A Story of Grace
Grace-Monroe came out of the overflow of Grace-Fellowship Church’s vision to make disciples in the neighborhoods, the nations, and the next generation. What started as a few couples with a heart for reaching Walton County and revitalizing Monroe, has grown into a movement, as more and more individuals and families join together with a common vision to see our community transformed by the love and grace of Jesus. Transformed people transform places, and we’ve seen many from all walks of life become true disciples of Jesus.
Grace Fellowship started in 1983, when a handful of families gathered for the first time in a tiny daycare center in Tucker, GA. That Sunday, they planted Grace. Buddy Hoffman – younger and with slightly more hair – outlined the plan: Teach the Bible. Worship God. Make disciples. Each week they came together to pursue that goal in a worship area decorated with the daycare’s weekly “art” projects and perfumed with the sweet scent of overstuffed diaper pails.
A few months later, the small church was desperate for more space. During the search, Buddy connected with an older pastor who had more building than congregation. After a few minutes of conversation, the two men realized that this pastor had organized the tent revival where Buddy had come to faith as an 11-year old child. This pastor was glad to pass his building on to the young congregation and their commitment to share the Gospel with more 11-year-olds. And so the fledgling church was transplanted – to the lovable and rickety old building on the corner of Lilburn Stone Mountain Road and Old Tucker Road.
There, the church began to sink its roots into the community, developing its children and student programs and vibrant missions focus. When the congregation again outgrew its space, the Lord provided the current Grace Snellville campus in the heart of Gwinnett, within eight miles of eight of the biggest high schools in the county.
In August 2005, with a vision to bring the Kingdom of God to the city, Grace launched a second campus in the heart of Atlanta about two blocks from Georgia Tech. From a fledgling congregation of a couple dozen college students and gray-haired saints, God faithfully grew Grace-Midtown to the point that in September 2010 the church moved their evening gatherings from State Street into the 1100-seat Center Stage concert venue on W. Peachtree. In 2012, Grace-Midtown acquired property that is its current location, 642 Northside Drive and is impacting the city of Atlanta for the Kingdom of God.
Grace for Monroe
In 2009 Grace Monroe was planted with a big vision for a small town - to equip and empower a community of people to discover their God-given identity and walk out their Kingdom calling in a way that literally transforms the place they live, and flows out to impact the rest of the world. It all started with a simple conversation between a handful of Walton County families attending Grace Snellville. They loved the DNA of Grace, with its commitment to teaching the Bible and making disciples, passion for worship, and focus on reaching the “Neighborhoods, Nations, and Next Generation,” and wanted a church like Grace in their community. One of those couples had recently purchased the old cotton mill in downtown Monroe that generations before had been the economic engine and center of communal life for the city, but now sat abandoned and dilapidated. What if we planted a Grace church there?
What once was the life blood of the town had been abandoned.
That winter, with a compelling vision for restoration and redemption stirring in our hearts, the staff, elders, and members of Grace Snellville gathered to pray in that vacant, vandalized, broken - yet beautiful - old building. Even the children knelt on those scarred wooden floors to ask God’s heart for Monroe.
God’s heart is to take that which is old and make something new, that which is broken and craft something beautiful, that which is dead and bring forth life, that which is abandoned and create a place of belonging.
The journey has not always been easy. In fact, after a couple years Grace Monroe was still struggling to get off the ground, despite the faithful effort of those pioneer families. In the summer of 2012, Brian and Sadie Krawczyk were sent by the leadership at Grace Snellville to assess the health and viability of Grace in a town like Monroe, and to navigate the possible closing of the fledgling campus. However, it wasn’t long before God gave them a deep love and passion for the city and its families, and a renewed vision for ministry in that place. They moved into the neighborhood, renovating their own abandoned and dilapidated home. During that renovation they even saw people healed and come to Jesus, continuing the theme of spiritual and physical transformation as a reflection of the heart of the gospel.
Over the last few years, we have seen many kids, students, and adults reached with the life-changing love, grace, and power of Jesus Christ and begin to follow Him. Discipling the next generation remains a driving focus of the church. The young are drawn to Grace - young in age, young in marriage, young in heart, and young in faith. In addition, people of all ages have been attracted to Grace’s commitment to “move in” and intentionally engage in the revitalization of Monroe and Walton County.
The Lord has opened the flood gates of incredible individuals and families who have become part of Grace Monroe, grown closer to God, and pursued their own dreams - opening businesses, gyms and restaurants, engaging and even starting schools, launching and expanding ministries, fostering and adopting kids, restoring blighted properties, rebuilding and repairing parks and green spaces, creating art projects downtown, and finding all kinds of creative, tangible, practical ways to serve our community and its citizens, all with a missional heart to see people encounter the love of God. We have even seen Gospel partnerships grow out of Monroe to the nations, in places like Benin, Indonesia, North Africa, and China.
A Season of Change
In the fall of 2016, the leadership of Grace Monroe faced a difficult but amazing realization. They foresaw that at our current growth rate it wouldn’t be long before we no longer fit in the Mill. In fact, at Christmas and Easter we were already busting at the seams. We had maximized every square inch and had just expanded into an additional warehouse bay to grow our student ministry. This also allowed us to offer ministry space to other community organizations and local non-profits, which fit our heart of empowering others to do ministry, but there was still so much more we wanted to do and see. With the majority of the Monroe Cotton Mills already built out and renovated, expansion opportunities were limited. In addition, because of Grace’s location at the back of the Mill property, the church felt “hidden,” being difficult to find unless you knew what you’re looking for.
At the same time, we loved being in the Mill, with its rich history, both personal to Grace and central to the community, its location rooted in the heart of the neighborhood, and of course the way it looked and felt - the Gospel picture of something old and broken being transformed into something new and beautiful. This “dead” property had truly become a place overflowing with Life.
Where else could we go and grow that still fit our vision and DNA?
As we prayed and sought to hear from God about the future of Grace Monroe, He led us to the perfect place to continue living out our identity of modeling the renovation and restoration of people and places, with a focus on reaching the next generation - the abandoned and blighted Monroe School property sitting empty and vandalized for years right at the gateway into downtown Monroe.
It was an even bigger opportunity to take that which was forsaken and create a place of belonging, that which was broken to turn it into something beautiful, that which was dead to bring forth Life. With eight and a half acres and 75,000 square feet of space it definitely addressed our growth needs, and would allow us to empower and launch even more ministry into the neighborhoods and schools. In addition, its location between two different, diverse neighborhoods was also symbolic of our desire to bring together people of all backgrounds. But was it too big of a dream for a church the size of Grace Monroe?
Over the summer of 2017, after much prayer and due diligence, miraculously through the incredible generosity of a handful of families, and by the grace of God, the funds were raised to purchase the property debt-free without a public financial campaign! In October, the congregation voted to affirm the purchase of 203 Bold Springs Avenue - a “bold” move that would hopefully “spring” forth exponential discipleship and ministry.
In November 2018 the Grace Monroe congregation came together to commit to raising the money necessary for the renovation of the Bold Springs campus with the hopes of seeing it transformed into Grace Monroe’s new church home by the summer of 2020.
Acorns to Oaks
Two millennia have passed since Jesus told his small band of followers, “As you are going, make disciples.” Three decades have passed since Grace Fellowship’s first gathering. And while much at Grace has obviously changed, the vision clearly hasn’t: Make disciples in our neighborhoods, in the nations, and in the next generation.