A St. Andrews Baptist Church member recently took to social media to share his excitement that every Sunday the gospel is spoken in three different languages at his church.
“That’s so beautiful for someone to say, that there’s something unique in our identity,” Pastor Dee Vaughan responds. “This happens in other places, but hasn’t happened for us before. We are reaching and helping to reach folks that we wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to reach. It’s looking more and more like how heaven will look – with all of God’s family.”
For a little more than two years, First Haitian Church of Columbia members have held weekly Sunday afternoon worship services in St. Andrews’ chapel. When Vaughan and his staff were first approached about the opportunity to share campus space in this way, they saw it as a stewardship issue because “if we have the space, it should be used for the glory of Christ.” The church answered with the same willing spirit when CMBA Associational Missions Strategist Jamie Rogers approached Vaughan again several months ago with a new opportunity.
“When I heard the story of a couple who had a passion to reach others from Myanmar living in the Midlands and then started a Bible study that grew into a church, I thought it was a beautiful story and that our church would love to be a part of that,” Vaughan recalls.
St. Andrews Baptist has “more capacity in facilities than we are presently using, and I think a lot of churches are in that same situation,” Vaughan says. Its uniqueness lies in its open-handed approach to hosting other churches on its campus – “we never want these folks to feel like renters. We want them to be family.”
By all accounts, the three “families” are blending well in the shared space. First Haitian Church has about 20 regular attenders, and Pastor Tony Donaster sees evidence that God is at work in their lives. Personally, Donaster has become active in St. Andrews’ discipleship groups and built relationships that have grown outside of church. He also regularly attends the Sunday morning service.
“I worship with St. Andrews before our 12:30 service. Worship prepares my mind and hearing Pastor Dee’s sermon prepares me spiritually for my service,” Donaster says, adding the experience has been “a privilege. The Lord has opened this door for ministry, to spread the gospel among the Haitian people, and build the Haitian community here in Columbia.”
Vaughan is excited by a partnership opportunity First Myanmar proposed – that the children and youth of each congregation meet together for Sunday School. The roughly 70-member Burmese church is comprised of more than 30 children, so St. Andrews’ educational building hallways have come to life since the two churches officially combined the ministries in June. Members of both churches serve as Sunday School teachers.
“This has been a blessing to us. We have had gaps in our children’s groups, so bringing both congregations together provides an excellent Bible study experience for all the children. We see it as a gift from God,” Vaughan says, adding “this new energy has spread to our existing ministries.”
First Myanmar Pastor Thomas Thein calls it an answered prayer to combine Sunday Schools and says St. Andrews’ location allows his church to better reach the Burmese community. “Extra spaces in local churches, like St. Andrews, being made available to churches like us means so much. Worshipping the same living God together is like having neighbors in a neighborhood.”
Vaughan admits being surprised by how easily details have fallen into place with the two churches, who each crafted formal agreements and written expectations of the parties. While many church members have “had to do a lot of work to make things happen,” God has repeatedly shown His involvement and blessing to Vaughan. He has been personally encouraged as well.
“The first Sunday our Myanmar friends joined us, two Bible study groups volunteered their class time to serve as greeters and guided people where they needed to go. About 25 people stepped up to do this. That’s evidence that God is working in their lives, too,” Vaughan says.
Rogers is grateful to St. Andrews for embracing these sister churches within the association, and says it’s a “picture of the Church working together, sharing space so that the entire CMBA area can hear the gospel and respond by coming to know Jesus and finding life through Him.”
Vaughan simplifies the way all churches can relate to this same opportunity to host smaller churches onsite.
“Just as many churches give intentional thought to offering different styles of worship that reach different groups of people, this is the same thing. It’s offering people a worship experience in their language and rooted in their culture. Now we’re not just a church family, we’re a family of churches,” he says. “St. Andrews can be a church that is reaching many, many people by sharing facilities and our ministries with people who have come from different places and backgrounds.”