By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Mar 30, 2017     Many if not most churches count their growth in numbers of bodies in the pews. Not this one.

In 2013 and 2014, the small Summerville, GA, Seventh-day Adventist Church was in crisis. Pastor Edward Skoretz described it this way (adding that he’s fuzzy on the chronology): Their head elder died of cancer, another powerful leader moved away, and a young couple of whom the wife was a dynamic leader in the church were called to conference level work. They lost other members as well (none for negative reasons). “We were in crisis. We were beginning to wonder if we could survive,” Skoretz said.

He gave me other names to call and interview, since he felt that the story of the church’s rapid and miraculous growth should come from other members. However, he wanted to share two things with me. One was tithing comparisons. Money, of course, is no more a way of measuring spiritual growth than number of bodies, but it does tell a story. From 2013, tithe in the Summerville church nearly doubled in 2014, more than doubled again the following year, and in 2016 was nearly five times the intake in 2013.

The second thing he wanted to share was an insight on his philosophy of pastoring. “I see myself as a pastor. My role is to set an atmosphere in the church in which the gifts that the Holy Spirit has given the members can be developed and used for the building up of the church and for His glory. So I am very pleased to practice shared leadership, recognizing that some of my members may have the same gift that I have but even to a greater extent. I’m very pleased to share leadership with them. I’m very pleased to share the pulpit with them.”

I noted that he had several times in our conversation used words like “dynamic leader” or “powerful leader” with “she,” so I asked about his beliefs concerning women in leadership. He replied, “The church growth depends on the Holy Spirit and I do not see that the Holy Spirit is a respecter of gender. I invite the women of the church to share the pulpit as I would invite men to share the pulpit.”

Since Skoretz is retired and works for Summerville as a part-time pastor on a stipend, he shares the pulpit frequently.

He also told me of a recent visitor, Bob Merrills, who was so impressed with the welcoming attitude, the friendly racial mix, the care of the many children, and the layperson’s sermon that day that he wrote a story about his experience and impressions, which may be published in an upcoming Georgia-Cumberland Communiqué. [Watch for a link here if it becomes available.]

Vi Farmer, another member of the church, gave me her view of the chronology of the church’s transformation. She believes it all began with an older woman, June Powell, who was “a powerful prayer warrior.” Powell came to the church early on Sabbath mornings and went through the building, praying for each room and what would happen in it, walking through the pews and praying for each family and individual. She has since had a stroke and gone to live with family, but Farmer believes the change began with that deep and purposeful praying.

She told me, “A lot of people started moving up from Florida, and other places, but I guess mostly from Florida, who wanted to live in the country. They found this area and wanted to locate here. These were people with children, and both parents are in church and on fire. They just wanted to do things. They didn’t wait to be asked. One [family], Dana and Frantz Philossaint, started a natural health foods store; that’s where it all started.”

The health food store is no longer there and the Philossaints are now serving overseas. However, the ministries that grew from this beginning can all be found on the Summerville church’s website; tellingly, they are all categorized under Personal Ministries. Pastor Skoretz emphasized to me that the church does not own any of these businesses. It does, however, support and hold them up as the personal ministries of various members.

  • The Vineyard Vegetarian Café and Juice Bar, open for breakfast and lunch Sunday through Friday, is run by Gabriel and Vonelle McClover. https://www.vineyardvegcafe.com/ https://www.facebook.com/vineyardvegcafe/Their website states: “The Vineyard Vegetarian Cafe and Juice Bar exists to bring meat-free, dairy-free, plant based food options and freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juices to you and your family.  We believe that a wholesome diet is a major contributor to your very best health.  We think you’ll love the way our food makes you feel in body, mind, and spirit.” The Vineyard also offers cooking classes once a month, and Farmer describes them as “very, very active” in the church.
    • The Vineyard Vegetarian Café and Juice Bar, open for breakfast and lunch Sunday through Friday, is run by Gabriel and Vonelle McClover. https://www.vineyardvegcafe.com/ https://www.facebook.com/vineyardvegcafe/ Their website states: “The Vineyard Vegetarian Cafe and Juice Bar exists to bring meat-free, dairy-free, plant based food options and freshly pressed fruit and vegetable juices to you and your family.  We believe that a wholesome diet is a major contributor to your very best health.  We think you’ll love the way our food makes you feel in body, mind, and spirit.” The Vineyard also offers cooking classes once a month, and Farmer describes them as “very, very active” in the church.

    Even little cooks learn healthy practices.

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    • The Living Proof Wellness Center https://www.facebook.com/pg/proofwellness/now occupies the space where the health food store was. It is owned by Soraya and Omar Murdock, and Farmer says they are especially involved in weight loss support, and also bring in a chiropractor on a regular basis.

    Parable Gardens/Orchard are owned by Dion and Maritza Mckinney,https://www.facebook.com/ParableGardensandOrchard/?fref=ts They offer Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships. CSA memberships allow people to support local farmers by paying a regular membership fee, which then entitles them to a share of whatever produce is in season. Produce at Parable Gardens and Orchard is grown with no pesticides or other chemicals

  • Little Company Ministries https://www.littlecompanyministries.com/ is run by Lance and Sophia Robbins. They share parenting information, simple lifestyle, recipes, and spiritual resources on their website. They also offer to speak on these topics as a “traveling family ministry.”

Aside from these outside interests, the church has a ministry called Lifestyle and Health Happiness, led by the church’s health minister, Bobbi Robbins, whom Skoretz described as “high octane and a powerful leader, specializing in outreach to the community.” They also held a recent Family Life Outreach event which was well-attended.

This “outreach to community” seems to be the key. According to Farmer, aside from families who were already Adventist moving into the area, she doesn’t believe there have been increased baptisms. So if you measure church growth that way, you’d be at a loss. Skoretz said there are about 53 members on the books.

Yet, both spoke glowingly of the community impact and the local positive attitude toward the church. Farmer said, “We’re making a lot of friends. We have had visitors, and one of the friends of our church had a sermon there.” She paused a moment. “In fact, we’ve had several friends from the community that have spoken there. A lot of people are very impressed with our church. We are making an impact on our community.”

If a church is seeking to follow Christ, that is exactly what will happen. Today, they have put an offer on a piece of property and intend to build soon.

Summerville members enjoy each other’s company at a picnic. All photos provided by Lance and Sophia Robbins.


Debbonnaire Kovacs is a speaker and the author of 28 books and over 700 stories and articles for adults and children. To learn more about her work or ask her to speak at your organization, visit  www.debbonnaire.com.

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