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‘Pack a Pew’ Sunday spurs church growth

(March 31, 2002)

Chicago — Ted Wallace is the product of an innovative outreach known as "Pack a Pew," which has taken place annually for the past 20 years at Southside Tabernacle Assembly of God in inner-city Chicago.

As a high school sophomore in 1980, Wallace says he experimented with drugs and alcohol in search of inner peace. "I knew of the gospel because of my mother, but I didn’t have a relationship with Christ," he says.

A family friend invited Wallace to a Pack a Pew rally in 1986. The idea of the worship service outreach is to challenge church members to fill an assigned pew with friends, neighbors and relatives who don’t regularly attend church.

On Pack a Pew Sunday, the praise, worship and sermon are geared toward reaching non-Christians with the gospel. At the rally, Wallace accepted Christ as his Savior. "My life seemed like it was going nowhere," he recalls. "I was tired of searching, and I knew it was the right thing to do."

Today, Wallace, 39, teaches the new converts class and is a board member and deacon at the 550-member church.

Senior Pastor Spencer Jones, who implemented the Pack a Pew strategy, has seen the outreach define the church’s evangelism efforts, with attendance at the special services topping 1,000. "Pack a Pew Sunday is the highlight of the year for us," Jones says. "It fuels our congregation." Last October, 100 people went to the altar to accept Christ as their Savior or to rededicate their lives during Pack a Pew Sunday.

Pastor Ray Berryhill chose the final Sunday morning of 2001 to hold a Pack a Pew rally at Evangel Assembly of God in Chicago. Along with the 800 regular congregants of Evangel A/G, 400 visitors came for the December 30 service, held in a high school auditorium. Of those, 111 came to the altar at the end of the sermon to accept Jesus as Savior or to rededicate their lives.

Berryhill preached about the life-changing power of the presence of God, using sections of Mark 5, Matthew 9 and Luke 8 as his texts.

"I wanted to talk about God’s ability to change lives," says Berryhill, pastor at the church for nine years. "It doesn’t happen through works or self-improvement, but in His presence."

The final sermon illustration involved the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years. After working her way through the crowd, the sick woman touched Jesus and was instantly healed. Berryhill made a modern-day comparison.

"I said, ‘You probably have a lot of reasons to keep going the way you’re going; but if you press in today, I believe God will make you whole.’ "

Visitors — 47 adults, 40 children and 24 youth — flooded the altar. Some have started attending one-year discipleship classes at Evangel Assembly, which has been meeting in a high school since September because it outgrew its own facilities.

— Isaac Olivarez and John W. Kennedy

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