Have you heard of the Plain of Sharon in Israel? It is the most densely populated part of the country, which reaches the Carmel Mountains in the north and the Yarkon River of Tel Aviv in the south.
You may be surprised that Jerusalem is not at the top of this list, since the media focuses on its population the most. But the Sharon includes such populous cities like Netanya, Herzliyah and Hadera, which continue to grow.
In today’s Israel, it is wonderful to see that where there are people, there goes the Gospel! And a congregation based in Netanya has been reaching out with the message of Salvation to Israelis all across the Plain of Sharon.
Revolution at the Plain of Sharon
The Beit Asaph Congregation in Netanya stayed watchful in 2020. As the leaders realized that the global state of emergency was not dwindling, they expected the restrictions in Israel to continue. That is why they introduced a major reform to their community.
Not able to gather, Beit Asaph made small groups a primary life source for their community.
Georgiy and his wife, together with their six kids, have been active members of the congregation for years. Coming together with their community on Shabbat has been a highlight of their week. So, unsurprisingly, at first they were not thrilled by this change.
Though not opposed to homegroups, they were used to them being supplementary, not the other way around. And this was truly a paradigm shift. But the Lord started changing Georgiy’s attitude and showed him new ground for impact.
Raising Leaders to Grow Leaders
Thanks to this great shift to smaller gatherings, the pastors of Beit Asaph were now much more available to disciple others. Pastors Evan Thomas and Lev Guler started focusing on raising leaders in each group who could then disciple others in their groups.
Georgiy realized that this was in fact what he needed all along. He has been excited to learn and expand in ministry, and in result, he grew from an active congregation member to a true leader. Though cautious at first, today Georgiy is discipling others and really believes in group planting.
Every small group that is a part of Beit Asaph has about 10-12 members. They vary by location or language or age group, but the criteria is flexible. Many have formed organically. Roles in the group are shared and are often decided by agreement rather than appointing. As time goes, participants are becoming more and more proactive as well.
Group members are also being stretched as they get more involved in outreach. FIRM sponsored a computer that allows Beit Asaph share resources, record videos and reach more people through social media. What initially felt like disintegration to Greorgiy, now cultivates spiritual growth across the entire plain of Sharon.
Seeing the Sharon Bloom
Pastor Evan Thomas stresses that as congregation leaders they have a responsibility to serve their community. When there was no way to gather everyone to fellowship, the fellowship was brought to them. Still, occasionally the small groups come together, for a time of worship and communion.
David van Ouwerkerk is leading one of the young adults homegroups and is impressed with its growth. Seeing the changes at the congregation unfold has been something he has been praying for!
A more private environment gives everyone room to grow in their gifts and talents. David admits that Evan and Lev have taken a big step of faith, but the congregation is already seeing its fruit. Young people feel more comfortable in a smaller circle and it’s easier for them to open up. Homegroups have become a place of healing.
Continuing the Biblical Narrative
The Sharon is mentioned in the New Testament only once, in the Book of Acts. At the time, despite opposition in the land, the followers of Jesus were thriving. The apostle Peter was going through all parts of the country (9:32), preaching the Gospel and healing the sick.
After one such miracle, we read that “All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:35) What an inspiring fact! I dare say, if the New Testament refers to your region only once, this is the best kind of reference. For every disciple, the Book of Acts is a great source of encouragement. Today Beit Asaph is doing their utmost to make these words come alive – that all those who live in Sharon would turn to the Lord.
This article originally appeared on FIRM, May 27, 2021, and reposted with permission.