3513 Hard Scrabble Road
Columbia, SC 29223
9:15 am - 10:30 am
11:00 am - 12:15 am
Talk about your humble beginnings. Sandhills Community Church was founded by a guy who didn’t know God was using him to plant a church until after all the preliminary research had been done! Read more of Jeff Philpott’s inspiring first person account of how God moved in his life to make Sandhills a reality.
“Have you ever thought about church planting?”
The question seemed so innocuous that I scarcely could have guessed this was more than a generic search for information. Nate Penland was my mentor and pastor while I served an internship at Grace Bible Alliance Church in Lexington, SC. He was the one who had asked this powerful question. We had just taken a trip to a pastor’s meeting in Georgia and it was my turn to guide home the primer-gray behemoth commonly known as the “church van”. The air conditioner was fighting a losing battle as we traveled along the highway and the red vinyl seats captured the heat of the bright summer sun.
“It’s funny you should ask,” I responded. ”Michelle and I have been talking about that very thing.” Nate just sat staring out of the front window, his face showing no change in emotion. ”However,” I continued, “We have also considered the idea of looking into one of the larger C&MA churches. Maybe we could get on board with an evangelism and discipleship department. Honestly…” I paused, trying to select my next words carefully. ”…I’m not sure that we’re exactly what the C&MA is looking for down here.”
Nate laughed then asked, “What do you mean?”
“Well,” I continued, now uncertain as to how much I should say. ”It’s just that…” I paused again, then decided just to say it. ”Most of the churches down here seem small. They love old hymns and are full of older people. I want to be a part of something different.”
“Like what?” Nate prodded.
“Well,” I continued. “I appreciate hymns. I really do. But, I like contemporary music too, and I’d love to be in a church that was more musically in touch with my generation. I also think it would be great to not be so locked into the same patterns of Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and some odd group in between.”
Nate listened patiently. I continued to lay out my ideas and dreams for a church and Nate continued to ask me questions for clarification. After some time, he told me that he felt the South Atlantic District of our denomination would be open to a church that functioned with a different style. I found that encouraging, but I was beginning to wonder where this was leading. Nate told me that there was an opportunity to start a church in the northeast area of Columbia and wanted to know if I’d be interested in doing some demographic research as part of my internship.
I agreed and immediately began to spend parts of my workdays doing all kinds of research on the northeast area. My wife, Michelle, and I had been trying to figure out the town in which we most desired to live after my graduation from Columbia International University, never dreaming that we’d end up staying in Columbia. I was also wondering who the church planter was going to be that would receive all of the information I’d been gathering. Nate hadn’t filled me in completely on all the details of my project, but I soon found out that I was the man. There would be no one to follow after me and take up where I left off.
During this time, Michelle and I had been discussing the style of church in which we’d most like to serve. God had been laying on our hearts a desire to see a church with a contemporary format that was both interracial and intercultural. This isn’t an impossible thing in the south, but our idea wasn’t exactly well received by the several people with which we spoke. However, we still felt God was leading in that direction and we wanted Him to use us in that way.
It wasn’t long before I began to speak with Tom Bowden, the church planting director for our district. Tom encouraged us to pursue the vision that God had placed on our hearts. The demographic research indicated that God had already prepared the soil. The communities were quite diverse racially and culturally and many people were new to the area. The area was also flooded with people who’d moved to Columbia from other locations.
We immediately began to do surveys in the northeast community, trying to figure out exactly what people were looking for in a church. We gained several contacts through this method and then began to spread the word that a new church was about to start. We followed up on everyone that was interested and many visited our first service.
So much has happened since those early days, though they weren’t long ago. Our “small group” from the early days has grown to nearly 900 people on a Sunday morning. We are multicultural and multiethnic by the grace of God. The diversity has come about naturally, or maybe divinely. The diversity gives us a small glimpse of what it will look like in God’s throne room at the end of time.
The spiritual atmosphere is dynamic. From the powerful worship services at 9:15 and 11:00 on Sunday mornings to the groups of people that meet together during the week in our Community Groups (based on the Bible book of Acts, chapter 2 verse 42-47), God is working in people’s lives. We have seen families literally transformed by God’s grace and power.