WOW! God has been moving here at South Decatur. Now I know when a pastor says that the first thing that people think is how many people the church has added during that time. The truth is that though we have grown in people, that is not the thing that has been so awesome. Though the worship services and altar services have been incredible in the last few months that is not the only powerful thing that has been happening around here. What has been happening here at SDC is the connection that people have been making over the last several months. Let me take the time to give some context.
In 2017 I was going into my fourteenth year as lead pastor. As I was praying for the direction that God wanted for our congregation, the Lord kept speaking to me about the church “Living Life Together.” Over the course of the year, I preach several messages about how the church has to become more than just a group that worships together, but we have to become relational. There has to be an effort for the church to live life together and for the community of believers to be more than something that we say but must become part of our DNA. I strongly believe that the church, and especially the Pentecostal church has failed in many ways to build relationships within the church. Relationships that help people live out their faith in a community. The Pentecostal church was birth out of relationships just as much as it was birthed out of the powerful worship experiences and somewhere along the way we have forgotten that part of church life. In 2017 this way of thinking caused us to change our motto for the church to “We are Family” because we wanted everyone to know that this was more than just a group of individuals that met to worship week to week but that this was a family that stood by each other. Now I would love to say that this took off right away, but the truth is that it took time.
At the end of 2017 something happened during a Deacon board meeting that changed the course of SDC. After our regular meeting, a conversation broke out of how can we become more connected as a church? What was so remarkable about this conversation is that God had been dealing with me about the word “Connect.” In my personal prayer time, the Spirit had been sharing with me that for the church to live life together there had to be a connection with God and with people. As we talked about how to connect the topic of Small Groups came up, which is something that has been on my heart for years, but something that up until this time I never felt the timing was right. As I explain my small group vision with the board, they seemed to think it was something worth praying about and considering. During January I cast the vision to the entire church. Now again I would love to say that everyone in the church was thrilled but that would not be the truth. There were some that were concerned because they felt we would lose something by changing Sunday night worship. As a leader, you have to understand that many times rejection or concern in our case is not personal, but instead, it is good people that want to make sure that where we are going is good. After discussing it for a while, I ask the congregation would they trust me for a six-week trial run, which they said they would.
Six groups started and immediately our attendance for Sunday night went up by 80%. Groups began to meet in different homes and at different times. People began to see that there was another way to do church and that it was a way in which they could get involved and grow. After six weeks we had our first Tribal Group Celebration, (Tribal groups are what we named the small groups). The night was full of worship, testimonies, fun, and excitement. The ones that were concerned were some of the most excited about what was happening, and they were all on board for what God was doing. So what has happened since Tribal groups have come to SDC?
First, people are doing life together. This last week I had a young couple that had their five years old son have to go to the hospital, and their group members made sure that their two-year-old was taken care of so they would not have to worry. Another group had a member that was going through a spiritual struggle, and they have been there walking them through the issue. I have heard of groups that have held each other accountable and have encouraged one another. People in the church are calling, texting, and visiting one another. Parents are meeting up to have play dates with each other and talking about how they can reach more people and get them into their groups. I have seen relationships form in the most powerful ways, which is what is suppose to happen in church.
Second, there has been an excitement in our worship and power in our altar services. One of the by-products that I did not see coming is how excited people are to come together and worship. Even though we have one less worship service, the encounters that we do have are more powerful and are producing more results of changed lives. Our prayer services have been some of the most powerful experiences that I have been a part of seen I have been here.
Thirdly, people are stepping up to get involved in ministry. People have been coming and asking what can I do to make the church better. Because they have gotten engaged in-group, and they see the benefit, and they now want to make the church better and realize that they have a part to play in the welfare of the work. Involvement is what discipleship is all about, and this is something that excites me as a pastor more than anything.
So many times as pastors and leaders in the church we only gauge success by the numbers that come through the door. In doing so, we can miss the growth that is happening not in new people but in the people that are in the congregation. Now do not get me wrong I do believe that there needs to be growing in numbers, and we have seen that happen over the last few months as new people have come but just as important there has to be growth in the lives of the SDC family. The church has to be a relational community before it can become a missional force. I mean what does it benefit if we have thousands of people and there is no connection other than they attend worship together. The church has to be more than just a gathering place; it has to become a place where people can find meaning, purpose, mission, and connections. All of this is what God is doing here at SDC through Tribal groups, and I am very excited. For us, I genuinely believe the best is yet to come.