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5 Core Values

1. To passionately proclaim, at home and abroad, by word and deed, Jesus as Savior, Baptizer in the Holy Spirit, Healer, and Soon Coming King

Keys to Growth

By John W. Kennedy

Randy Valimont hasbeen senior pastor at First Assembly of God in Griffin, Ga., for 16 years. Before he arrived, the church had leveled out at 400 attendees and fallen $65,000 in arrears in paying bills.

Rather than place a priority on finances, Valimont determined to focus intentionally on missions and discipleship.

“When we became interested in God’s world, He became interested in us,” Valimont says in his office, which overlooks a 10-acre lake that encompasses the frontage to the wooded property.

Total missions giving the year before Valimont arrived amounted to less than $10,000. These days churchgoers typically donate $3 million a year for missions. Annually, about 250 people from First Assembly go on around 10 missions trips.

The church in the city of 25,000 has grown to a Sunday morning worship service attendance of 4,000. It has become a regional church on the west side of Griffin, which is located 35 miles south of Atlanta.

The makeup of the church is reflective of the community, with 60 percent white, 32 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Asian. In all, two dozen nationalities are represented.

“There’s a philosophy we have here: One church can change the world,” Valimont, 49, says. “One church can do a lot about caring for lost people and evangelizing.”

While Valimont is a believer in expressive worship, he says churches can’t overemphasize that at the expense of educational development. He says the key to church growth has been involving attendees in the discipleship process.

Every week around 3,300 people attend Sunday School, which is the connection point between the church’s a.m. services. Classes are held at 9:45, sandwiched in the midst of the 8:30 and 10:45 worship services in the massive six-year-old sanctuary that seats 3,000. Christian education classes include “God’s Healing Stream,” “Living As an Overcomer,” “Joy of Signing,” “When Godly People Do Ungodly Things” and “Releasing the Spirit Through Fasting.” In addition, 500 people are in home groups that typically meet every other week. Various groups are devoted to single moms, Hispanics, motorcyclists and Marines.

The compact, fast-paced Sunday School time includes 10 minutes of fellowship, 20 minutes of teaching and 15 minutes of interactive questions and answers about the lesson that has just been taught. The nontraditional format is the method by which attendees learn the basics of biblical discipleship.

“Christian education is more important than ever before because our nation has become biblically illiterate,” says Valimont, who is an executive presbyter of the AG’s Georgia District and serves on the board of regents of Southeastern University, his alma mater. “Christian education is critical to developing world changers because it’s not taught in schools or even in many homes.”

Every class ends with an altar call — for salvation, healing or baptism in the Holy Spirit.

Teachers are required to complete reports on who attended the meeting, how the session went and any problems that arose. If someone makes a salvation decision, the teacher is responsible for follow-up.

For the past decade, Valimont — even while preaching three times on Sunday — has continually taught a Sunday School class designed to build godly business leaders.

Sunday School is relevant to this generation, Valimont says, and quarterly the church sets aside time for “each one reach one” evangelism training that emphasizes personal relationships to bring people to salvation in Christ.

At times, First Assembly’s ministries will focus on a specific doctrine, such as the baptism in the Holy Spirit. For several weeks, all age levels in Sunday School and home groups will learn the same doctrines.

In the discipleship process, new Christians spend a great deal of time learning how to understand Scripture.

“We live in a fatherless generation,” Valimont says. “Students and young marrieds must have mentors in their lives.”

Valimont and his wife, Jelly, have three daughters, Jordan — who is on the church staff — Danielle and Alayna.

Anyone who completes a salvation response card receives seven follow-up contacts that first week, including phone calls, e-mails and a personal visit.

“The church is built on new converts,” says Valimont, who has preached in more than 40 countries. “They in turn become an evangelistic tool to present opportunities to invite their families and friends to church. Those who disciple others must first be evangelists.”

Anyone desiring to join the church must be born-again and participate in a five-week membership class. Upon joining, individuals agree to attend regularly, tithe faithfully and be involved in at least one of the 150 ministries of the church (from visiting the sick in hospitals to intercessory prayer). A Sunday morning service takes 900 volunteers, including ushers, parking lot attendants, nursery workers, security personnel, a 150-voice choir, orchestra members and 30 people interceding in prayer.

“It’s a great church because we have a high level of commitment,” Valimont says.

Valimont, who also leads a radio and television ministry called Fresh Touch, says the church puts as much effort into Sunday evenings as Sunday mornings, with extended worship, choir singing and altar calls. About 80 percent who attend Sunday morning come back at night.

In addition to a Bible study led by pastoral staff, Wednesday night classes at the church offer such topics as divorce recovery, anger management, building godly men, grief sharing and understanding depression.

Valimont says 80 percent of the regulars tithe, and tithing is part of being biblically literate. Every January he spends four weeks teaching on stewardship. The church offers a 90-day money-back guarantee to those who begin tithing, promising to return contributions if God hasn’t met the donor’s needs. Giving rises 15-20 percent annually.

First Assembly’s 90-acre church campus includes a day-care center, Christian academy, Christian high school, counseling center, Teen Challenge center and a leadership college called the Master’s School of Ministry. A $40 million retirement center under construction eventually will have 325 living units, from independent care to an Alzheimer’s unit.

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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