History & Heritage
The over forty year history of Smoke Rise Baptist Church has spanned the last third of the twentieth century and the first decade of the twenty-first – a period of significant challenge and opportunity in Baptist life. Tracing its lineage back through Briarlake Baptist Church and Clairmont Hills Baptist Church to the First Baptist Church of Decatur, Smoke Rise Baptist is heir to a rich and faithful heritage of Baptist life that has ministered in this part of the metro Atlanta area since 1862.
Constituted in September of 1969 with 157 charter members, the church began to establish itself in the community with ministries and facilities that included a chapel and educational space (1972), a kindergarten program (1973), a multi-purpose worship center and gym (now the fellowship hall) and additional educational space (1979), the sanctuary (1986), a Christian Activities Building (1993), community sports programs, and the Academy of the Arts. A drive to raise funds for a major renovation of the facilities and to retire the church’s remaining debt coincided with the 40th anniversary celebration in 2009. The church’s physical plant is now debt free.
Smoke Rise Baptist has been served by four senior pastors: The Reverend Frank Johnson (1969-1975), Dr. Truett Gannon (1976-1997), Dr. Robert Browning (1999-2011), and The Reverend Chris George (2013-present). Interim pastors have been Dr. James Westberry (1975-1976); Dr. Rob Nash (1997-1998); and Drs. Rob Nash and Allen Walworth shared the pulpit ministry as co-visiting preachers (2011-2013).
Smoke Rise Baptist was a leading Southern Baptist and Georgia Baptist church in the 1970’s and 1980’s, with Pastor Gannon serving two terms as president of the Georgia Baptist Convention (GBC). Numerous denominational leaders based in Atlanta were members of the congregation. The church continues to support several significant ministries that were formerly a part of the GBC.
When the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) was being established in the early 1990’s, Smoke Rise Baptist was a supporting congregation. Smoke Rise Baptist’s Retired Associate Pastor, The Reverend Chuck Moates served several years on the national coordinating council of the CBF. Members of the church continue to be active in CBF ministries, and several staff members of the national CBF are members of Smoke Rise Baptist.
Smoke Rise Baptist was also a founding church for Mercer’s James and Carolyn McAfee School of Theology in 1995 and continues to provide direct support as well as a context for ministers in training to serve as interns. A significant feature of the congregation’s ministry has evolved over the past decade in the form of direct mission ministries – local, regional, and international. Support and participation in local ministry cooperatives, disaster relief work in response to such challenges as hurricane Katrina and recent tornadoes, and mission trips to New York, Appalachia, Tijuana, and Honduras have involved over 1,000 of Smoke Rise Baptist’s members.