True Gospel Baptist sets up at local YMCA

The place where Michael Kelly preaches on Sunday features a gym, a large swimming pool and a room filled with treadmills and strength training equipment.

It is the D.A. Turner YMCA.

If things go well for his fledgling True Gospel Baptist Church, it will have a place of its own someday, but Kelly feels blessed to have what he has now.

The 43-year-old Kelly is in the business of planting churches, and June 1 marked True Gospel's beginning.

"I have sent out 1,300 flyers and knocked on 500 doors letting people know that we are here and inviting them to visit," he said.

So far, the response of the people he has met has been positive, but turnout at 11 a.m. on Sunday has been slim.

"Getting a church going is not easy, especially, in a place such as Columbus which has so many churches," he said.

Kelly came here from Bainbridge, Ga., where he planted a church, also called True Gospel Baptist, in 2006.

"We started meeting in homes and when I left, we had a building and a van and we were debt free."

When he felt it was time to move on, he looked at several cities. A friend, Preston Parker, pastor at Victory Independent Baptist Church here, told him how Columbus was growing and how it would be a good opportunity for him.

Kelly arrived locally with his family last August. The pastor, who lives in Phenix City, has a son attending Chattahoochee Valley Community College, a daughter attending Columbus Technical College and a daughter attending Grace Christian School.

His wife of 20 years, Jennifer, works at Sound Choices, a pregnancy clinic.

He said that both he and his wife are out in the community trying to form relationships. He coaches a YMCA youth basketball team.

Kelly has been conducting a bible study in a conference room on Tuesday mornings at the John P. Thayer branch of the YMCA downtown, and that led to Sunday services at the branch of Warm Springs Road.

David Steele, executive director of the YMCA of Metropolitan Columbus, said having church services at a YMCA is not strange at all, that it is a normal relationship, a natural occurrence across the country between fledgling churches and the YMCA.

"Many churches have gotten their beginning at the YMCA," Steele said.

Kelly was raised in Pensacola, Fla. He was a regular churchgoer but never considered taking a professional role in the church. He certainly did not consider preaching.

"I had trouble delivering a two-minute book report in school," Kelly said, laughing.

He said it was while in Atlanta, where he was an executive with Aldi Foods training managers, that he got the call to preach.

It was 2003.

"I fought it for awhile. I kept refusing God," he said.

But he gave in and attended Atlanta Baptist College.

Doing ministry work was not completely foreign to him as his father participates in a prison ministry in Florida.

Kelly said that, at first, his wife was not thrilled about being a pastor's wife but that she has done an excellent job.

Kelly said he wants to start an independent church here with a focus on missions.

He said that though a lot of churches these days drop the affiliation such as Presbyterian or Methodist from their name, he wants people to know that his is a Baptist Church.

"People need to know what they are getting. No surprises. No question about what we are. A lot of churches now are non-denominational. People don't want to be categorized. Non-denominational has become a denomination. I just want people to give us a try and see what we are all about," he said.

And what the church is about is the Bible.

"We teach the Bible," he said. "You know, these days, some people don't even bring a Bible with them to church."

Kelly, currently working on developing a church website, said people can reach him at 770-262-1066.

"We are ready to grow," he said.