Perimeter Church in Johns Creek: Portrait of faith in action

Mega-church makes room for all

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JOHNS CREEK, Ga. – It is hard to miss the 110-acre campus of Perimeter Church at the corner of Medlock Bridge Road and Old Alabama Road. It is home to a ministry that touched many in North Fulton since it opened its doors in 1997.

Since the beginning, the guiding hand has been the Rev. Randy Pope. But the church did not just spring forth as when Moses struck the rock in the desert. Pope, a graduate of the University of Alabama and the Reformed Theological Seminary, said he always had planned to follow his father in medicine as a dentist. He didn’t see spiritual healing in his future then.

“I was religious, but I had been turned off of churches as I got older. If someone had asked me what I would do, I would not have said a preacher. I didn’t want to be a preacher,” he said.

But God had other ideas, and after Alabama, he went not to medical school but divinity school.

“Then I came to Atlanta in 1977 with no friends and $10 in my pocket,” Pope said.

But he made friends. One of the first was Cecil Day of Day’s Inn fame. He needed $600 for his first month’s rent, and Day gave it to him on their first meeting.

Then Pope began to build his church with a strong core. At that core is a Bible-centered faith as a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Pope’s message is one that is historically founded in the Bible.

“But let’s make it practical. How it relates to raising your kids. How to make adults equipped followers of Christ,” he said. “How to live and work and play in such a way to attract the un-churched to God.”

Thus, the church works not as a refuge from the world, but a place to gain the strength and knowledge to go out into the world.

So in 1977, Pope was opening a church, but not in the magnificent cathedral in Johns Creek. No, it was a more modest beginning on Buford Highway with just 20 attendees. Six more campuses would follow before the current home broke ground, but it looks like the place it will stay.

Why Perimeter Church? Members say it is symbolic of the church’s vision to see all Atlanta brought into “an encounter with the Kingdom of God.”

But how do people approach such an imposing church? First, it is well-organized. An institution this big has to be. Walk into the reception area and there is a list of meeting rooms and auditoriums on a handy card. On the back is a map of the building – and you will need it in the beginning.

But there are other brochures on the wall, more than 20, which they call portals. These simple brochures outline topics of interests designed to capture an interest to draw people into the church.

What are you looking for in a church? Many are looking for a place of worship. Perimeter’s worship portal tells the reader worship has different meanings for different people. Services blend traditional hymns, contemporary praise songs, drama, personal testimonies and dance for a “dynamic time of worship.”

Of course, families are interested in involving their children. Perimeter has “portals” that engage children in every stage of life from Kids Town, which involves the preschoolers through college age in numerous programs designed for them. About half a dozen portals discuss programs and classes for youngsters.

  • Getting Connected is their portal for meeting others in social situations either at Taste of Perimeter (like a Wednesday night supper) or in supper clubs.

  • Women’s Ministry is designed to for women at any stage of life – single, married, divorced, mom or empty-nester – to connect with other women in similar circumstances.
  • Men’s Ministry offers men opportunities for personal and spiritual growth and renewal through fellowship.
  • Community Outreach helps others as the “hands and feet” of Jesus to serve the community.
  • Academy of the Arts trains students in the performing arts from ballet, fine arts and ballroom dancing to theater.

Perimeter offers as many ways to fit in and get involved.

For Kelly Dameron and her husband, there was an instant connection to Perimeter.

“I grew up in Young Life as a teenager. You learned sharing the Gospel in a fun way, and you learned about the Bible. I loved the contemporary service [Perimeter has three different Sunday services – but all with Pope’s central sermon]. My husband wanted a gym. Once he saw that, we were sold,” Dameron said.

That was 17 years ago. Now, the children attend Perimeter School. Dameron said once they got to know the school philosophy of accountability – for both student and parent – she was sold on that too.

Gail Leines works part-time as a receptionist at the school. She was happy at another Johns Creek Church, but her family moved back to Georgia to Suwanee, so they looked for a church “to meet in the middle” and attend together.

“We came here and never looked anywhere else,” Leines said. “It sticks to the Bible. And the school has phenomenal teachers.”

Perimeter School is a covenant school, which means as a Christian school, students need not be members of the church but students and parents must be “fully involved Christians” in good standing at another evangelical church.

The school has grades 1 through 8, but there are no plans for a high school. The students are not meant to be kept from the world in a cocoon of the church, but to go out in it with the firm grounding they have received.

“After the eighth grade, our students are equipped to send out,” Pope said.

Keri Childers, a school spokeswoman, said the school’s teaching philosophy is based on the 19th century Christian educator Charlotte Mason’s theories that a child is a person, not a product or an individual to be manipulated.

Classes are small, and children are encouraged with lots of involvement in their learning. Kindergarten through third grades are dismissed at noon. Children are invited to stay until pick-up at 3 p.m. for Adventure classes outdoors.

Perimeter, however, is above all a church of service.

“People learn the DNA really quick,” said Pope. “We are here to serve the community, community, community. So we create an environment of service here.”

One example he gave is the Journey Group. Meeting just on Thursdays, it started a golf tournament to help battered women, single moms and to help get women in need off the streets.

“Another group collects good furniture for those in need. They’re the Movers and Shakers. They move it around and when they get where they’re going, the shake the place up,” Pope said.

“Everyone finds a way to serve the community.”

Perimeter has missions in “seeding churches” here and abroad, such as in Tanzania.

Service is the vehicle to bring the spiritual and temporal sides of the person together. Service is what a church should be about, he said.

“It’s not one or the other,” he said. “They go hand in hand.”

Asked if he feels proud of what the church has accomplished, Pope said he doesn’t like to discuss his church in those terms.

“Why are we blessed more? Someone is bigger than I am, that’s OK. Just like one wrestler is bigger than another. Size is not a measure of success. All churches have an equal role,” he said.

But there is no question Pope is an inspirational leader who touches the hearts of parishioners. As one church member said of Pope:

“He’s real. He teaches what he is learning. He is a teacher at heart. He is anointed. And this church is real. It doesn’t hide behind a mask of perfection. They want to surrender to God and do his will.”

This article was published in the Johns Creek Herald April 18, 2013 edition