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Meet Lucas Bitter

Today we’d like to introduce you to Lucas Bitter.

Lucas, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve wanted to be a pastor, ever since I was a little kid. I always thought it would be amazing to have a job where I get to go around telling people the good news of how much Jesus loves them. Today, that’s exactly what I get to do for a living (along with a few other responsibilities that come with starting a new church from scratch in the middle of a major city.)

Our church body has a fantastic training system for our pastors, which includes four years of college and four years of Seminary, with one of those seminary years being a one year internship in the field. I did my internship in inner-city Toronto and came away with a real passion for the diversity and energy of cities. I then wrote my senior thesis paper on the topic of urban church planting.

Upon graduation from Seminary I was assigned to a church in Marietta, GA. One of my first projects at that church was to look into the city and start what we called “Downtown Bible Study” – a Thursday night gathering of young people who initially met at JavaVino Coffee Shop in Poncey-Highlands. Over the space of three to four years, this Bible study evolved into a nucleus of people who really wanted to start a new church in the city, in order to share the love of Jesus with their neighbors. I worked with a few of the group’s leaders to create a detailed ministry plan, which we in turn, submitted to the mission planting board of our church body. In May of 2017 I was officially offered the position of “missionary to Atlanta,” which would entail starting a new church essentially from scratch.

My family and I moved into the city (Ormewood Park) that August. We spent a whole year researching before we began worship services. We spent another whole year renting a small space on Sundays only before we grew to the point where we could lease our own storefront. Over the space of 2 1/2 years, we’ve grown from a group of 11 adults (including my family) to a congregation of 40-50 members who worship on Sundays and is very active in serving the community during the week. It’s been very humbling and gratifying to see this group grow – I know lots of people say this, but our church really does feel like one big family.

Has it been a smooth road?
I think the biggest struggle is simply the fact that many people in Atlanta are burned out on church. And you can’t really blame them… Some people grew up in a harsh, judgmental church where they were never allowed to question anything. Others grew up in a church where there was a massive scandal within the church leadership. Still, others have never been to church, but they can easily identify that many church people don’t “practice what they preach.” In short, when people think of church and Christianity, they think of all kinds of negative things. They usually don’t think of the love of Jesus.

So we’ve had to work hard to win people’s trust and convince them not to give up on God, or on the church, altogether, just because they’ve had such a negative experience with it in the past.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Intown Lutheran Church – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a church and what sets you apart from others.
Our mission statement is “A God Worth Knowing, A City Worth Loving, A Life Worth Living.” We’ve found that many people in Atlanta have left organized religion for one reason or another – but that doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t believe in God. Perhaps they’re “spiritual but not religious.” Perhaps they’re agnostic. But whatever the case, there are a ton of people in this city with unanswered questions and spiritual baggage. They’ve never really gotten “closure” when it comes to their spiritual life. They’re not really sure where they stand.

The main purpose of our church is to remind people of that very basic concept that makes Christianity so beautiful in the first place: the teaching that no matter who you are and no matter your background, God loves you so much that he sent his own Son to conquer death for you and win for you an eternal life in heaven.

That message is commonly called “the gospel.” lots of people have gone to church for years, but they’ve never focused much on this central concept.

Our church’s mission, essentially, is to give every possible person a chance to encounter that gospel message without their church baggage getting in the way. Our favorite way to do that is with a Bible Basics Class that meets in homes, coffee shops, or wherever else people may feel most comfortable. We try to create an environment where we’re fair and unbiased and where people have permission to challenge and question things without feeling judged.

We do a lot of different things (worship, community service, kids’ programs, etc.), but I think that the Bible Basics Class is really our best thing – because it lets people get straight to the message at the heart of Christianity. Once someone has taken the class, they may or may not join our church, but they invariably thank us for helping them find some clarity and peace with their spiritual life.

Our very clear focus on the good news about Jesus – and getting that to people right away, whether they’re comfortable attending worship or not – I think that’s the best and most important thing we have to offer this community.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
Love, love, love the diversity. All kinds of very different people sharing the same spaces and experiences is such a beautiful thing. If there’s one thing I particularly dislike, I’d have to say the cost. It’s getting pricier to live in Atlanta every single day, and unfortunately, that cost drives some of the diversity away as well. But city living is like that, I guess – there’s a lot going on that you can’t control, so you’ve just got to hang in there and roll with the punches.

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Image Credit:
Hannah Riley

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