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Ill. church’s expectation: ‘lives are going to be touched’

Revised 09/29/04

DECATUR, Ill. (BP)–Tabernacle Baptist Church shifted from a committee structure to a ministries-based organization five years ago, with 168 service opportunities under 20 major headings.

“When I came here 14 years ago, I was a single-staff pastor, voted in with 186 votes,” Pat Pajak said. “We’ve been able to watch it grow.”

In numerous ways, the Decatur, Ill., church indeed has grown.

Each year in November, the church hosts a ministry fair to promote the 168 opportunities in a lighthearted, carnival-type atmosphere.

“We’ll have a thousand people come to our ministry fair,” Pajak said. “They go around all the tables and discover where their talents and skills fit in with what the church is doing, and if we don’t offer you your particular ministry, we can start one.

“As Christians, we are called to serve,” the pastor said. “It fulfills us as individuals, it fulfills the Great Commission, and at the same time it fulfills God’s purpose.”

Tabernacle was stop No. 33 Sept. 24 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s national bus tour to push for a greater sense of urgency for evangelism among Southern Baptists. In kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign, Welch is calling for Southern Baptist churches to “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

Tabernacle moved into a new $7 million facility across from the Holiday Inn Conference Center on Interstate 72 in August, and Sunday attendance has moved up 30 percent, to around 1,000, in the worship center.

Over the years, the ministerial staff had grown to seven and support staff to nine.

“We have spent a lot of time knocking on doors and doing old-time visitation,” Pajak said. “We were one of the original churches doing FAITH,” the Sunday School-based evangelism strategy widely used in Southern Baptist churches. About 60 people are baptized each year at Tabernacle, and when someone is baptized as a result of a FAITH visit, the entire FAITH team gets in the baptistery with the new believer.

“From the staff to the membership, there is an expectation that every Sunday morning lives are going to be touched,” Pajak said. “It still excites me every Sunday morning when I see how God takes His Word and uses it. People accepting Christ as Savior, families finding a church home, marriages being rescued –- and deacons or other members gathering around and praying for them. It’s beautiful to see.”

One of Tabernacle’s strengths is its small groups ministries, led by Roger Daniels, a licensed counselor. “Divorce care, grief care, children of divorced parents, rebuilders -– people trying to rebuild their lives — that’s been a real drawing card,” Pajak said. “Dr. Daniels was born and raised in this church. We brought him back to be on staff.”

Matter of fact, several staff members are “home-grown,” the pastor said.

“We have three staff people born and raised here at the church; our senior adult minister met and married his wife in this church and now he’s back on staff; our minister of music is from the St. Louis area; and I’m a native Illinoisian,” Pajak said.

Decatur, a city of about 82,000 people, is the soybean capital of the world, Pajak said. Tabernacle fits its city because in addition to its home-grown staff, the church understands the needs of its townspeople, the pastor said.

“We found in central Illinois that just like anyplace else, people are hungry for the Gospel,” Pajak said. “If you will be friendly and share the Gospel, God will do the rest.”

Tabernacle has 28 greeters each Sunday morning, in addition to ushers going up and down the aisles, shaking hands. Valet parking is provided for the handicapped.

“We say all the time in training, ‘Remember what it was like the first time you walked into a strange church? Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone take an interest in you?’ We walk people to classes and introduce them; give mom and dad a tour of the preschool area and a pager in case we need to get hold of them,” the pastor said. “I think that puts parents’ minds at ease.

“We also as a staff have made a conscious effort to reach people in their 20s and 30s,” Pajak continued. “If we reach them, we’ll reach young families and young children, and in that process we are reaching the next generation.”

It’s not unusual for the church to have 100 youngsters in the preschool department.

“That would say we’re doing something right to reach young families,” the pastor said. “We do a lot of high impact stuff … have a praise-in-motion team all in black, with white gloves, doing interpretive movements … try to be contemporary enough so young families can say, ‘Hey, I belong here,’ and I found our older members are very willing to change.”

Tabernacle hasn’t changed in its missions giving, however. From 1996 through 2002, it was the top Cooperative Program-giving church in Illinois. Last year, it was number two, and it’s been in the top eight since 1992. The Cooperative Program -– CP missions -– is the channel by which Southern Baptists support missions and ministry initiatives nationally and internationally.

Tabernacle gives 12 percent of undesignated offerings to CP Missions; its total missions giving exceeds $250,000 a year.

“We have missionaries on the field in [a nation unnamed for security reasons] right now, and several pastors and directors of missions have gone out from our church,” Pajak said. “The reason we have preachers all across America and the world is this has always been a very strong mission-minded and missions-acting church, and God has blessed our ministry.

“I think the light that shines the brightest at home shines the farthest around the world,” the pastor said. “We’ve taught our people who we are as Southern Baptists and that how we are intricately linked [through CP Missions] is tremendously important for our churches. I think the people at Tabernacle understand that.”

Despite being in a building and relocating mode for the last four years, the church has not dropped its missions giving nor its missions fervor, the pastor said. Tabernacle members go on at least one international mission trip a year; Pajak is taking eight missions volunteers to Transylvania, Romania, in November. Members are involved in the SBC’s Disaster Relief and Campers on Mission groups; some women work at a Christian activity center in East St. Louis; and members are involved with a children’s home in Carmi, Ill.

“We not only talk about and support missions, we do missions,” Pajak said. “When people get to see it firsthand … they get to realize this worldwide emphasis to share the Gospel is for real.

“First they realize how absolutely blessed we are as American believers and I think they see how blessed our churches are,” the pastor continued. “I think they come back with a sense that we are very spoiled here. As a result, many want to share more financially and go on more mission trips and meet more people. Their lives are definitely impacted.”