If you want to see the Braves play while you're in Atlanta but can't get
a ticket, come to Buckhead.
On game days, every restaurant in this hot spot north of downtown tunes
its television to baseball. With air conditioning, instant replays and
television screens as big as garage doors, it's almost as good as being at the
stadium, except that you'll never catch a pop fly.
In addition to being the place to watch sports, Buckhead is party
central for young professionals moving to Atlanta in droves. By day, they're
well-dressed college graduates moving up the career ladder. By night, they're
single adults reveling in their independence.
The land of sports bars, bookstores and coffee shops has its share of
churches, but the two worlds rarely meet.
This party crowd is the least of the least likely to attend church because
they're young and single. Forty percent of people who have never married and 37
percent of people who are currently divorced are unchurched, according to the
Barna Research Group. The study also found that 40 percent of people between 18
and 29 years of age are unchurched.
"Young professionals are a unique niche in ministry. It's a culture we're
not reaching," said Pete Smith with the Atlanta office of Priority Asso-ciates,
a Campus Crusade for Christ ministry focusing on this group.
In an attempt to meet the crowd on its turf, six local churches and Priority
Associates joined forces this spring to go "Beyond Buckhead."
The churches had successfully drawn Christians to their campuses with
Christian concerts and Bible studies, but reaching the unchurched was their
Would a comedian talking about relationships in a Buckhead restaurant
attract non-Christians? There was only one way to find out.
Kenn Kington, Christian comedian and author of the book, Searching for a
Super Man, Watching for a Wonder Woman, was enlisted to lead an eight-week
seminar dubbed "Beyond Buckhead." A room at the Three Dollar Cafe, known more
for chicken wings and a particular brand of light beer than Bible studies, was
reserved. An Internet page was created and local media contacted for
On April 5 the doors opened, and 200 people came. Many were at Three Dollar
Cafe to watch the opening game of the Braves baseball season. Out of curiosity
they stepped into "Beyond Buckhead" and kept coming back.
Evelyn Dodd, member of Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Buckhead, went
alone the first night to see if she would feel comfortable bringing unchurched
friends. Every following week, Dodd brought friends who had never accepted her
invitations to church. "What Kenn says about God is subtle, but it's very
powerful. And he's funny. It's a natural to invite my friends," she said.
The crowd guffawed as Kington described his love for his wife being put to
the test when he realized she would never clean the bathtub. He finished his
story by relating it to the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. This is how God
loves each of us, Kington told the crowd of 250. God is patient. He is kind. He
is not easily angered.
The second week Kington talked about intimacy and the natural desire to be
close to someone. But he added that only a relationship with God can meet our
fundamental needs for intimacy; relationships with people meet our supplemental
Kington used Philippians 4:8 to make an interesting distinction between
potential suitors and those who should be put out of the running. When sifting
serious dating material, singles should look for the characteristics of
truthfulness, purity, love and the other ideals Paul listed, he said.
A quick bottom line, Kington said, comes from judging the good reputation
characteristic. The real question is: do you spend more time explaining your
date's behavior to your friends than bragging on your date? If so, maybe you
should look for someone else.
Beyond Buckhead was advertised as a relationship seminar sponsored by a
"coalition of churches" because organizers decided to be upfront about the
program's religious connections. And they determined the partnership of
congregations would be a positive testimony to the community. "We have to build
credibility and trust with this [age] group," Smith said.
The setting, the speaker and the subject attracted people who don't attend
any congregation. A survey taken on the fourth week showed that 26 percent of
the participants attended church seldom or never. Sixty percent of the
respondents said they heard about Beyond Buckhead from a friend or
"This is a high-tech crowd, and they need a high-touch ministry," said
Richard Farley, associational missionary for the Atlanta Baptist
The Beyond Buckhead presentations were hardly high-tech, however. Kington
used no videos, no music and no drama. It was a simple stage with a comedian
holding a microphone. "But he's talking about relationships, and that's
high-touch," Farley said.
Other lessons from Beyond Buckhead organizers:
Charge a fee. This crowd is used to cover charges, and free
programs are perceived as not valuable. Beyond Buckhead charged $5 per
Serve food. Eating gives people something to do in what
otherwise might be an awkward social setting. It also gives them something to
talk about: "Did you try this dip with the broccoli?" The admission price at
Beyond Buckhead included a buffet.
Draw a crowd. Single adults find safety in numbers. They're
much more likely to walk into a room with 200 people than 20 people.
Don't meet at a church. Find a place where single
professionals would go for other activities.
Don't sing. Other than singing the national anthem and
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at baseball games, people don't sing in public
places. Don't expect unchurched people to know the music you sing on
Lynn Stevens is a writer living in Atlanta.
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