AT2W visits Eddie Long’s Newbirth and is shocked by Dwindled Membership

AT2W’s Visit to Bishop Long’s New Birth Church

A few of us here at AT2W were in Atlanta this past weekend for a conference. We took advantage of the trip to pay a visit to Bishop Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church on Sunday. We wanted to share with our readers exactly how Bishop Long’s Church is doing. Two of our staff members that took the trip to New Birth Church are former members from a few years ago. They will explain their remembrance of when they used attend the New Birth Church and how it has changed.

We used to take our weekly drive to the nearby Atlanta suburb, Lithonia on Sundays and it was always a drive through traffic to even reach the church. The church is located about 3/4 of a mile from a Walmart off Highway I-20. It didn’t matter which direction you were coming from off I-20, there was a guaranteed stop and go traffic 1-2 exits before your exit. There was never any way around it unless you arrived to the church a hour or two ahead of the services. Even shoppers at Walmart and nearby residents complained of the traffic every weekend.

On Sunday, we got into our SUV and headed to the church for the 11:00 a.m. service. We chose this service instead of the 7 a.m. service because only the bottom half of the sanctuary would be filled. From what we knew of the two services, the 11 a.m. was the more popular one and we would get a true feel for how the congregation has sustained or dwindled if any.

So, on our way there, we left an hour ahead hoping it would be enough time to get through traffic. Low and behold, when we reached the exit to get to the church, there was hardly any back up at all. In fact there was only a 10 minute wait to get into the church property grounds. We were shocked by what we saw. At that hour on a Sunday morning, the church parking lot was not filled much at all. When we would have to drive far out to get a park, we were able to find one easily near a front side door. We couldn’t believe how the church membership according to the cars in the parking lot had dwindled.

We left our car and made our way into the church building. The church still resembles the same as we remember. Its still classy and huge and not much as changed but the hallways and vestibule were not as jam packed as usual. Now, New Birth used to be 25,000 members strong, it has definitely decreased significantly and we had not even made it into the sanctuary.

While we took our walk through the sanctuary doors, we noticed that it was about 30 minutes before the service was to start. We were able to find a seat about 2 rows from the front. As the service started on time, we looked around behind us to see how the sanctuary was filling up. It had only filled up about halfway to the middle of the sanctuary with several rows behind the congregation cold and empty. We took a look above us from behind and the balcony was completely empty. It remained that way until we left. This was totally out of character for New Birth. At the second service, the church is completely packed to the up and downstairs of the sanctuary.

We felt disturbed as the praise team came forward and did their hip hop thing. This was going on when we used to attend but the praise team is really casual and the lead singer was annoying with all of his yelling and cooing.

After the sacrament was taken, Bishop Long made a few announcements and he mentioned his New Birth church in Birmingham and stated the congregation has grown to 3,000. As the cameras swirled around us and the church sang a song to greet the Birmingham church by streaming media, we couldn’t help but feel a bit lost because the church just felt so empty. We don’t think the congregation at Long’s church is more than 2,000 or less. We don’t know for sure but its definitely a fraction of the 25,000 members from less than a year ago.

Bishop Long preaches and walks out into the congregation as if to get close and imitate with the few members left. We even noticed that Bishop Long was wearing a vest and pants that we had not seen him wear in years. We were sure of it because we remember speaking on it and saying we liked the distinctive design. One thing about it, Bishop Long would very rarely wear the same suits twice and to see him have to reach in the back of his closet, so to speak, is so surprising.

Also, we thought it was peculiar that Bishop Long stated that many of his members want help financially from the church but don’t realize that church needs electricity and toilet paper. He jokingly stated, “Would you rather have lights or toilet paper?” He went on to state maybe people should bring their own toilet paper and water to flush. This could have been a joke but considering the dwindled membership, he was probably speaking some truth.

The choir comes out in their multi-color shirts but something is different. Where are all of the men? We noticed that there is only a handful of men in the choir and the rest women. Also, when they sang, you couldn’t help but notice that only sopranos were singing- everything was so high pitched as if the altos and tenors have resigned.

Near the end of the service, Bishop Long invited people up to give hugs or what he calls- “Loving on them” but the hugs and whispers in the ears, came and went very quickly. The choir tried to stretch out “A Blessing is On You” song as much as possible even after Bishop Long had left the sanctuary.

When we made our way out of the sanctuary, we noticed the vestibule had a small crowd around the store where members buy a copy of the sermon by CD or DVD. As we passed by and found the side door to where our car was parked, the church grounds had small groups people talking together but the parking lot was nearly empty already.

The shock of seeing this congregation dwindled to a few faithful proves that the sexual allegations against Bishop Long really did break the headstrong membership that many bragged would never ever decrease. So many people cursed us and sent us hate mail about the truth we wrote about Bishop Long, but we wonder what they are saying now? Are they even members of New Birth any longer?

As we drove out of the parking lot effortlessly, we all felt a bit sad of how things change due to the mistreatment of young men and others by Bishop Long.

One thing we did not miss though would be: having to hold in our anger during a traffic jam after church while some rude church member would cut in front of us and mean mug just to try and get out sooner.

What a weekend we had!