Perry Nix says he’s knocked on just about every door in his hometown over the past few years, and what he’s found is a lot of people who feel just like he used to.
“We’re in an area that is kind of newly post-Christian,” he said. “I’m 39, and most people in their 30s grew up in church and it felt like it was very surface-level-type stuff, so now they don’t see the need for it.”
Nix said if he asked the people behind those doors if they are Christians, 95% would say yes. But if he asked if they go to church they would say no.
“Most of them seem like they’re Christian in name only. They’re not really practicing a walk with Jesus,” Nix said. “We want people’s hearts to change in that way, to see it as a relationship, not a religion.”
And Nix wants Grace Bible Church in Altoona to be a home for the people who don’t feel like church is for them.
“Our goal is to reach the broken people in the community,” he said.
After all, Nix knows a bit of how they feel. Though he grew up in church in the same community, in his 20s he was “not walking with the Lord at all.” Nix said he sees now that his career as an airline pilot was a “toxic environment” but he felt he had found success, living in a nice neighborhood in Atlanta with his wife and children.
But when his fourth child was three months old, his wife — who had been healthy up to that point — had three heart attacks. She’s healthy now, but that health crisis shook him and ultimately led him to figure out his relationship with Jesus and move back to Altoona to focus more on family.
‘A great fit’
They began attending Redeemer Community Church in Oneonta in 2018, then joined the staff. On Easter Sunday 2019, Nix planted Redeemer Altoona.
Chase Higginbotham, Redeemer’s lead pastor, said it was a great fit.
“It worked out where he had those roots there in Altoona and had the same heart (as the rest of Redeemer leadership) to be a gospel-centered church,” noted Higginbotham, who joined the staff just after Redeemer Altoona was planted.
He said he knew the previous pastor, Matt Scott, had a heart to plant gospel-centered churches in Blount County and around the area. This was Redeemer’s first plant, and for a while the congregations operated as one church with two campuses.
“If we would preach through Luke, Perry would preach his own message, but we’d be in the same text each week; and then we were supporting them financially and encouraging them,” Higginbotham said.
Two years later, Easter 2021, Redeemer Altoona became Grace Bible Church, an autonomous congregation.
They meet in an old dry goods store, which is nice but “doesn’t look like a church,” Nix said. The hope was that people would feel comfortable. It seats about 60, but on the first day they had 66, and people had to sit on the floor.
“Of course, that’s what happens when something’s new,” Nix noted. “A few weeks later we were down to a small group, and we got to a baseline of about 15 or 20. From there, we started to build.”
They’ve had ups and downs through the COVID-19 pandemic, but these days they average 30.
“It’s just been really, really good. Our foundation is great,” Nix said. “It’s such a loving congregation, and we are committed to keeping everything biblically sound.”
While they are multi-generational, probably half of those present any given Sunday are children, he said, which he loves.
“That’s the heart of our church — serving children,” Nix noted.
Many in the congregation serve as foster parents and others have adopted children, including Nix and his wife, Mary — they have four biological children and two children they adopted.
And they’re working to find more ways to provide resources for foster families, help with family reunification and fund adoptions in the area.
“We want to love our community well and see the fruit of His work in people’s lives,” Nix explained. “And we see that happening. People are growing, and we want them to take that out and share it with other people.”
EDITOR’S NOTE — May is National Foster Care Month. To find out more about opportunities to provide foster care and help foster families, click here.