Pastor serves same church for 25 years
by Megan Thornton
mthornton@cherokeetribune.com
December 04, 2011 12:00 AM | 11201 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pastor Johnny Hunt and his wife, Janet, have been part of the First Baptist Woodstock congregation since 1986. This month, Johnny Hunt is celebrating his 25th anniversary as lead pastor at the church.<BR>Cherokee Tribune/Special
Pastor Johnny Hunt and his wife, Janet, have been part of the First Baptist Woodstock congregation since 1986. This month, Johnny Hunt is celebrating his 25th anniversary as lead pastor at the church.
Cherokee Tribune/Special
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WOODSTOCK — Pastor Johnny Hunt will celebrate 25 years in his role as lead pastor at First Baptist Woodstock this Sunday with surprise appearances and special guests who will honor his service to the church.

The public is welcome to attend the 9:30 a.m. service and following reception today, as well as a dinner reception at 6 p.m.

A native of North Carolina, Hunt has been pastor of First Baptist Woodstock since December of 1986. Church membership has grown during his time at the church from about 1,000 to more than 19,000.

The average worship attendance of 275 people in Hunt’s initial year has swollen to more than 6,270 visitors each week.

The former Southern Baptist Convention president has baptized more than 12,000 church members and helped lead 318 of his mentees to full-time ministry during his tenure.

Several local and state dignitaries are among the thousands that come to worship with Hunt, including state Rep. Charlice Byrd (R-Woodstock), state Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers (R-Woodstock) and state Rep. Sean Jerguson (R-Holly Springs).

The total amount raised by his church in 1986 of $407,892 has increased to $20 million in total giving for 2011.

Both the city of Woodstock and the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners have declared today as “Pastor Johnny Hunt Day.”

Still, Hunt said he hasn’t let it go to his head after all these years.

“People may ride by and see our large complex and say: ‘I bet that guy sure is arrogant,’ but it really has been a humbling experience,” Hunt said. “I know who I am and know where I came from. I know God’s great plan. When you believe that and are passionate about it, it really makes the difference.”

Hunt, who is of Native American descent, is a nationally recognized speaker within the Baptist community and his story of salvation is well-known.

One of six children, Hunt was raised by a single mom after his parents divorced and his dad moved away from their home in Wilmington, N.C.

He began drinking at age 11 and hanging out in pool halls by age 14, which led him to eventually drop out of school and start work at the local pool room.

There, he met his future wife Janet, whom he credits for turning his life around.

“Her dad wasn’t too crazy about us dating,” he said. “But we’ve been married 41 years and I’m still madly in love.”

During that time, someone invited him to church where he said he heard his spiritual calling and decided to become a pastor.

After graduating from Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs, N.C., and earning a master of divinity degree from Southeastern Seminary, he served as pastor at Falls Baptist Church in North Carolina and Longleaf Baptist Church in Wilmington, N.C.

Hunt said he was informed by fellow Baptists that First Baptist Woodstock was a struggling church and started pursuing the lead pastor position in early 1986 as a replacement for Pastor Dr. James Leonard.

“I came to believe that was where I was called to serve,” Hunt said, adding that he gave his first sermon at the church the first Sunday in December of that year — with today’s event marking his 25th anniversary almost exactly to the day.

Since then, Hunt has witnessed incredible growth over the years, but none due to advertisement.

“I think the most encouraging part is that not we’re on TV and we’re not on the radio,” Hunt said. “Our growth has been from friends bringing friends. It’s really a remarkable growth when you realize it’s all by word of mouth.”

Hunt said family is ranked “extremely high” on the priority list for both himself and for his congregation.

“I like to say, ‘If you can be a good Christian at home, you can be a good Christian anywhere,’” Hunt said. “If we have a good church, its because we have led our people to have good home lives.”

Hunt’s priority list has become even more important since he was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. Though the 59-year-old still leads a busy lifestyle after his successful recovery, his bout with cancer led him to consider spending more time with family and taking good care of his health so he can continue to lead his church effectively.

“It slows you down enough to really think through your priorities,” Hunt said. “I want to see what the next ten years would look like if I continue to stay healthy,” he said.

During Hunt’s tenure, the church completed the major construction project that built the stadium-like 7,000-seat sanctuary at Highway 92 and Neese Road. The campus accommodates not only worshippers for weekly Sunday morning service, but fans for Christian rock concerts and graduation ceremonies for all of Cherokee’s high school graduations.

“It was never our goal to become big,” Hunt said. “We realize the bigger we get, the smaller we must become.”

Hunt added that his over 85 percent of his church members find their family within the church through various small groups. He said these groups create a close-knit unit of friends in worship and in service.

“Our desire is for community to see us with palms down giving, not with palms up,” Hunt said, adding that in October, the church provided over $3.1 million worth of free service to address economic concerns in the community.

He also noted that church growth has also been one of the greatest challenges he has faced as lead pastor.

“We now have two morning worships, a Sunday night worship and three bible study times,” Hunt said. “It costs a lot of money to build, but our main focus is not buildings, it’s the people.”

As far as church-wide organization, Hunt credits his team of nine senior ministers.

“I’ve got a great team and a wonderful staff,” he said. “The senior ministers meet with me every week to delegate major pieces of responsibility. They all have the same passion I do to make a difference.”

For today’s events, Hunt said he and his wife aren’t expecting anything and that he is simply grateful for the privilege to serve.

Hunt and his wife live in Towne Lake and have two daughters and four grandchildren. His oldest daughter, Deanna Carswell and her husband Jake Carswekk have two children, Katie, 13, and Carson 12, who both attend Cherokee Christian School. Hunt’s youngest daughter, Hollie Hixson, has two children 10 year old Hope, 10. and Abbie, 7, with her husband Peter Hixson in Mableton, where he is also a pastor.
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