CONWAY, Ark. – The search for a new pastor can be a daunting task. The job of selecting a search committee, continually meeting together, prayerfully considering all of the applicants, and ultimately calling the right person is a difficult and time-consuming process that can take months and sometimes even years.
Imagine trying to find a new pastor in the midst of a global pandemic. This is the situation that the members of Friendship Baptist Church of Conway found themselves in last year (2020). Rather than put the process on hold, Friendship did what so many other churches have done in the midst of COVID 19, they adapted. After much prayer, months of virtual meetings, and listening to sermons online, Friendship voted (on-line of course) to call Sean Mills as their new Senior Pastor.
In preparation for his new role, Mills says he spent much of his time simply praying and asking God for direction. “God, what are you up to? What do you want us to do? Where do you want to take us?” In answer to these prayers, he felt that God was leading him to preach through the book of Joshua to help the church set a vision of looking forward.
Mills officially began his ministry on June 7, 2020, which coincided with the church’s first Sunday to meet back in person after months of worshipping together online. They started back with two services which Mills says were both well attended. He led the church through Joshua for the next three months and challenged them to understand that God had a new vision and new direction for Friendship.
When school started back in the Fall, Mills began teaching through the mission of the church and what that would ultimately look like. This mission he said was to do as Christ commanded in Matthew 28:19, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” So for the next eight weeks, Mills talked about reaching people, connecting, discipleship, and what it means to be a wholehearted follower of Jesus.
During this same time, many of the ministries of the church were re-launched after the COVID layoff. Sunday school, student ministry, children’s ministry as well as men’s and women’s ministries all began to meet in person. And that’s when things really began to happen.
Mills says that kicking these ministries off was a big help because they offered additional avenues for people to connect. He said these groups are doing ministry things each week which has helped them not only connect with people but also train them up and disciple them. He says this has led to many church members going out and reaching people in the community. “And man, God, just really in the midst of all of that’s happened and in starting back our youth and kids’ ministry, our men’s and women’s ministries, God’s just done some amazing things,” Mills said.
The church had started a ministry of providing food boxes even before the pandemic began. Many church members picked up and delivered the boxes to those in need. This went on every week until school started in the Fall. Once school began, they switched to handing out backpacks once a week and big food boxes once a month, something they are continuing to do in 2021. Friendship also joined with churches across the state in October of 2020 to participate in One Day: Serve Local which proved to be a big day for the church of just serving locally. Mills says that people have really begun to catch the vision for mobilizing and serving their community.
In addition to serving the community, Mills says that God’s people are praying and inviting others to come to church and people are showing up and giving their lives to the Lord. From July through December of 2020, 36 people were baptized. In that same time, attendance grew to the point that the church had to add a third Sunday service.
Since January they are averaging over 400 in attendance with another 14 baptisms. They’ve also recently had three students express a call to ministry. “It’s adults. It’s kids. It’s teenagers. Yeah. It’s all ages. We’re baptizing them and they’re getting plugged in. That’s what’s exciting to me, you know. And now these people are getting plugged into Sunday school and other ministries of the church,” Mills said.
Many people have asked what’s going on. They want to know what’s happening at Friendship. Mills points them back to the mission. “We’re really clear on the mission. We know what we are trying to accomplish. We want to reach people, connect them to the church, disciple them, grow them up and send them out for the glory of God. So, we’ve been really strategic and I’m pretty laser-focused on that.”