This sixth and final article in a series on missional growth
focuses on building an ongoing outreach strategy.
By Ed Stetzer
Summit Church in Durham, North Carolina, formerly named Homestead
Heights Baptist Church, was an older church in Durham that fit the description
of many Baptist churches in the area--big, traditional and happy with the
status quo. It had always been a large church, but as the Durham community
changed around it, coupled with some internal issues, the church rapidly
declined in attendance (averaging in the 600s throughout the 1990s). Under
Pastor J.D. Greear the church has seen some major revitalization. J.D. began as
the youth pastor at the church, but a few years ago they called him to lead in
a new direction as pastor.
Changing the church's name to Summit, they did much more than change their
marqueé. They started becoming intentionally missional in how they operated. In
fact, the church recently sold its large, historic building to start meeting in
a high school.
This approach may seem backward to many traditional churches, but Summit
Church considers it a great opportunity to be mobile while looking for a
location that will better suit their mission. Their once-dwindling attendance
is now more than 1,600 and growing. It's a great story of turnaround--but such
stories are, unfortunately, rare and remarkable.
It's a natural thing--over time, churches become inwardly-focused on
maintenance rather than outwardly-focused on evangelism. Some churches worry
more about having a well-equipped kitchen than a well-used baptistry. Churches
need a plan to help them stay focused on outreach.
That's how we started this series about 18 months ago. Have the waters been
stirred in your life and the life of your church? I hope so. If stirring the
waters is going to be a lasting experience, then weÕll need an ongoing strategy
to make it happen.
What will it take to build an ongoing strategy to keep the waters stirred?
How can you and your church stay on the missional edge of church life and be
relevant in reaching out to the people in
the communities where you live? Let me share a few thoughts with you on some
vital things to keep in mind as you plan for the future.
1 Grab for what lies ahead
Keep thinking and reaching forward (Philippians 3:14). Don't get stuck in
the past whether that means traditions or accomplishments. Too many churches
choose their past over their future, their heritage over their growth and their
traditions over their children.
Simply put, churches need a fresh new vision because some ways of doing
evangelism just don't work the same as they once did, and wise churches realize
that. That may bother you, but it shouldn't. You probably already know it to be
true. That's why, if you're like most churches, you ended the morning radio
show in the '40s, quit doing Sunday school enrollment campaigns in the '50s and
stopped the bus ministry in the '80s. God uses different approaches at
different times. Our task is to find new ways to reach people with the
unchanging message. Ultimately, it is just the gospel--and the gospel
transforms, but God has led us to use different strategies over the years to
help us share the gospel broadly and widely. Our churches need to press ahead
toward God's plan to reach their communities today, not the plan that was used
Here are some suggestions:
2 Gauge your progress
Don't be afraid to evaluate. Winston Churchill once said, "However beautiful
the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results." It's important to
set some specific growth goals and then determine whether or not you're
reaching those goals. Don't "sugar coat" your situation. Ask the tough
Ron Shrum at Bayless Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri, has had
experience in leading several churches through revitalization. He believes that
getting people to see a bigger vision is key. They have to see what lies ahead.
Ron explains, "You have to convey a vision of possibility. You have to let the
people see that it (growth and health) can be achieved. You must set goals. You
must have great celebrations over small victories so people are encouraged,
excited and energized about the growth God has in store." Bayless Church
started realizing its potential for growth when small goals were set and met.
They've been in a healthy growth pattern for three years and are averaging over
300 in attendance (up from 150 in 2001 after four years of steady decline).
3 Give ministry away
Are you trying to do it all yourself or are you seeking to involve others as
much as possible? Are you stirring up the gifts and talents of the people God
has placed around you?
In the near future, NAMB's Center for Missional Research will be releasing a
book called Comeback Churches. For this book we studied more than 300 churches
from 10 denominations to discover what factors led them out of plateau and
decline into a period of church growth. One of the factors that led many of
those churches to renewal and revitalization was mobilizing the laity.
For example, Tim Payne, Minister of Music and Youth at Hebron Baptist Church
in Bush, Louisiana, said their church's deacons stepped up. "Visitation has
been extremely deacon- and lay-driven, especially in the absence of a full time
pastor. Initially 40 people came each week to visit the unchurched. This at a
time when the morning worship attendance was around 100. Also, we're in a
building program, and much of the work is being done by lay people." Now, their
attendance is approaching 150--a steady increase of over 50 percent from
4 Grow as a leader
If you're not growing and developing as an on mission leader, how
can you be an influencer in stirring the waters? Pastor Moss, who's led Oak
Ridge Baptist Church in Salisbury, Maryland, through five years of healthy
growth and reached more than 450 in attendance (after stagnancy around 50 for
almost all of the 1990s), says this about leadership, "If you don't have a
strong leader with strong leadership skills, you'll go nowhere." When asked how
he sees himself as a leader, he says, "It's terrifying to see a church grow
under your leadership and then go home and realize your own shortcomings."
My friend Bill Easum has written a new book called Put on Your Own
Oxygen Mask First. It's a great metaphor. If you've ever flown a
commercial flight you've heard the flight attendant remind you that when the
oxygen masks fall from the ceiling, you should not rush to put on your child's
mask--but put your own on and then help your child. Why? Because if you don't,
you may be unconscious and unable to help.
The same is true in church life. If a leader is so busy dealing with the
"mundaneness of maintenance" and hasn't sharpened his leadership potential, he
won't be able to lead a church through change. The most important gift a pastor
can give his church is not his presence at everything, but his leadership in
the important things.
Too many pastors have too many excuses why the church has
declined--sometimes it's us. Our first priority should be to grow close to the
Lord and grow as a godly leader. Then, we can help others put on their masks as
5 Change your focus
If pastors are going to lead their churches through church revitalization, a
change of focus will be required. Far too many churches are focused on
maintenance and not vision. That means a change in calendar, strategy and plans
A change in calendar. Too many pastors and on
mission leaders have filled their calendars with "deciding" rather than
"doing." I'm amazed at how many churches will put their best leaders on
boards to decide things that one person should be empowered to do. Pastors and
their best leaders need to focus their time on two groups: leaders and the
A change in thinking. Too many churches are
focused on maintenance and not strategic growth. Now, focusing on growth
without a biblical foundation is problematic and destructive. But, biblically
faithful churches need to think differently about their mission and decisions.
This table might help:
We need churches to take biblically informed risks to reach people for the
kingdom. Unfortunately, there's often a long line of experts to tell you what
you're doing wrong--but our focus needs to be on pleasing the Lord and reaching
those in whom He is already at work. What a privilege!
A change in plans. I'm not here to tell you what you're
doing is right or wrong. But if you're a pastor or leader from nine out of 10
of our churches, your church is not experiencing healthy evangelistic growth,
according to a Leavell Center study. The best predictor of your future behavior
is your past--we need churches and on mission leaders who are willing
to do whatever it takes to make a dramatic and God-honoring comeback.
Why is it so hard? . . . Because change is hard. According to a fascinating
article in Fast Company magazine, 90 percent of heart patients who are
told to change their lifestyle habits or die, choose death. We easliy can
develop similar thinking. We have to work hard to create a climate of
Here are some tips that might help in creating a climate of change:
Develop a trust with the people you serve.
Make personal changes before asking others to change (i.e. "model
Understand the history of the church; good leaders don't take the fence down
until they know the reason it was put up.
Place influencers in leadership positions.
Check the "change in your pocket," the amount of trust people put in your
leadership. You can increase your change through compassion, competence and
Stirring long-stilled waters is hard work--but it's God's work. God wants
His churches filled with life again. That often involves a future that looks
different from the past, but it can happen. So, come on, jump in! Stir the
waters of growth--grab for what lies ahead, gauge your progress, give ministry
away, grow as a leader and change your focus.
Don't settle for stagnant waters--there are few things as exciting as the
waters being stirred by new believers publicly identifying with Christ through
For more information visit www.comebackchurches.com.
Dr. Ed Stetzer is NAMB's missiologist and director of Research. He is the
author of Planting Missional Churches and co-author of Breaking
the Missional Code (Broadman & Holman, 2006).
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC