Our Story

In December 1903, a few of God’s people assembled themselves in a small three-room house on Davis Street, now known as Northside Drive. Under the pastorship of Reverend Whatley, these persons worked faithfully and spiritually for many years striving to reach their goal. The church grew tremendously under the leadership of Rev. Whatley and a faithful few. After the passing of Rev. Whatley, the members continued to work in God’s name to make the church what God wanted it to be, under the leadership of Rev. Robert Thompson.

As the years passed, Rev. B. J. Johnson and Rev. J. H. Daniel pastored the Mt. Gilead Missionary Baptist Church. Rev. Daniel decided to resign as pastor, and a few members left with him and organized what is now known as the Greater Vine City Baptist Church.

The next pastor that was elected for Mt. Gilead was Rev. Anderson Hall. Rev. Hall pastored Mt. Gilead from March 1946 until March 1964. During this period, Rev. R. L. Haynes was his assistant. Rev. Anderson Hall became ill, and Rev. Bennie E. Smith was elected to pastor Mt. Gilead Baptist Church. During Rev. Hall’s illness, Rev. Haynes remained as his assistant pastor and worked faithfully with Rev. Bennie Smith. Rev. Anderson Hall implemented the first renovation of the church and the purchase of a gas heater. Also, under the leadership of Pastor Anderson Hall, with the assistance of Rev. Bennie Smith, we were able to acquire the houses in the rear of the church for the development of additional parking.

Rev. Bennie E. Smith served Mt. Gilead until his death, December 2, 1965, serving only two years. After his death, Rev. Edward Hall, son of the late Rev. Anderson Hall, was elected to pastor the Mt. Gilead Baptist Church in March 1966.

Several ministries were organized under the leadership of Rev. Edward Hall. The church was renovated from a small building to its present size. We purchased the property surrounding the church, provided additional parking space, and built the Anderson Hall Fellowship Hall. Our first radio ministry (The Hour of Power) started, and many ministers were ordained under his great teachings. Out of these great works under the leadership of Rev. Hall, came our present Pastor, Dexter L. Johnson. The EverReady Choir was organized under the leadership of Pastor Emeritus Edward Hall and remains to this day. Pastor Johnson grew up in this choir. Rev. Hall retired in 1994 and served as Pastor Emeritus until he went home to be with the Lord.

outside view

Our present Pastor, Dexter Johnson, who grew up here at Mt. Gilead, became the Pastor in January 1994. He has already left his mark in our hearts and minds. He brought a fresh new approach to the Word of God, appealing to people of all ages. Pastor Johnson adds a new vision to all aspects of our church’s unsustaining growth. He restructured all the adult choirs as one choir, named the New Vision Choir, which was later renamed the Mt. Gilead Singers. As part of his vision, we have become a part of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship.

By the grace of God, under the pastorate of Pastor Johnson, we were able to pay the mortgage off of the church on August 26, 1997. Since that time, we have been able to purchase additional property around the church.
In 1998, the visionary, our Pastor, moved us into the renovation of our current edifice. Phase I, the Anderson Hall Fellowship Hall, was completed in September 1999.
In 2001, we:

  • Demolished old houses next to the church
  • Expanded the parking area
  • Acquired property adjacent to the church
  • Opened a Community Resource Center

In 2002, we:

  • Opened our first Summer Day Camp
  • Opened our Computer Lab
  • Held our first Entrepreneur Workshop
  • Assisted over 500 families in the Vine City Community and surrounding areas with clothes, furniture, food, housing, etc. to rebuild their lives after the flooding in different areas throughout the city
  • Worked with the American Red Cross for the first time as a “point of contact” during this catastrophe
  • Renovated our present sanctuary, inside and out, with a new appearance

In 2003, we:

  • Marched back into our newly renovated facility the 1st Sunday of March
  • Are in hot pursuit of Phase II—“City of Hope”

We are elated that we are at the threshold to cross over into Phase II, “The Oasis of Vine City— The City of Hope.”  This will encompass:

  • Senior Citizen Housing/Healthcare Facility
  • Multi-Generational Housing
  • Adult Day Care
  • Multi-Purpose Recreational Facility
  • Child Development Center
  • Transitional Housing
  • Restaurants, businesses, and banquet facilities
  • Office Space

In March 2008, a storm tore through the city, and our church suffered great damage. God began to speak to our Pastor about the spiritual condition of the church; “tell my people that they have dwelt around that mountain long enough; it is time to go to Higher Ground. As God began to Reposition us, HE said to our Visionary, “Friend move up to a higher place then you will be honored in the presence of all of the other guests. (Luke 14:10b).”  The next twenty months were filled with many challenges.  Praise God we overcame them all!

In the fall of 2009, our Exodus came to pass. We:

  • Demolished the apartment complex next to the church
  • Demolished the store on the corner
  • Demolished the Resource Center
  • Renovated our entire facility
  • God changed our name to “Higher Ground Empowerment Center” officially on September 1, 2009.
  • Our spiritual Birthing & Dedication Services took place on December 6, 2009.

January 2017
To God be the glory! Now that we are in pursuit of the vision that God has given us, we have launched the Oasis of Vine City, Inc. We have formed a new alliance with partners to bring this vision to fruition. The Oasis is the nonprofit outreach arm of our ministry. The construction is currently ongoing for building 105 units of Senior Housing, as well as a Community Center, Family Life Center, and Boys Group Home. This project is set to be completed in the fall of 2019.

September 2019
Excitement is in the air as we prepare for the Grand opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony on November 14, 2019.

As we continue this vision, we shall be having another groundbreaking ceremony in the 1st Quarter of 2020. This decade shall be the best one ever. Stay woke, and stay tuned.

We thank God for our valley, experiences, and our new beginning. Truly, God has restored, regenerated, and revived us. We pray for continued favor as we “Grow Together in Christ, with a New Vision we have: Empowering the People of God, for the Kingdom of God, on our way to “Higher Ground!”


Higher Ground Empowerment Center is a Word centered ministry designed to evangelize the lost at any cost, equip and empower the people of God, and provide holistic ministry to our community as well as the world.

Seeking to minister to the total person, we are a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural ministry impacting the world in which we live with an uncompromising message of Jesus Christ.

Committed to the Spirit of Excellence, we are striving to become an oasis of hope within the Vine City community by promoting and providing financial independence through education and awareness.

We believe that God must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. We embrace freedom in worship because the Word says, “ Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is liberty.”

Our foundation is the Word of God and we believe in its entirely. We believe that we can do what it says we can do, be who it says we can be and have what it says we can have.

Matthew 28: 18-20; Matthew 25:34-40
1 Corinthians 12-14; Galatians 3:26-29
Dr. Dexter L. Johnson, Sr.


Dr. Dexter L. Johnson, Sr.

Dr. Dexter L. Johnson, Sr. is a native of Atlanta, Georgia. He is entering his 22nd year as the Senior Pastor of the Higher Ground Empowerment Center Church, formerly known as Mount Gilead Missionary Baptist Church, an inner-city ministry. He is a proud parent of three wonderful children, Dexter II, Demario, and Danielle.

He is the CEO and founder of The Oasis of Vine City, a “one-stop-shop” resource center. The mission of the Oasis is to empower the people in the Vine City community and surrounding areas and equip them with the tools and resources needed to establish a better way of life and living. Dr. Johnson has ventured into many endeavors while working in the Vine City neighborhood and has brought forth many positive changes and accomplishments.

He has pursued studies at Towns Elementary School, C. L. Harper High School, Morehouse College, and Carver Bible College. He received an honorary Doctorate of Ministry from ABG Theological Seminary in 2013. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1984 – 1988.

Pastor Johnson is very active in the community and currently holds office as Chairman of the Vine City Civic Association, Founder and CEO of The Oasis of Vine City, Board of Directors of the Historic Mims Park Project, member of the Vine City/English Avenue Ministerial Alliance, Board of Directors for the National Monument Foundation and serves as a General Overseer in the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International.