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Church ‘radically changed’ by FAITH, pastor recounts

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–There’s a baby boom at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Decatur, Ill.
No, the medium-sized Southern Baptist church in the “soybean capital of the world” isn’t being overrun by bed babies and mothers-to-be. These “youngsters” are babes in Christ — new converts resulting from the church’s involvement in the FAITH Sunday school evangelism strategy.
“People are being radically changed; they are just vibrant,” Pat Pajak, senior pastor at Tabernacle, said during a July 15 interview at Ridgecrest (N.C.) Baptist Conference Center. “We have all these new babies coming in to our church and it’s making an incredible impact.”
By most standards, Tabernacle was a healthy church even before a group of 10 staff members and lay leaders participated in a FAITH training clinic last January at First Baptist Church, Daytona Beach, Fla. A joint strategy of LifeWay Christian Resources (formerly Sunday School Board) of the Southern Baptist Convention and the North American Mission Board, FAITH ties ongoing personal evangelism to a church’s Sunday school organization. Leaders from 28 “originator” churches from across the country received training in the FAITH strategy at the Florida church and, in turn, will host training clinics for churches in their area this fall and early next year.
Pajak, a former U.S. Army paratrooper and professional football player for the Chicago Bears, took over as pastor at Tabernacle seven and a half years ago. During that time, the church’s worship attendance has increased from 185 to 850 and paid leadership had grown from one full-time pastor to a staff of six. A Bible study attendance of 650 requires three weekly Sunday schools.
“God had really blessed our church over the last few years,” Dale Davenport, associate pastor and FAITH ministry coordinator at Tabernacle, explained, “but we really had the desire to see more conversion growth, not just transfer growth.”
Even so, when it came time to attend the FAITH clinic, Pajak admitted he and his staff had mixed feelings about going.
“We were really blessed we had been asked to be one of the 28 originator churches, but it was a real busy time of the year for us,” Pajak remembered. “And only a few months before, we had lost our music minister to cancer. It was still a fresh wound for us.”
Despite some misgivings, Pajak, all his staff and four laypeople lived up to their commitment and headed south for the clinic. It turned out to be one of the best trips they’d ever made.
“It was a great healing time for our staff and key lay leaders,” Pajak said. “It was great to spend time learning together and praying for our church. God really used the FAITH clinic to give us a fresh burden for souls. It made us tremendously soul-conscious.”
After arriving back home, the Tabernacle leaders spent two weeks promoting the FAITH strategy. One hundred church members showed up for an informational meeting and 42 soon enrolled as participants in the 16-week basic training course.
“We were thrilled with the response,” Pajak said. “Technically, we were only supposed to have 30 people enrolled, two persons for each of the 10 of us who were trained at the clinic. But I literally had people walking up to me in the halls with tears in their eyes, pleading with me to let them be involved. We just couldn’t turn them away.”
Davenport said many of those who signed up for the training “were not people we would have expected, certainly not people we would have handpicked in advance. But they were the people who really had a burden for lost souls.”
FAITH participants at Tabernacle came from all age groups and categories, including a 33-year-old widow and former truck driver, an 80-year-old woman originally from England, married couples in their 40s and 50s, a 16-year-old boy and a 19-year-old single woman.
“It was a breath of fresh air to see so many of our laypeople excited about this,” Davenport said. “And they were very committed. They kept showing up week after week.”
Tabernacle conducted its FAITH training sessions on Thursday evenings with a fellowship meal from 5:30 to 6 p.m., and training from 6-7 p.m. The teams would then make their visits and return to the church for reports and celebration.
“We cheered and clapped for every report,” Pajak said, “including those who didn’t even get inside the door. We wanted people to know it was making the effort that was important. We became very close as a group, a real fellowship or ‘alumniship,’ if you will, began to develop among us.”
But the results weren’t only in the FAITH participants themselves, Davenport said.
“We increased our Sunday school enrollment by 72 people in 16 weeks and had 64 professions of faith. It almost doubled our baptisms for the year.”
The upsurge in membership required the church to add a fourth Sunday school time slot and begin transporting youth to Bible study classes in rented space at a nearby Catholic high school.
Pajak and Davenport were at Ridgecrest July 13-17 to share with other church leaders attending a National Sunday School Leadership Training Conference the impact FAITH is having on their church. They are quick to tell how the FAITH ministry harvested new converts such as:
— Tracy, a divorcee with two children ages 9 and 7, both of whom have rare diseases that will likely kill them before they reach adulthood. She got saved, then her ex-husband accepted Christ. “They’re not remarried yet, but I really believe they will be one day,” Pajak said, tears welling up in his eyes. “They’re sitting together in church every week and we’ve assimilated their children into our Sunday school classes.”
— 11 young women at a local crisis pregnancy center who have accepted Christ as a result of the ministry of Diana Myers, one of the lay leaders who attended the FAITH Clinic training in Florida.
— a young unmarried couple with a 3-year-old child. After becoming new Christians, the first thing the man did was quit his job at a local liquor distributor. Later, the couple asked to be counseled about marriage and soon became man and wife. “God provided a brand new job for him, better than he had before, and they are in church every Sunday, sitting together and smiling.”
— David, a young man with long red hair down his back, body piercings and tattoos. He accepted Christ as a result of the FAITH ministry and now is reaching friends and family members.
“FAITH has really helped us become much more outward looking than inward looking,” Davenport said. “As a church, we’re much more conscious of those who don’t know Christ. And we’re more involved in ministering to our members and reclaiming absentees.
“It’s a strategy that makes Sunday school work the way it is supposed to work,” Pajak said. “It helps create a Sunday school that cares for and ministers to people. It’s a process, not a program.”
Tabernacle will continue its role in the FAITH process by hosting a training clinic Aug. 31-Sept. 4. Pajak said he is expecting church leaders from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri. Joining that group will be 64 additional members from Tabernacle who recently committed to the FAITH ministry.
“This is a powerful strategy,” Pajak said. “Once it gets into the life of your church, it’s there to stay.”
For more information about the FAITH training clinics, or to register, call LifeWay’s Church Program Training Center at 1-800-254-2022.

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  • Chip Alford