almost like he spoke right into their situation.”
Word of Faith has found creative ways not just to serve the people who enter its doors on Sundays, but the entire community seven days a week.
They partner with local schools in the community and provide a summer day camp program for kids. When schools shut down due to COVID-19, the church served as a site for kids who depend on school lunches to pick them up. The church also operates its own private Christian day school for children age 6-weeks through fifth grade. It serves as a site for free COVID-19 testing, as a voter registration site, and as a location for training 2020 census workers. They also partner with the Red Cross to hold several blood drives each year.
“We try to find ways we can partner with our civic leaders and government agencies,” he says.
And they make sure that church-owned buildings aren’t sitting empty Monday through Saturday by opening them up to the community.
In fact, to the benefit of the community, the church built a $32-million, state-of-the-art community center on its land across the street from its cathedral and opens it seven days a week. The Riverside Epicenter includes a gymnasium and fitness club, a bowling alley, a conference center, a video arcade, a food court, coffee and Wi-Fi, a music recording studio and a performing arts auditorium that has hosted parties, plays and concerts by performers such as Jennifer Hudson.
“It’s really a very, very strong community center,” Bronner says. “It doesn’t look like a church, but a church owns it.”
That creates a very welcoming bridge and brings tremendous value to the larger community that might otherwise never interact with a church in any way.
And this year, the church has led its community through the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial tension the U.S. has been experiencing.
“It has really emphasized to me that we cannot lean to our own understanding,” Bronner says. “We have to trust God. And we have to be fluid enough during times of uncertainty to stay connected to the One who never changes.”
When the coronavirus hit, Word of Faith was one of the first churches in the city to move services online in order to protect the health of its members. And when riots hit many major U.S. cities, Bronner, who is Black, joined a march in downtown Atlanta called One Race, “with Blacks and whites and Latinos and Asians under the banner of Jesus Christ, and having a powerful time of worship, of prayer, of repentance, working toward racial reconciliation. It was a very beautiful and peaceful event, reclaiming who we are in Christ.”
He’s spoken with other well-known Atlanta-area pastors, like Andy Stanley and Louie Giglio, which has been very fruitful, Bronner says.
“I feel very positive. I feel like this can be the church’s brightest day. To me, we shine the brightest in the midst of darkness. We are a light called and ordained of God to be able to shine amid dark times, so we’re bringing the light of the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that God’s with us, God is for us, God is in us. And he’s going to walk us through this process and bring us out. It’s been a growing time, but I am tremendously hopeful that this can be one of the finest hours for the church.”
WORD OF FAITH FAMILY WORSHIP CATHEDRAL
Senior Pastor: Dale Bronner
Growth: +500 (7%)