As Christians around the world celebrate Jesus’ return to life on Easter morning, one fledgling Carolina Forest church will be celebrating its own beginning.
Doxa, a new plant of the Evangelical Free Church of America, is just one of many moving into the fast-growing area. Anybody’s who’s driven down Carolina Forest Boulevard recently has seen sign after sign for churches either relocating or expanding to serve the thousands of residents who have moved to the area in recent years.
So what does it take to start a church from scratch?
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Randy and Meggan Goff have spent a lot of time since 2011 filling out paperwork.
The pages and pages of questions and answers centered around two goals – adopting a child and starting a church from the ground up.
Both endeavors were detailed and long.
“It was lots of paperwork and background checks and referrals,” Randy said. “That was a pretty serious process of them vetting us, us vetting them. Were we what they were looking for? Were they what we were looking for?”
Almost simultaneously, both goals were met. The Carolina Forest couple, who are lifelong residents of Horry County, welcomed their 2-year-old foster son into the family almost three weeks ago. They also have a 5-year-old daughter.
Then, on March 24, Randy stood before a congregation of 72 in the auditorium at River Oaks Elementary School and preached his first sermon at a full-fledged service of Doxa Church. The word is derived from Greek and means “glory” or “glorious.”
“It was happy and hectic,” he said of the two life-changing events happening at virtually the same time.
The Goffs are somewhat of an anomaly in the transient makeup of Horry County, a rare couple both born and raised in the area. They started their careers here, moved into the county’s fastest growing community, began a family and planted their own church in that ever-growing neighborhood.
Randy hopes that, five or 10 years down the road, Doxa and those who worship there help people invest more in the community.
“Very few people own the area,” he said.
A higher calling
Randy first started thinking about investing in the area through worship about three years ago. He and his wife were members of the Presbyterian church in Surfside Beach and wanted to do more with their faith.
But how would that fit into a lifestyle that already included a business, a home and a child?
That’s when they found out about the EFCA, and the non-traditional on-ramps into ministry it presented.
According to its website, the EFCA has a network of over 1,500 churches and 17 regional districts committed to a common church planting mission.
There are close to 200 plants on their way to becoming affiliated EFCA churches, 30 percent of which are multicultural plants, the website stated.
“We envision accelerated growth in the number of Christ’s disciples and churches and the percentage of ethnic groups represented in the EFCA,” said the group’s mission statement.
The EFCA has seven requirements one must meet before being credentialed that range from studies to lifestyle to a general prohibition on ministerial divorce.
Randy said he and Meggan were approved in November 2011 after sitting in front of a six-person board who wanted to know what the couple believed in as far as the doctrine. However, what the panel really paid attention to, he added, was their character.
Meggan said she and her husband, who have been married 14 years, have very different personalities and backgrounds. His home life, she added, was stable, while hers was more chaotic.
By the time she was 13, her father had already been married four times, Meggan said, which led to a lot of hurt for her growing up.
“You just had this searching for love in all the wrong places,” she said.
Meggan said she has since found peace through her faith and she’s used her experience to help counsel others who are experiencing heartache and despair. Currently, she’s working toward her certification in biblical counseling.
“I just have this desire … to get in the trenches with people,” Meggan said.
A team effort
The Goffs brought in other experience to help get Doxa up and running.
Dale Miller was one of them.
Like his friends, he was also attending a church in Surfside Beach and questioning whether God wanted him to do more with his ministry. He was put in touch with Randy and after a three-hour lunch meeting, the two discovered they were on the same page.
“I think it’s worthwhile for me, as a father of three kids, just seeing the community it fosters,” Miller said.
Justin Cramer, a former Charleston resident who moved to Horry County in 2006 to attend Coastal Carolina University, also came on board so he could be a part of something community driven.
“There can never be enough churches that are committed to loving people and loving the Lord,” Cramer said.
Through word of mouth, the church planters began letting people know about their plans for Doxa.
Last spring, they had an information meeting at the Goffs’ home.
“We didn’t know if anybody would show up,” Randy said. “Actually, we knew my mom was going to come.”
People did show up, and in April 2012, a more formal public information meeting was held at the Carolina Forest Recreation Center.
Those meetings became a weekly thing, as a core team of 16 was brought together and each spent time into the fall going through their values, the church doctrine and defining what the mission is.
“Planting a church is a little more entrepreneurial than what attracts a lot … of guys to the ministry,” Randy said.
To keep costs low, the group decided to rent space at River Oaks Elementary as opposed to building a building.
The total startup budget was around $21,000, Randy said, and it came from the members of the core team. That money paid for rent, promotion, a trailer to haul equipment to River Oaks Elementary, banners, tables, video and sound equipment and items for a nursery.
That was one of the group’s goals: keep it simple.
Cramer said they joke all the time that Randy’s not going to come down the aisle on a motorcycle with a fog machine.
That doesn’t mean not taking advantage of technology. You can subscribe to a podcast of Randy’s sermons on iTunes. The church already has an active Facebook page and a Twitter account, it takes offerings online and puts up photo galleries of its events.
But with everyone working full-time jobs, they operate the church on the mantra that simplicity breeds authenticity.
“What you see is what you get. We’ll love you and we’ll love the Lord,” Cramer said.
Randy was certain he wanted to plant the church in Carolina Forest, an area that’s seen massive growth. Between the 2000 and 2010 census, the population grew from around 3,000 people to more than 20,000.
He wanted the church to be where people are, specifically young families. He also hopes to attract students from CCU.
Practice makes perfect
Before the March 24 launch, Randy and the core team had some practice services, or scrimmages as Cramer called them.
Everything went smoothly. Then, on “game day,” everything that could go wrong did, Cramer said. For one thing, they forgot the communion goblet, he said. It was also a cold, blustery day.
Still, everything was taken with a grain of salt.
“We’re not a well-oiled machine by any means,” Cramer said.
From here, the Goffs and their team will continue with their simple, back-to-basics church that fosters community, fellowship and a love of God above all else.
“We, as a group of broke people, come together. No one is perfect. We’re real people with real hang-ups,” Meggan said.
And Randy feels good going into his second service. After all, he joked, how hard is it to preach the Easter story?