On Sabbath, June 10, 2017, Pastor Marcos Salas and members of the New Bethany Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) celebrated and reflected on the leadings of God in the life of their congregation. For the last two years, the “cell groups” ministry among the Hispanic community has been the engine of church growth, on St. Maarten.
The North Caribbean Conference (NCC) has the largest Hispanic population in the Caribbean Union with congregations on five of the islands which comprise the NCC. While this population of the NCC has grown appreciably over the years, more ways were sought to impact this community. In 2015, the NCC extended a call to Pastor Marcos Salas of the Venezuela Union to pastor the New Bethany SDA Church. He has been working alongside an invigorated congregation to continue and strengthen its “cell groups” ministry.
Pastor Salas shared his passion for evangelism, “Relationships are at the heart of the gospel. God, who is himself “relationship”, calls us into a relationship with one another and with Him. In our context, these relationships are best developed through small groups. What I am seeking to do is to improve the relationship with each other and with God. God has been leading and I give thanks to Him for all He is doing. It is a strategy that makes the church an evangelistic center. The strategy calls for the pastor to do three things: Inspire the members; educate the members; and organize the members.”
From time to time, these cell groups unite to host a two-week series of evangelistic meetings, under a tent. And, in 2016, the New Bethany SDA Church recorded a 29% growth in membership with an addition of 49 members – another 20 additions have been reported thus far in 2017. Out of this steady growth, a new group of believers meets weekly and identifies itself as, Maranatha. Twenty (20) missionary-minded couples are actively engaged in daily and weekly evangelism. They support 13 active cell groups which meet each week, along with visitors, to study the Word of God. Many members are cooperating with God for the accomplishment of His Mission for the church.
Pastor Salas, a former Union Personal Ministries Director, understands the value of training members so that they can be involved in the mission of the church. Training takes place each week to achieve, total membership involvement (TMI). Pastor Salas explained, “That’s the program of the church and we must do the program of the church. Why have we seen such success in these two congregations? I believe it is because we have learned to work according to the scientific principles of soul winning.” He completed his thoughts with a quote from a well-known author, “God does not generally work miracles to advance His truth. He works according to great principles made known to us, and it is our part to mature wise plans, and set in operation the means whereby God shall bring about certain results.” Ellen G. White, Christian Service (Washington, D.C. Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1947), p. 228.
Pastor Salas is joined in full time ministry by his wife and elaborated, “For us, it’s a lifestyle. She is my best friend and greatest support and God is blessing us. We are true missionaries. When we began our group ministry, I didn’t dream of the far-reaching effects it would have upon the church members and myself. The small group system impacts, activates, and brings revival to every member. I soon learned that every true leader only leads by serving and that every true servant serves by leading. This spirit shapes the growth of our groups and brings about multiplication. Just as the body develops through the division and multiplication of its cells, so the body of Christ grows and develops through division and multiplication of its cell groups.”
Pastor Vashni Cuvalay, Coordinator for the SDA work on the island of St. Maarten, attended the celebration and congratulated the church for its exploits. District #1, under the leadership of Pastor Cuvalay and Pastor Kumal Smith, has experienced the success of “cell groups” ministry.
The Hispanic population on St. Maarten now enjoys two places of worship. The message of Jesus is still bringing hope, and people are more responsive to the gospel. Members continue to earnestly pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and their own faithfulness.
The “cell groups” ministry is an effective evangelistic and relationship-building tool and the NCC will continue to take more steps toward the implementation of small groups in all 34 congregations. The NCC has been emphasizing TMI and this ministry has proven to be invaluable for outreach and retention of members. TMI should characterize the lifestyle of the church and function as the base for spiritual growth and the fulfillment of the SDA Church’s mission.