During this season of declines in church attendance and sanctuary doors closing, there still are accounts of growth and transformation. Centerville Community Church in is one such narrative.
Nine years ago, the congregation barely survived. Justin T. Wright, 36, attended Mercer University and then worked for an attorney four years. He then entered full-time ministry, accepting the assignment to serve as the pastor, with the goal of revitalizing Centerville Community Church.
Georgia Assemblies of God Superintendent John D. Dougherty remembers that season of expectation, with Wright preaching to only six people on the first Sunday. Now the church has a weekly average of 70 attendees.
“Pastor Justin has been able to renovate the building, expand the parking, and branch out into the community,” says Dougherty, 54.
That part — reaching the community — is crucial to the congregation’s growth. Consequently, Wright decided to seek election to the city council. Since 2016, he has been part of city government in the community of 8,228.
He represents the city council on Centerville’s housing team that is affiliated with the Georgia Initiative for Community Housing. He has been able to recruit volunteers from various churches to serve on projects connected with the program. He became part of the decision-making process to bring new housing to Centerville.
“Like a lot of parts of the country, we are in the midst of a housing crisis,” Wright says. “While it is not popular with everyone in the city, a new apartment complex is being built that will create affordable housing options that simply don’t exist right now.”
Wright likewise is trying to improve Centerville is through church connections. Since 2019, the AG Georgia District has been operating a southeastern U.S. regional warehouse in partnership with Convoy of Hope in Macon.
“Convoy of Hope has been an incredible resource,” Dougherty says. “One of the best things that the Assemblies of God does is support Convoy of Hope as the hands and feet of Jesus to those in need.”
When Convoy needed to reallocate personnel, the Georgia District kept maintaining operations at the Macon warehouse. Dougherty asked Wright to lead the project.
Eric Gordon, with U.S. disaster services at Convoy of Hope, has known Wright for almost 20 years and watched him grow up at Georgia youth camps.
“Pastor Justin has always had a heart for people and been a servant leader,” says Gordon, 44. “Over the last several years, we have had the privilege of resourcing some of their outreach and community engagement efforts from Convoy of Hope. Justin and his team have utilized those resources to maximize their impact in their community.”
That impact works well as Centerville Community Church is on the corner of a residential area where demographics reveal a much younger population. When Wright and his team initially rode around the neighborhood, they saw plenty of elementary-age students and teenagers.
“Every yard had a basketball goal in the driveway and bikes in the yard,” Wright says. The church shifted efforts toward evangelism, targeting families with children.
The outreach toward youth worked. On average Sundays, 40% of the church is under the age of 18. On Wednesday nights, it’s closer to 70%.
“Initially we had to be willing to let the church die before reaching our goals of focusing on children and meeting the community’s needs,” Wright says.
Centerville Community Church partners with Georgia’s “No Kid Hungry” campaign to provide a hot lunch to children during summer and offers MEGA Sports Camp curriculum for youngsters in the town interested in sports.
Wright’s compassion and trajectory are no surprise to Todd and Christine Lawson, Assemblies of God world missionaries in Senegal. They have known him since his youth pastoring days and admired that he held services at Centerville Community Church in his living room when he began because the church had dwindled to so few attendees.
“Pastor Wright has a passion for people to come to know and love God., which is evident in how he accepts, loves, and ministers to others on a daily basis,” Christine says. “His love for Christ shines through whether he is pastoring the church, playing in a band, working on the city council, or sharing a meal. He meets them where they are in a non-judgmental fashion and walks alongside them to show them Jesus.”