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Pastor taps ‘Sunday Bible fellowship’ as banner to move church forward

RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–Six months ago Andrew Coleman was preaching in a bar.

Granted, the bar wasn’t being used for that purpose while he preached, but Crescent Beach Baptist Church was meeting in a St. Augustine, Fla., shopping center in the area that housed a bar.

“My pulpit area was in the same area as the tap,” Coleman said, adding that the bar now is closed.

“I mistakenly thought that what we needed most was property, our own building,” said Coleman, pastor of the church. “I thought we didn’t need to be meeting in a shopping center. But I have come to realize that isn’t true.

“After six different contracts on property fell through, we finally figured out that God didn’t want us to have property,” he said.

“Our church had been on a plateau for a while,” Coleman said. “That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because a plateau says you have climbed up. A plateau can be a place to catch your breath before going on up the mountain.”

The problem for Crescent Beach, he said, was that the church was staying on the plateau instead of continuing the climb.

“I finally got it that the way off that plateau wasn’t to buy property, but the way we’d start climbing again was by ministering and giving to the body,” he said.

Coleman said his vision for the church’s continuing growth is based on Sunday school, the starting point for “my whole vision of where we are going as a church … . I really believe that Sunday school is the first issue of increasing our commitment to growth,” he said.

Coleman and 17 other members of Crescent Beach attended the National Sunday School Leadership Development Event at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center, Ridgecrest, N.C., June 16-21.

“I believe in training,” Coleman said. “Each year we put this Ridgecrest training event in our church budget. I don’t believe it is fair to ask people to step out as leaders in our Sunday school and not give them the training they need to be able to do it.”

Coleman said that in August, Crescent Beach will start a strategy he calls “It’s Time to Climb.”

“We’re starting with Sunday school. We’re going back to the traditional class structure. We’re doing that for one reason — it works. For us, this will be the way off the plateau,” he continued.

Coleman and his wife, Marcie, worked together to develop an outline of how to move the church’s Sunday school into the place they believe God wants it to be.

The Colemans then hosted a group of 55 people, the Sunday school leadership team, at a backyard party at their home.

“I explained my vision to them, a vision of seeing our Sunday school grow and our people being trained in the Word,” he said. “I told them it won’t be easy and the commitment will be huge.” But, he said, raising the bar and the level of expectations of the Sunday school leadership is crucial.

Coleman explained that the “new climb” for Crescent Beach will increase their commitment in four key areas.

1) Reaching people for Christ by enhancing and expanding the Sunday school ministry.

2) Practical discipleship by meeting people where they are struggling and offering practical, powerful, discipleship seminars each semester.

3) Worship by enhancing their existing “blended” worship services, by adding a new Sunday “celebration” worship service and by adding a new staff position, a pastor of worship.

4) Equip people for ministry by beginning basic seminars to help members learn more about their church, their growth, their gifts and their ministry.

After the party, “only two people told me, ‘That’s great.'” Coleman said. “But by the next Sunday, more people were getting excited.”

Coleman said another change the church will make is in terminology. Instead of the term “Sunday school,” they will use “Sunday Bible fellowship.”

“We have a lot of people from the north who have moved into the area and they see Sunday school as only being a class for children,” he said. “We’ve tried to explain that it’s for all age groups, but it just doesn’t get through. Only 40 percent of the people in our church have ever been Baptist, much less Southern Baptist. The term ‘Sunday Bible fellowship’ identifies the Bible as the center and identifies relationships as important.”

Coleman, who has been at Crescent Beach since 1995, is the church’s first full-time pastor. Crescent Beach began as a church plant in 1992.

On Coleman’s first Sunday, he said 43 people attended, and now the church has about 200 attending each week.

“We are a diverse group,” he said. “There are the locals, the people who live here all the time. Then about 20 percent of our congregation are seasonal visitors. Some are here only in the winter, others only in the summer. Then we have a group of weekend vacationers.”

Outreach to the St. Augustine community is a priority to Crescent Beach.

“One special ministry to the community we do is an Easter sunrise service we hold on the beach each year. It’s really taken off. Last year we had about 2,000 people attend that. Some people drove between 150 and 200 miles for the service. We do all our baptisms in the ocean and that Sunday I baptized 10 people,” he said.

He added with a laugh that he has even had people ask if they could be baptized, not understanding that they need to experience salvation first. That gives him the opportunity to tell them how to be saved.

When one of the members of Crescent Beach told Coleman during the week that she couldn’t believe how everything she was hearing and learning at Ridgecrest fit in perfectly with his own vision for their Sunday school, Coleman said, they shouldn’t be surprised. “We are all working for the same Boss.”

The National Sunday School Leadership Development Event was sponsored by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: TIME TOGETHER.

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  • Polly House