Discover famous pastors who have led churches in Atlanta, GA. Explore the spiritual center of the civil rights movement 🕊
Atlanta has been home to many influential religious leaders who have shaped both their churches and the broader community. These pastors have led diverse congregations and ministries, guiding their flocks’ spiritual lives and bringing people together during historic times. Looking at some of Atlanta’s prominent pastors provides insight into the city’s rich religious heritage.
Baptist Church Leaders Who Grew Large Congregations
New Birth Missionary Baptist Church
The New Birth baptist church in Atlanta, GA is a large baptist megachurch led by Senior Pastor Jamal Bryant. It has over 25,000 members in its congregation. Eddie Long was the former pastor of New Birth before allegations of sexual misconduct led to his resignation. The church is considered influential among African-American baptist churches in Atlanta. During Long’s tenure, the church grew from 300 members to over 25,000. However, accusations of sexual abuse from young male parishioners resulted in lawsuits and long denied any wrongdoing before privately settling out of court. Long passed away in 2017 at age 63.
First Baptist Church
Among the well-known pastors in Atlanta is Charles Stanley, former senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Atlanta. Stanley served as senior pastor for over 50 years before becoming Pastor Emeritus in 2020. He founded the In Touch ministry and was a prominent Baptist preacher in Georgia with an international following. Stanley was born in 1932 in Virginia and graduated from the University of Richmond. He served at First Baptist for five decades, growing the congregation from 3,600 members to over 15,000. Known for his televised sermons and conservative theology, Stanley expanded his ministry through books, radio, TV and In Touch Ministries which broadcasts his sermons globally. After Charles Stanley’s passing in 2023 at the age of 90, his son Andy continued his father’s legacy as a popular pastor and author based in metro Atlanta.
What church does Andy Stanley preach at?
Andy Stanley followed in his father Charles Stanley’s footsteps by becoming the senior pastor of North Point Community Church, a megachurch he founded in 1995 in Alpharetta. North Point has grown to over 30,000 members and has several campuses in the Atlanta area. Like his dad, Andy Stanley utilizes books, TV and the internet to reach a wider audience with his sermons and teachings. While Andy shares his father’s evangelical approach, his preaching style and ministry strategies have adapted to reach younger generations. He is considered one of the most influential pastors in America.
Historic Churches Where Civil Rights Leaders Preached
What church did Dr King pastor in Atlanta Georgia?
Martin Luther King Jr. served as co-pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church along with his father Martin Luther King Sr. Called to serve in 1960, Dr. King continued in this role until his assassination in 1968. The church became a central force in the civil rights movement under King’s leadership. Located in the Sweet Auburn neighborhood, Ebenezer Baptist Church traces its origins to 1886. Both MLK Jr. and his father served as pastors of this influential African-American congregation. Today, it preserves the legacy of Dr. King and remains a site for activism and community service.
In addition to Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr. preached at other historic black churches in Atlanta like Wheat Street Baptist Church, Big Bethel AME Church and Friendship Baptist Church. The headquarters of the nationally-acclaimed Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), founded in 1957 by Martin Luther King Jr., is located on Auburn Ave at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church site. King’s daughter Bernice King, the youngest daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., currently serves as an elder at Ebenezer Baptist Church and provides leadership to the King Center.
Black Churches That Lead Social Justice Ministries
Along with its important role in the civil rights movement, Ebenezer Baptist Church has continued to promote social justice ministries focused on voting rights, poverty, and immigration. Senior Pastor Reverend Raphael G. Warnock, who also serves as a Georgia Senator, is carrying on the church’s activism and outreach programs today. Warnock aims to apply the lessons of Dr. King to modern justice issues.
Nearby Wheat Street Baptist Church, founded in 1879, is another historically black church that has long provided community support. Its ministries serve the homeless, needy families and at-risk youth. Big Bethel AME Church began in 1847 and is the oldest black congregation in Atlanta. It has consistently worked for equality and supported the urban community. Pastor John Foster has continued Big Bethel’s justice efforts into the 21st century. Friendship Baptist Church dates back to 1862 and was pastored by noted civil rights leaders like Maynard Jackson and William Holmes Borders. Current leader Dr. Richard W. Wills, Sr. describes it as “a church involved in our community.”
Shrine of the Black Madonna
The Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church is headquartered in Atlanta at the Shrine of the Black Madonna. Founded in the 1960s, it represents a unique blend of Christianity, black nationalism and universal metaphysics. The church’s late founder, Reverend Albert Cleage, formerly led prominent congregations in Detroit and Chicago before moving to Atlanta. Jaramogi Agyeman is the current leader of the Shrine of the Black Madonna and its religious offshoot, the Pan-African Orthodox Christian Church. This historic center continues its mission of spiritual empowerment and liberation.
Diverse Atlanta Congregations Led by Prominent Pastors
Cascade United Methodist Church
Reverend Olu Brown has led Cascade United Methodist Church since 2016, taking over after the retirement of Reverend Joseph Lowery. Lowery co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with MLK and was a giant of the civil rights movement. Brown is continuing the church’s legacy of activism while growing the congregation significantly. Cascade United Methodist now averages around 3,300 attendees across two Sunday services. It is focused on community service initiatives alongside its wide range of ministries.
First Congregational Church
Since 1889, First Congregational Church has welcomed diverse believers in the heart of downtown Atlanta. Senior Pastor Dwight “Ike” Reighard, who recently celebrated 10 years of leadership, describes it as a “iconic church” that brings together “all kinds of people.” The congregation pursues justice causes from voting rights to LGBTQ equality. While founded by white Christians, today it has members from many races, backgrounds and walks of life. First Congregational upholds its long tradition of openness.
Pastor Eddie Long Led New Birth Missionary Baptist Church
Eddie Long served as the leader of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church from 1987 until his death in 2017. He took over when the church had only around 300 members but grew it into a megachurch with over 25,000 attendees. Long embraced his celebrity status and was known for flashy personal style. Accusations of sexual misconduct with young male parishioners resulted in lawsuits during the 2000s. Long denied any wrongdoing but privately settled the cases. He was married to Vanessa Long and had four children. After being diagnosed with cancer in 2016, Long passed away at age 63 the following year.
The Legacy of Pastors Shaping Atlanta’s Spiritual Life
From historic civil rights leaders to founders of megachurches, Atlanta has been molded by high profile pastors. These religious leaders have guided their diverse congregations and left lasting marks on their communities. Their preaching and activism have impacted both church members and the broader public. While their backgrounds, theologies and worship styles may differ, these pastors share a passion for ministry. Their leadership and legacy continue to be felt as Atlanta’s churches carry on their missions. The stories of influential clergy provide insight into the forces that have shaped the city’s spiritual heritage.