Father’s House Church has recently relocated to a 2 500-seat venue in North End, Port Elizabeth to house its burgeoning congregation. Gateway News spoke to Pastor George Georgiou to ask where it all began and how the Holy Spirit has transformed their church.
George described how his pastoral work began in 1996 on the NMMU campus (it was UPE in those days) as a Christian house church. He soon teamed up with His People Church, which was founded as a student church at the University of Cape Town, and mentions how Pastor Louis Els of the Victory Fellowship in Jeffrey’s Bay was a great help in facilitating this process. As a young independent church His People quite rightly realised that they needed the covering of a larger body, and so they decided to align themselves with Every Nation, an international church movement. This created accountability, continuity of doctrine and practice, and, if necessary, help with succession planning.
From 1996 up to 2009 George pastored His People Church on the NMMU campus. They saw students not only joining them but remaining with them after graduation, and in time, as these young men and women married and had families, so too George and his team had to develop ministry to families with children. Because of this development they renamed themselves “Father’s House” in 2006.
Reflecting on this decision, George said that three reasons had prompted this change, which was not intended to be just cosmetic: the first was that His People, being strictly a student fellowship which had outgrown itself, needed a name which would suggest inclusivity; secondly, they realised that the Lord was calling them to be a place where the ‘prodigals’ of the community around them could feel it was a place to come back to, as in the parable Jesus told. Thirdly, in line with this commission from the Lord, they wanted to reposition themselves as a church for the unchurched and the “anti-churched”, i.e. those who for one reason or another had had bad experiences with church generally and had given up on it. Such people needed a place where they would feel a genuine welcome and be cared for.
Not surprisingly, the university authorities approached them in 2009 and pointed out that as they were no longer just a student church they should move off campus. Their decision was to continue student ministry under one of their pastors, Loyiso Mqwena, and to rename it Live Wire. Father’s House then rented a church building kindly made available by Doxa Deo Church in Richmond Hill. This gave their members with families easier access to family-oriented facilities.
Numbers just kept increasing, and so in 2011 they again started to look around. Very kindly Ds Gielie Noeth, of the NGK Sentraal, sold them an unused church hall in Stanley Street. Although the offer Father’s House made was not the highest, Gielie believed that to sell to them was an investment in the Kingdom of God. This was a truly sacrificial act on his part because he desperately needed income for the new work he had just begun. George and his members remain deeply grateful to this man of God for that gesture.
When Father’s House moved into their new venue, numbers were running at around 300 per service. What happened during the next 2 years was almost bewildering in its rapidity and intensity: crowds of people flocked to Father’s House, and by January 2014 they were running 5 services every Sunday, with around 3 000 people passing through the doors. It was all happening there: joyous Spirit-led worship, relevant preaching, and warm, genuine fellowship on offer. That kind of church is always blessed.
And so: another move! George and his team went to prayer about it and started to dream about what an ideal venue would look like: at least 2 000 seats, plenty of space for other functions and for office staff, and, most importantly, adequate parking. Someone on their leadership team knew of a possible place down in North End, so they drove down there, and there it was: a disused warehouse belonging to the BMI Group, situated on the corner of Patterson Rd and Broad St, just off the North End exit on the freeway. It was their dream materialising! Again the Lord gave them favour and the BMI Group were, as George puts it, very kind to them. They moved in March and are up and running: 2 services a Sunday, at 9 and 6, and more than enough space for everything else.
This is the history to date. What is Father’s House’s aim for the future? It is “To create a safe environment for unchurched and anti-church people to explore an authentic relationship with God”, as George explains. This approach has two practical implications: first, Sundays are “uncluttered’, i.e. it’s just church; no meetings, no extra classes after the service. This leads to the second, which is that all the discipling happens midweek. George’s Sunday preaching is oriented to the felt needs of the people there, but during the week the emphasis is on the Word being taught and applied to people’s lives. He emphasises that the teaching during the week is primarily about the life Jesus is restoring in people; the theology follows as they ask the questions.
An enviable feature of Father’s House is that the majority of attendees are young people. This is a natural result of Father’s House having had its beginnings as a student church; but it’s more than that. Young (and old) just keep coming, praise God. George attributes this to the safe, friendly environment Father’s House creates; and this gives their people the confidence to invite others. As a result they are seeing a steady 15 – 20% growth in attendance. George is realistic; he is the first to admit that Father’s House like all churches has its losses, i.e. people who come and then leave. Either they don’t like the ‘big church’ atmosphere, the worship style or the preaching. But Father’s House have recognised a cardinal principle of church life, that no church should ever aim at being ‘consumer church’, i.e. offering ‘something for everybody’- a kind of religious supermarket. Father’s House have developed their ‘brand’, and they are sticking to it. As George puts it, “We see ourselves as a pen stroke in peoples’ lives, and not the full stop.”
Reasons for explosive growth
So, what are the reasons for the explosive growth Father’s House is experiencing? George offers five reasons, and surprisingly none of them would, at face value, appear to be stunning new ways of doing familiar things; but together they add up to a powerful and attractive combination that attracts the Holy Spirit’s presence. Here they are: first, Father’s House is determined to stay true to their core function. It works, and unless and until the Lord changes it, that’s what it remains: to offer a safe, friendly place where the unchurched and anti-church people can feel welcome. Secondly, being single-minded in pursuing that aim; thirdly, unleashing the enthusiasm of their young adult members. George says that they strive to transfer power and authority to the next generation of leaders. This is probably the most powerful factor in the resultant growth they see. The fourth reason is one that the people themselves bring: their wholehearted response in doing what should come naturally to every Christian: inviting people in to experience life in a vibrant church and come to know Jesus as Lord and Saviour. And fifthly, that the focus stays firmly on one group: the young adults. They are the group with the most growth potential (just count their kids!); they are earning well; and they wholeheartedly take hold of the opportunities Father’s House gives them. Their creative energy is enormous.
On reflection, one realises that the Holy Spirit is just as active in many other churches, and that they could also tick the abovementioned growth factors. So: what exactly are the ‘human’ (as opposed to spiritual) factors that account for Father’s House enjoying sustained and explosive growth?
Two reasons stand out. The first is that they are truly media savvy. They really know how to use the social media and the internet, and within their walls their audio-visuals create an almost ‘wrap around’ effect during their services. Their branding is thorough, and their logo extends right through the building and onto their church vehicles, with each one being designated for a specific ministry or function. Father’s House employ a media expert, recognising how essential it is not only to pursue excellence in this department but also to use the internet and social media to market themselves and communicate meaningfully to the “now generation.”
The second reason is the one that usually counts most when people choose a church: the character, personality, ability and experience of the pastor. George is a very experienced preacher, communicator and raconteur. He demonstrates a thorough knowledge of Scripture and has a genuine humility in his approach to his ministry. He is consistent in attributing the success of Father’s House to the Holy Spirit’s activity.
When asked when the Holy Spirit really “arrived” in Father’s House, George thinks for a moment, then says that it happened during their second year at the Stanley Street venue, when they began to give full expression to what George describes as “The defining covenant of grace”. In acknowledging fully that it’s all about grace, and recognising that we as humanity bring nothing other than the sin we need to be set free from, this in some way broke what George describes as “The religious spirit mindset”, that is, a mindset that believes church should be run as a system, rather than in the freedom and joyful obedience of a covenant relationship.
Covenant grace is all about freely responding to God’s bounty, whereas a religious system will inevitably limit the Holy Spirit in some way and will always have its shortcomings. Furthermore, once people realise they are being “processed” they will usually react against it.
How does George see the way forward? Father’s House has three major thrusts it is focusing on for the future.
The first is to maintain their midweek courses as relevant and rich; in these times new converts are discipled and their growth needs met.
The second is the Cornerstone Christian Institute of Higher Education. This is an online university which is fully accredited, SAQA qualified, and based firmly on the Christian ethos. It will open in July this year and will offer a number of courses, which will include degrees in Bachelor of Commerce, Sociology, Psychology, and Theology.
Cornerstone was not founded by Father’s House; its head office is in Cape Town and it operates through its member churches’ teaching and mentoring their students. Each participating church must have full IT facilities, a wi-fi zone, and must be able to offer students study space. The courses can, if necessary, be done from home, but ideally should be done at the church. How it works is that students will watch each lecture, and the next day, having studied, come in for a question and answer session with their lecturer via digital feed and in a group or tutorial situation. Progress is monitored by continuous assessment and all exams are online. The whole intention of this modus operandi is to make studying as convenient as possible.
The third thrust is an ‘Internship year’ option, aimed at launching next year. George has entrusted the management of this initiative into the hands of one of his young leaders, Scott, who did a post-Matric year at his school and is thus well qualified to handle such a venture. What is envisaged is that the internship year training will include Cornerstone modules and cover topics such as business leadership and media training in design and graphics. The interns will slot in with Father’s House’s own media operations. The year will include a missions trip and 2 Christian conferences and will give opportunities for adventure expeditions. It aims to start with 8 – 15 students. Each graduate will leave with a Certificate of Internship, an absolute necessity for acceptance at a tertiary institution thereafter.
In conclusion, what we are seeing in the Bay is God blessing a local church with spectacular growth as a result of its investment in the ‘now’ generation. Add in worship that zings with the Spirit’s presence, a truly welcoming atmosphere, and you have a powerful combination. Growth in the Christian life is fully catered for, and the venue is geared for expansion in every way. Great stuff! We ask the Lord’s further rich blessings to fall on Father’s House.
By Committed Christian* — Article Courtesy of Gateway News