Finding a new front door
Third Coast Church operates on the principle that “there are a lot more front doors to the church than the front door to the church,” said planter and pastor Joe McArthur. Each member’s home is a front door, an “extension of the church in the neighborhood.”
This philosophy has led to steady growth for Third Coast, even during COVID.
The Corpus church started seven years ago with community groups rather than a typical Sunday launch. By the time Third Coast met for its first official Sunday worship in 2016, 100 people had already been engaged in groups for a year.
Today, community groups remain at the heart of Third Coast. Facilitated by trained leaders, groups meet weekly and include Bible study, relationship building, and outreach. Studies are approved by the church, with RightNow Media providing much of the material.
“We value and love Sunday worship,” McArthur said, but “it’s not the ultimate with us,” adding that there are more people engaged in community groups than attend on the weekends.
“We are commanded to be together, but it’s not the only thing we are called to do … to get together on Sunday. We are called to do life together,” McArthur said. In Scripture, Jesus visits the home of Zacchaeus, he explained. “[People] don’t have to get introduced to God at a weekend service.”
The atypical model proved a blessing during COVID, when the church grew by 20 percent.
“COVID was the great equalizer,” McArthur said. “Our system worked,” he added. The emphasis on community encouraged continuity, growth, and evangelism as groups met needs among neighbors facing pandemic losses and struggles.
A preacher’s kid whose father pastored small Baptist churches, McArthur toured with bands as a drummer during his 20s. Now 45, he brought two decades of experience in pastoral ministry to the Third Coast Church plant, serving in various roles at Bay Area Fellowship, now named Church Unlimited. He was also senior pastor of Keller Harvest (now Journey) Church.
Today, Third Coast meets in space leased from a Corpus school. Attendance runs 200 with small group involvement 120 percent of that.
Whether growing up in a church of 75 or helping lead a church of 8,000, McArthur has observed that “the gospel sticks best when it’s done through relationships.”