“If there’s something weird, and it don’t look good, who you gonna call?” are words from Ray Parker Jr.’s popular, “Ghostbusters,” theme song of the 1984 comedy film of the same name. The question from the nearly-40-year-old hit is still being asked to promote law firms and other commercial enterprises.
However, is it likely that those going through “weird” and bad times would call your church for help? Piedmont Church in Marietta, Georgia, could answer that question in the affirmative.
Some 24 years ago, when Dwight “Ike” Reighard was pastor of NorthStar Church in Acworth, God gave him a vision to lead the congregation to make a profound impact upon the Cobb County area. And he called Marlon Longacre to be community pastor, with a mission to develop a strategy that would inspire and motivate the church to serve the local community.
“When I became a part of Pastor Reighard’s staff at NorthStar it was decided then that our church was going to be the first call people made who needed help in the community,” Longacre recalled. “Twenty-four years ago, many hurting people were looking to the United Way, various civic clubs and other service organizations to help them in a time of need, but we decided that the church should lead the way in serving the community.”
Reighard and Longacre continued that initiative when they both were called to Piedmont Church.
Longacre noted five steps to help lead a church to impact its community with the love of Christ.
First, churches need to change the way they think, making service a priority — because churches that serve earn the right to be heard. The fundamental goal is to be the first call a person makes when trouble comes or a need arises.
Second, churches need to commit to “root causes,” discovering needs by asking “hard questions,” Longacre said. In the Old Testament, Nehemiah wanted to help restore Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. He inquired of his brother, Hanani, and some others who had returned from a brief visit to Jerusalem, and discovered that the Jewish remnant were in great affliction and reproach and that the city walls were broken down.
Longacre’s conviction is that “you can never lighten another person’s load until you have felt the pressure and anguish in their soul.”
“I started this ministry when we were at NorthStar and that first day, Jan. 13, 1999, was the worst day of my life,” Longacre recalled. “I had four contacts I needed to make on that day. I intended to ask questions like Nehemiah asked Hanani. This first visit was to the mayor of Acworth. The second visit was to the lead instructional teacher in the school system. The third visit was to the Kennesaw Business Association. The fourth visit was to Lt. Col. Ashley Ivey of Acworth Charities.”
During each visit Longacre found that churches rarely if ever had sought to discover needs in the community, that they were not considered to be service-oriented and were not as universally accepted as he thought. However, the visits yielded a list of projects to help the community.
“I discovered that the ‘365 people’ are everywhere,” Longacre noted. “The 365 people are those who are in the muck and mire of life every single day. We find them, listen to them and try to help them.”
Third, churches must champion efforts to meet needs, which also helps build character and compassion in the membership, grow the church and honor Christ.
Piedmont is engaged with police officers, the court system, school social workers and counselors, food and housing shelters, foster care,and special needs children and adults.
Fourth, churches must cooperate with the community and build alliances, commiting to serve, work “next to” and with natural groupings in the community. In Nehemiah 3 ,where the Jews are rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the words “next to him” appear repeatedly, Longacre noted.
“We have resolved to work ‘next to’ individuals and help them build their part of the wall.”
The alliance-building effort has resulted in a number of partnerships: the Cobb County School District, the Cobb County Sheriff’s Office, military organizations, Kennesaw State University and others.
Because of the church’s relationship with county schools, 42 had Christmas concerts at Piedmont with 14,000 in attendance. Because of sponsors, food vendors and crafters for the Christmas events, the church was able to give $35,700 back to the schools and provide scholarships.
Fifth, churches need to claim God’s promises, Longacre said. Everyone has a faith journey and churches can help people achieve their most worthy goals. Piedmont gave more than $330,000 in designated offerings for what they call their “Love Does” ministry, and their commitment to service has mobilized most of the membership to be involved in some facet of their caring efforts.
“We have discovered that if the church wants to significantly impact their community, they need to love the people and the schools, ventures, programs, organizations the people love,” Longacre said.
Piedmont Church’s “expansive community service” is, in essence, “simply an extension of Pastor Ike Reighard’s vision and heart.”
Because of Piedmont’s investment in North Cobb County, the City of Acworth honored the church with the 2022 Business of the Year Award, the first church to win the honor. The City of Kennesaw also named Piedmont Church as runner-up for Business of the Year.
It was no surprise, except to Reighard, that on Dec. 1, 2022, the Cobb Chamber’s Marietta Council selected him as Marietta Citizen of the Year. Reighard not only is the driving force behind Piedmont’s ministry in Cobb County, he also is president and CEO of MUST Ministries, which serves nearly 60,000 people a year who are struggling in poverty.
For many in Cobb County, Piedmont Church is the answer to, “Who you gonna call?”
EDITOR’S NOTE — This story was written by J. Gerald Harris and originally published by the Christian Index.