By Carl Stagner
January 23, 2016. A day Tri County Church of God in DuBois, Pennsylvania, will never forget. A day that could have dismantled much of the good that had been accomplished since the dawn of the congregation in 1995. Dave Bish, founding pastor, died suddenly and unexpectedly that day while out on a trail run. Devastation swept across the community, but hell would not prevail. Instead of a downward spiral, the church rallied together in an outpouring of love like they’d never seen before. God had a clear mission for Tri County Church, and neither the remaining leadership nor the new lead pastor would be deterred. As they relate the timeless story of Jesus Christ to the stories of those near and far from God, Tri County Church is inviting everyone into their own developing story in DuBois.
And it’s an exciting story, too! Dave Bish’s legacy lives on, and the vital ministry at Tri County continues, because a firm foundation was laid. That firm foundation is Jesus Christ, of course. Dave was known to have emphasized that “Jesus is the subject, and Hope is his name.” Chris Trethewey, lead pastor of the church today, never got to meet Dave, though, from what he’s heard about him, wishes he had. “I can say with 100-percent confidence that Dave never wanted the church to be about him,” Chris explains. “He deeply desired for the church to be about Jesus and help point people to Jesus. Every leadership decision he made reflected this. Tri County Church thrives because this is hardwired into the culture here.”
Tri County Church has never strayed from their calling to point people to Jesus. Last year alone, there were two hundred people baptized. Fifty-seven more were baptized on recent Sunday. God has been expanding the reach of the congregation by taking a three-campus church to a six-campus church in just a couple years. Leadership anticipates unprecedented crowds this Easter, as eighteen services are scheduled across their six campuses. Dave didn’t cause this growth, and neither did Chris. God himself has added to the flock in the DuBois area, but there are a few things Tri County leadership has done to foster an atmosphere most conducive to growth.
“We are committed to creating an environment for all people who walk through our doors or connect online to feel welcome,” Pastor Chris explains. “The story of the Samaritan woman at the well gives such an excellent framework for this. Jesus broke through religious, gender, and cultural barriers to connect with her. She then went to her town, the place that had isolated her, and she told everyone about Jesus. Because of this, numerous lives were forever changed because of their encounter with Jesus. This intentionality permeates everything we do.”
Dan Smith is the executive pastor at Tri County. He puts it this way: “It starts with creating a weekend experience that unchurched people feel comfortable to attend—and return…Our people feel very comfortable inviting their friends to our weekend services, believing they’ll be accepted and have a great experience with us…We have no pretense around TCC; we are regular, messed-up people who are simply following Jesus, and inviting others to join us on that journey.”
As the church has increased in attendance, it’s also committed to spiritual growth. Part of this goal is accomplished through small groups and “circles.” Pastor Dan uses this illustration: “We believe that life is better in circles than in rows.” The other part is accomplished through their structure as a multisite church. Instead of becoming as big as they possibly can in one ever-expanding facility, they’re starting campuses in small towns all around DuBois. Gatherings in these small towns provide the warmth common among smaller churches, but the excellence of a thriving ministry organization. Pastor Chris loves to bust the myth that large churches like theirs are inherently impersonal. He recounts times where he’s visited small churches where no one said a word to him and he felt more alone than ever. “At TCC,” he explains, “we exert incredible leadership to developing teams of people focused on creating a warm and welcoming environment…We are continually telling stories, whether in our host moment, generosity moment, the message, or our weekly staff meeting. On top of all that, the church is designed to grow. It must grow!”
The intersection of the story of Jesus and our story must be told. The Great Commission wasn’t a suggestion, after all. Pastor Dan recounts that Tri County acknowledges God’s ever-unfolding story of life change in the world, leading to individual stories that connect others to Christ. He explains, “In recent years, and more specifically in the last two years, we’ve gotten better at discovering and telling these stories—and then inviting people to join God’s story. As new people engage, we often say, ‘Every number has a name, every name has a story, and every story matters to God.’ As we share those stories, inevitably, others relate and feel a sense of hope. This kind of hope can only come from Jesus.”
In Pennsylvania, across North America, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Reach our world. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.