Updated: 2 days ago
Redeemer Athens launched Sunday morning worship last year in November. In the year since, people who are thirsty for biblical teaching have continued to join the church and reach out to their friends and neighbors in Athens, TN.
In the words of Planting Pastor Curt Stapleton, “When I came to town, I knew I needed to just teach and preach the Bible, because people didn’t want to read and discuss other books about the Bible - they wanted to study the Bible itself. We have only used a few other books so far.”
A group of new members take their membership vows.
The church plant had their first new members class in January and a second one this summer. Now, about half of the church’s regular attenders are members. The church also had three baptisms in March. One was a non-communing Covenant child, and the other two were conversions.
Curt explained that many of the attendees are unfamiliar with church membership, but they are also very committed to the church. He said, “Some are still learning to trust the church, and membership is a brand new concept. We’ve been here 20 months, and we have 20 family units.”
Another idea that is unfamiliar to many at Redeemer is tithing. The church’s weekly offering grows steadily, (projected to cover a third of the budget by January 2024), and Curt believes that stewardship and gratitude will grow as the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of members and regular attenders.
Because Redeemer wants to reach those outside of the PCA (as well as those looking for a PCA church in the area), Curt is encouraged that only about a quarter of the people at the church are familiar with the PCA. The rest are new to Reformed theology and the doctrines of grace.
Curt says, “Thankfully, we are reaching our demographic. It’s been fun to hear them talk about other churches they have loved. One man said he couldn’t imagine not having an altar call, but he is still at Redeemer and now a very committed member. We don’t have altar call, but we call people to commit to the Lord through the sermon and throughout the service. About a third of our people were not in any worship services before coming to Redeemer, and one couple hadn’t been to church in 30 years.”
In September, Curt preached a topical sermon on worship, saying, “It’s kind of been a hot topic in the new members’ class, so I laid out the biblical foundation of what we do in worship and why we sing what we sing, and addressing other elements of worship.”
He also plans to preach through Romans in the year ahead with the goal of diving deeper into the doctrines of grace. Redeemer also uses catechism questions in worship each week to focus on core doctrines.
Currently, four people are coming to Redeemer without their spouses. Curt said, “One surprising dynamic is having several people who are willing to come to church without their families because of their commitment to the Lord and His community. Spouses make great evangelists, and we are praying with them for their families.”
Curt has also been encouraged by the growth he’s seen in individuals. For example, one couple that has been living together is now married. Like church membership and tithing, the sanctity of marriage is a new topic for some. Curt is eager to see the Lord grow the faith, repentance, and understanding of the gospel in the people of Redeemer.
With the milestones of two marriages and one funeral, the church family of Redeemer is becoming more and more like a true family. The funeral of a relative of someone in the church allowed the church to come alongside the griever, just as the new marriages offered a chance to rejoice with those who rejoice. Curt says, “Three families traveled to Cookeville for the funeral. It was the first time we’ve gotten to love on someone in the church through a funeral.”
Curt says that a personal invitation to church can be very effective outreach. “We have some families that have really caught onto outreach. They’ve invited neighbors, telling them that they found a church that preaches the Bible. We want people to get comfortable talking about their Christian faith with neighbors.”
The people of Redeemer get ice cream after a large group Bible study session.
Of course, a few people at Redeemer have heard Reformed teaching by exposure to RC Sproul, Tim Keller, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and other resources on the internet.
While Curt is still serving as a chaplain for Fellowship of Christian Athletes at McMinn High, he’s had to step back from some other clubs he did the first year for outreach. He still looks for any excuse to hang out with people. He explained, “We are transitioning to a period where our member are hearing what Jesus said: ‘You did not choose me; I choose you that you might bear fruit.’”
This fall, Redeemer is transitioning away from one large group Bible study on Wednesdays to a new women’s group and a men’s group. Curt explains that often, women will open up more with women, and the men have had a study this past year. “We’re praying that these small groups will be really fruitful for both.”
Previously meeting at the Comfort Inn, Redeemer now has a larger space for worship on Sundays at the Cleveland State Community College campus in Athens (exit 49).