Ministry Outreach Wed, 16 Apr 2014 00:14:41 -0400 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb Make Easter Big, But Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket

Easter is one of the two biggest weekends for most churches in terms of attendance. I see this as a great opportunity for evangelism to begin and for a relationship to start between your church and all of the visitors who come that Sunday. You should do everything you can to leverage Easter weekend for growth.

At the same time, it’s important not to "put all your eggs in the Easter basket." What I mean is, Easter is a great starting point for evangelism, but it’s not the finish line, at least not for a purpose-driven church. In our culture, it usually takes multiple exposures to the gospel for someone to make a decision to follow Jesus. Let me explain.

Give People More Than One Week

Many churches offer a come-forward invitation—which, by the way, I used to do myself, Billy Graham-style, when I would preach evangelistic crusades. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with altar calls. But often the emphasis is on making a decision in the moment, and often there is a lot of pressure.

If we’re not careful, it becomes a battle of the wills, and if we unintentionally fall into the trap of emotionally coercing people into making an instant decision, it becomes a battle of wills between the pastor and the person in the congregation. This often hardens hearts rather than softening them. I say if the fruit is ripe, you don’t have to yank it.

The fact is, many people come to church for many different motives. We believe if they’ll just keep coming, it is inevitable that the Holy Spirit is going to speak to them. It’s just a matter of time. God’s Word has life-giving power and does not return void. When we share it faithfully, it brings the spiritually dead back to life. Don’t be in a hurry to force people to make a premature decision. Let Easter Sunday be the start of a longer-term relationship.

You probably didn’t receive Christ the first time you heard the Good News. I didn’t either. I had to think about it. So while we need to present the gospel clearly and always give people an opportunity to respond by receiving Christ, we don’t have to apply more pressure than the Holy Spirit does.

We believe that everyone must make a decision about what they will do with Jesus and that only those who decide to receive Him will spend eternity in heaven. But we’re interested in far more than just the initial decision. We’re interested in making disciples. People who make decisions under pressure tend to drop away quicker once the pressure's off, but decisions that are made after people have seriously considered the implications of following Christ are the decisions that last.

Give People More Than One Way

We believe that there are many, many ways to reach people for Christ. And the more hooks you use, the more fish you’re going to catch. Obviously, the primary weekend worship service will be the most common way that people are exposed to the gospel, but many people come to know Jesus through a small group, a recovery ministry, an outreach event or in a lay counseling situation. So think beyond the Easter invitation to how evangelistic all of your ministries are.

Give People Room to Grow

We believe that in sharing the Good News, you begin where people are, not where you want them to be. We don’t expect people to act like believers until they are believers. The Bible does not say, “Clean up your act and then come to Christ.” It says, “Come to Christ and He’ll help you clean up your act.”

There are people who come to church with all kinds of bad habits, but the church is not a hotel for saints. It’s a hospital for sinners. It’s not where we walk around in dress clothes and parade our piety. What we do is accept people where they are.

And by the way, there’s a difference between acceptance and approval. You can accept a person without approving of their sin. Jesus did. He accepted the woman caught in the act of adultery, but He didn’t approve of her sin. He accepted without approving. You love the person without approving of the lifestyle.

Easter is a big weekend. I’m praying for pastors and churches all over the world as we celebrate the resurrection of Christ, that God would help churches to meet and reach new people as never before. But I also pray that churches focus on being healthy for the long haul so that people find Christ week after week.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rick Warren) Evangelism Mon, 14 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400
‘Spy’ Considerations for Easter Sunday

Last year, I published a blog post titled "Eight Confessions of Church Spies," a summary report from the “spies” our church consulting team, the Lawless Group, has used over the years.

As we approach the season of Resurrection Sunday—when guests are more abundant at our churches—perhaps these questions will help you consider what guests experience at your church. You might want to evaluate these areas over the next two weeks so you are more prepared for Easter Sunday.

Review the available means to determine the location of the church and times for the church services:

  1. Does your church have a website? If the church has no website, how would you learn about the church?
  2. If your church has a website, is it helpful? User friendly? Does it provide the information you need to get to the church on time?
  3. What conclusions do you reach about the church based on its website? Does the website make you want to attend your church? 

Having driven to the church and entered the parking lot, consider these questions:

  1. Was it difficult to find the building? Would a person naturally drive by this building, or must you be intentionally going to this building to find it?
  2. Based upon your first view of the buildings, what is your impression of the church?
  3. Is there a church sign? If so, is it helpful?
  4. Is guest parking available? If so, how is it marked? Are there signs directing you to any guest parking?
  5. Are there greeters in the parking lot?
  6. Is the parking lot adequate? Convenient to the main entrance?
  7. Is there a convenient passenger loading/unloading area? Is it covered for use in inclement weather?
  8. Is it easy to locate the main entrance? Do you immediately know where to go to enter for church services?

As you enter the church, consider these questions:

  1. Are there greeters at the door?
  2. What are your first impressions of the entry foyer? Is it inviting and warm? Is it cluttered?
  3. Is there a clearly marked, manned guest/welcome center?
  4. Is there adequate space in the foyer for people to talk and fellowship?
  5. Are there adequate signs to help you find your way throughout the building?
  6. Does anyone other than assigned greeters speak to you?

If you attend an on-campus small group, think about these questions:

  1. Are there greeters who help you get to the appropriate classroom?
  2. What is your first reaction to the education areas?
  3. Are there room identification signs?
  4. If you have children, is there a security/identification process in place to help identify your child/children?
  5. Do the classroom leaders secure needed information from you (e.g., name, address, allergies for children, your location in the building if needed in an emergency)?
  6. Do preschool and children’s rooms communicate a sense of security and warmth?

After attending a small group, rate the experience on the basis of:

  1. Quality of the teaching, including attention to the Word
  2. Friendliness of the group
  3. Preparedness of the group (that is, were they ready to welcome and include a guest?)
  4. Would an unchurched person understand the teaching? The terms used?
  5. Would you attend a small group at this church again?

In the worship center, consider these questions:

  1. What are your first feelings and thoughts as you enter? Why?
  2. Does the worship space say anything to you about this congregation and its priorities?
  3. Is the worship space well maintained? Clean?
  4. Does anyone greet you any time other than a recognized “greeting” time?
  5. If the church provides any documents (e.g., bulletin, worship guide, etc.), are the documents high quality? Do they facilitate worship for you in any way?

Rate the overall experience on the basis of:

  1. Friendliness of the congregation
  2. Quality of the music
  3. Quality of the preaching, including clear attention to the Scriptures
  4. Clarity in instruction (did you know and understand what the church expected participants to do at all points in the service?)
  5. Use of PowerPoint or other media to make announcements, outline sermon, etc.
  6. Would an unchurched person understand the teaching? The terms used?
  7. What one improvement would you suggest regarding the worship service?
  8. Do others greet you as you leave the building?


  1. What are your overall impressions of this church based on this visit?
  2. Would you return to visit this church? Why or why not?

What have you learned about your church? What other questions might you add?

Chuck Lawless currently serves as professor of evangelism and missions and dean of graduate studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Chuck Lawless) Community Mon, 07 Apr 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Every Nation Ministries Thriving After Humble Beginnings 20 Years Ago

Twenty years ago, Every Nation Churches and Ministries serendipitously started in my home when a couple of old friends had a layover in Manila. The date was March 4.

The time of day was late, close to midnight. The place was my house in Pasig, Philippines. Our fledgling ministry had no legal documents, no headquarters, no budget, no plan and no logo, but we had a clear call from God and a sense of stewardship for the university campuses of the world.

Here’s how I described that night in my book, 100 Years From Now:

"Six years after the demise of the ministry and mission agency that sent us to the Philippines, I received a call from Rice Broocks that would change our lives. Every decade or so, I get a call like that from him. Rice called to ask if he and an old friend, Phil Bonasso, could crash at my house in Manila for a couple of nights on their way to Singapore and Malaysia. Rice and Phil’s Asian adventure was a response to a 'Macedonian call' from a friend of a friend asking them to consider assisting two new church-planting opportunities in Asia.

"I’ll never forget that late night in my house in Manila. Rice and Phil were talking about the open doors in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and then one of them said, 'We need to plant churches in those cities.' I responded, 'Who is "we"? There is no "we." There is only you, and you, and me.' In 1989, when Maranatha Campus Ministries ended and we all went our separate ways, any semblance of 'we' had abruptly ended. I can’t remember the whole conversation, but by the time Rice and Phil left my house, there was a 'we' that the three of us agreed to call Morning Star International. God had connected us together for the purpose of 'church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.' Phil and I agreed to join our ministries together if Rice would take the lead. We never imagined anyone would want to join with us. We simply wanted to plant new churches, not gather existing churches. To our surprise, as soon as Rice and Phil landed in the USA a week later, old friends started calling to ask if they could join our little church-planting group. A few years later, we changed our name to Every Nation, but we never changed our commitment to church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.

"When God reconnected Rice, Phil, and me that night in Manila, it was not because we were all struggling and failing. Quite the contrary—all three of us were leading what most people would consider growing and successful ministries. Every Nation came about because the three of us believed we could accomplish more together than apart. We believed we could be better together."

That’s how we started. It has been quite a ride these past 20 years. Together we have made a lot of disciples, a lot of mistakes and a lot of great memories. I thank God for allowing me to preach the gospel, make disciples and plant churches with good friends all over the world.

By His grace, eventually we will reach every nation with the gospel.

Steve and Deborah Murrell went to the Philippines in 1984 for a one-month summer mission trip that never ended. They are the founding pastors of Victory Manila, one church that meets in 14 locations in Metro Manila and has planted churches in 60 Philippine cities and 20 nations. Currently, Victory has more than 6,000 discipleship groups that meet in coffee shops, offices, dormitories and homes in Metro Manila. Steve is co-founder and president of Every Nation Churches and Ministries, a family of churches focused on church planting, campus ministry and world missions.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Steve Murrell) Evangelism Mon, 07 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400
7 Practices of Growing Churches

I have been involved in a number of conversations lately about church growth. What should growth look like? How does it look different for various sizes of churches? Should you add services or go multisite? Are the measurements for success primarily attendance and budget? Can you be successful without numerical growth? If not, what is a healthy rate of growth? What about the growth within your people and the making of disciples? And on and on and on.

In the March edition of Inc. magazine, Leigh Buchanan interviews Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao about the practices of companies that successfully grow and scale. I found their insights quite applicable for some of the things needed for churches to grow.

While this is obviously not a fully inclusive list, the following are seven practices of growing churches I gleaned from the article:

1. Growing churches focus on church health more than church growth. Intuitive church leaders know attendance and budget only tell a portion of the story. Rick Warren introduced us to the concept of church health. Rick reminded us healthy things grow. Therefore, focus on church health. Rao points out, “When people think of growth, usually they think of anatomy. How big are the limbs? But the real thing is physiology. Is stuff circulating well—the blood and the oxygen? Even if your anatomy is very developed, your physiology can be bad.”

2. Growing churches demand excellence. Growing churches know the level of excellence must keep pace with the level of numerical growth. Sutton says, “Companies grow well and scale badly when they focus on running up the numbers but not the quality.”

3. Growing churches are vigilant about their mission, vision and core values. As the company grew to over 13,000 stores, Howard Schultz acknowledged the “watering down of the Starbucks experience.” In contrast, Sutton notes Facebook employees are “internalized in a very deep way what is sacred and taboo at Facebook. They aren't going to take their eyes off that mindset ball.” Shawn Lovejoy, lead pastor of Mountain Lake Church, says, “You must be mean about the vision.”

4. Growing churches ruthlessly stop unproductive ministries. When is the last time you brought about a necessary ending to an unproductive ministry? When is the last time you killed a golden calf? Rao notes, “If you are getting big, before you add a new meeting, figure out which meeting you can kill. Before you put in a new rule, see which rule you can kill.” This is simply good stewardship. Rao goes on, “Subtraction is very important because in an overloaded organization, when you subtract, it is giving a gift.” Give your church a gift this week. Go ahead and kill a ministry that needs to die.

5. Growing churches identify, spotlight and leverage their top producers. Cascading is a term that used when someone in your church is already doing something right. Effective church leaders identify and release staff and volunteers who cascade and create positive catalytic activity. These “catalysts” will grow your ministry and make your life easier. They free you up to focus on only what you can do as a senior leader. Karen Hanson, vice president of software design company Intuit, sums it up well when she says, ”The way you know you’ve succeeded is to ask yourself, ‘If I stopped putting energy into this, would it continue to go well?’”

6. Growing churches not only embrace but also foster change. Warren said in his Ted talk, “When the speed of change around an organization is faster than the speed of change within the organization, the organization becomes irrelevant.” Fast-growing churches understand change is their constant companion. Rao concludes, “With fast growth, the rate of change is phenomenal.”

7. Growing churches celebrate. Sutton asks a final question: “In the end you have to ask: ‘Are we happy living in the world we’ve built?’”

Pastors and church leaders, I leave you with two final questions: While your church may have grown numerically, is Jesus happy with the church that has been built? If not, what changes do you need to make?

Brian Dodd’s daytime job is as a generosity architect and leadership consultant for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. During the last 10-plus years, he has spent each day having one-on-one conversations with many of the greatest church leaders in America. He also has over 25 years of church volunteer and staff experience. Check out his blog: Brian Dodd on Leadership.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Brian K. Dodd) Church Growth Fri, 04 Apr 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Will the Real Jesus Please Show Up?

Go with me here. Imagine if Jesus were a guest speaker in the average church. First, ever the good Samaritan, He may be running slightly late, having stopped to help some unfortunate family stranded by the side of the road.

When He finally arrives, He catches some cold stares from folks lingering in the vestibule. They notice that He isn’t wearing a suit and tie but the work clothes of a carpenter (now stained with dirt, oil and grease from the encounter with the unfortunate family’s broken-down vehicle).

We hurry Jesus to the pastor’s office, where we hand Him our bulletin. With a smile at the corners of His lips, He gives our printed order of worship a passing glance and mumbles, “We’ll see.”

The choir begins the call to worship, and we walk in with Him. Suddenly, several individuals begin to scream and cry out, “Jesus, why have You come to torment us?” They fall at His feet, writhing and crying out. Everyone stares at the scene, trying to guess what Jesus will do. Will He deal with such things in church?

Jesus gazes at the crowd, His eyes sweeping over the audience as if searching out every needy soul. He speaks again the words He once read in the synagogue:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord" (Luke 4:18-19, NKJV).

Turning to those still writhing at His feet, Jesus casts out the demons simply by saying, “Come out of them.” The delivered people lay quietly in the aisles of the church. Suddenly, others begin to move forward as the sick begin coming toward Him for His touch. He lays hands on them one by one and, regardless of their malady, they are instantly healed. With leaps and shouts of joy, they begin praising God for healing them.

After a few minutes, Jesus quiets the crowd and begins to teach with authority, as sinners begin to weep under the conviction His words bring. Before a formal invitation can even begin, people are flocking to the altar, falling prostrate before Him in glorious salvation.

Word soon spreads to the children’s church that Jesus is in the building, and they leave behind their craft projects and Sunday school papers to find Him. With noisy enthusiasm, the children burst through the sanctuary doors. Embarrassed parents lunge to restrain them as the little ones scramble to where Jesus is standing, clamoring for His touch. Jesus addresses the adults in the room: "Let the little children come unto Me." He then proceeds to touch all of them with a blessing.

Young people gather around Him next, begging to follow Him as disciples. He asks them if they are willing to take up His cross. Will they go anywhere? Are they willing to endure the hardship that being a disciple will inevitably bring?

Dozens volunteer.

While all of this transpires, an outside door creaks open as a young man, tattered, filthy and smelling like a pigsty slips in the back—unnoticed—and slowly makes his way across and around the back of the room.

Soon, the aged saints with youth still in their hearts come, asking, “Is it true we will have a body like Yours?” He smiles at them and tells them of the glorious victory they will have over the grave. He blesses them for their faithfulness and charges them to continue their mentoring of the younger saints. They step back from His words with hope restored, feeling a new vigor to go on and serve Him as long as they live.

Then suddenly, a woman with the marks of the world on her countenance begins to weep loudly. Her face is tear-streaked with makeup that could never hide the ravages of her immorality. She falls at His feet, covering them with tears as she receives His pardon.

On the other side of the building, music begins to sound, as there is a commotion in the aisle. We hear a voice cry out, “This my son was dead and is alive again! He was lost but now is found!” Our attention turns to a well-dressed older gentleman dancing with and hugging the tattered young man who had snuck in just moments before.

By this time, the church leaders are gathering in the back of the church, watching. One man says, “I cannot believe that our pastor brought this radical into our church.” Another replies, “We’d better get this back in hand quickly.” Another speaks, “Some of our best people have left upset today.”

So I ask you: Does the real Jesus dare show up in our churches?

Too many churches have learned how to operate without Jesus, much like the end-time church of Laodicea. No doubt, the Lord makes this same lament over our churches today:

“I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. ... Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:15-17, 20-21, NIV).

Recently in our own church, we had a mighty outpouring of the Holy Spirit at a Wednesday evening service. When it came time for me to preach, there was no reason to. We were in the middle of experiencing the very thing I was going to speak on. It’s fine to talk about the move of God and how He should work in our churches. However, when He shows up, we have to be willing to get out of the way and let Him move.

Jesus’ presence should be evident today in all of our services through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Churches will be different when He shows up in full power! Today the church is a colony of heaven. We are outposts of another kingdom beyond time and space. These outposts should be expressions of Jesus’ presence and power. The power of the world to come must be evident in our churches. The powers of heaven can be ours through the down payment of the Holy Spirit. The supernatural should be the norm in the life of the church.

Note: This article was adapted from the book Awakened by the Spirit by Ron Phillips.

]]> (Ron Phillips) Community Tue, 01 Apr 2014 16:00:00 -0400
9 Reasons You Should Make the Most of Big Days for Growth

Easter is coming! And it will be one of the most well-attended Sundays for churches this year. Wise church leaders will take advantage of the opportunity to present the simple but profoundly hopeful message of Jesus’ resurrection to all of the extra guests who come.

One of the secrets to Saddleback’s growth over the years is big days. There are three holidays we’ve used powerfully—Easter, Christmas Eve and Mother’s Day—and then a few other weekends such as the kickoff or celebration of a big campaign. We plan for those days, and we use them as an evangelism tool and as a stimulus to motivate our members on to growth for the rest of the year. These days are big high points, and there are some real advantages to planning big days with a special emphasis, particularly around Easter.

Here are nine reasons why high attendance days can be so meaningful:

1. Big days build morale. Without a doubt, people enjoy being a part of something big, something exciting. It develops unity and pride among our people. When people work together, there’s just a sense of excitement. It’s hard to motivate people consistently over the long haul, but you can always get them up for a particular project or particular day. Big days create a “winning team” feeling.

2. Big days draw interest from the community. No doubt at Pentecost, having 3,000 people saved was impressive. Often a big day will attract the attention of many people who would normally totally ignore your church. It says to the community, "Something is alive over there." It arouses curiosity.

3. Big days increase your prospect list. Celebrating big days gives you names of people who are willing to have a conversation about spiritual things, as indicated by their attendance. It gives you names to add to your email or mailing list, and it helps you to know for whom to be praying.

4. Big days enlarge the vision of your members. What we try to do is give people a vision on Easter Sunday of what the church could be and then operate on that vision for the rest of the year and make that a goal. When I first started Saddleback, we were running 25 in the home Bible study at the maximum point, and then we had 205 on Easter Sunday. Always after Easter, you’ll go back down in attendance. But we averaged 120 for the rest of that month. So we had 25, then 205, and then 120, which means we automatically picked up 100 people in one month as a result of a big day. I can consider that to be worthwhile. 

You’re not going to keep everybody from a big day. Don’t worry about it! The growth of Saddleback looks like this: up, then down a little, up, then down a little, up, then down a little. You build in a pyramiding fashion, so you never go all the way back down. Don’t worry about that! Usually after Easter you will have a drop off every week for three weeks. You’ll have less the week after Easter, then the week after that a little bit less and so on. But it will stabilize, and then you get the core of people who stick with you, particularly if you plan a series of messages to start on a big day. Then you keep them coming back.

5. Big days give focus to people’s prayers. A big day gives your people something specific to pray about, and the result of more prayer is always greater power. God responds when His people call out to Him in a concerted plea for more people to meet Jesus.

6. It stretches people’s faith. When you set a goal and go for it, then it’s specific. Many times we’re afraid to set a goal because we’re afraid we’re not going to reach it. And remember, failure is not failing to reach your goal; failing is not setting a goal. Failing is not the failure to reach your dream; failing is not even attempting to reach it. As long as you’re attempting something for the glory of God, you’re successful.

Early in Saddleback’s history, we celebrated our six-month anniversary by having a big day and setting a goal of having 500 in attendance. We didn’t have 500. We had 380, but that was more than we’d ever had before! What do you do if you don’t reach your goal? Set another one! 

Working toward big days stretches people’s faith, and that’s pleasing to God. Without faith, it’s impossible to please Him.

7. Big days give an opportunity for members to bring unbelieving relatives and friends. Big days are a great opportunity to make a first impression and to share the gospel with people who don’t yet know Jesus and may never hear about Jesus at any other time.

8. Many people will be saved and many will come back. We somehow have the impression that a person must be part of a church for a long time before they come to know Jesus, but I can’t tell you how many people we’ve seen making commitments to Christ on their very first visit and becoming a part of the church’s life afterward.

9. Big days increase the pool of volunteer workers. A big day is a great way to mobilize volunteers. On Easter, we need 150 greeters. We try to get lots of people to greet, and then, as a result of that, all through the spring and summer, out of that pool of people who volunteered that Sunday, we ask them to come back and do it on a regular basis.

The Limitations of Big Days

Do no confuse a crowd with a church. A crowd is not a church. When we have 50,000 people on Easter Sunday, we don’t fool ourselves into thinking that we have a church of 50,000. We know that’s a crowd. Many of those people are just checking things out. They’re going to come one time, and they’re not going to come back. A crowd is not a church. 

However, a crowd can be turned into a church. Don’t confuse the two. If you get a big day, great! Those people can be won to Christ, discipled and brought into the membership of the church, and you can turn them into a church. A big day is a good way to start.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America's largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit

]]> (Rick Warren) Church Growth Mon, 24 Mar 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Bob Rhoden: ‘The Spirit Said … '

When the Holy Spirit chose to kick off a bold new outreach from the Antioch church (Acts 13:1-3), what voice box did He use? I’m inclined to believe it was either Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, or Manaen—or perhaps all of them. And the Spirit is still speaking through people in our day.

It was 1969 when the Spirit spoke to me through my uncle Obie Harrup about planting a church in Richmond, Va. He simply said, “Bob, there are 12 people who want to start a church in the West End of Richmond. Would you be willing to go and see if this is the Spirit’s leading for you to be their pastor?”

If you visit West End Assembly of God today, you’ll find some 2,000 people gathering each Sunday to worship. I’m no longer the lead pastor; I resigned after the first 22 years to become a district superintendent. But I’ve not forgotten how important it was to listen to the Spirit’s voice at every step of planting this church. Why is that? Here are four reasons:

1. If the Spirit is speaking, He supersedes the need for a Plan B. Paul and Barnabas went “on their way by the Holy Spirit” (Acts 13:4) without any backup plan. My wife, Joan, and I never had any doubt about the church plant in Richmond being successful. Did we have trials, disappointments, setbacks, frustrations? You bet. But we never thought about a bailout strategy. We were all in!

When starting a church, there is too much at stake to waste energy on “What if this doesn’t work?”

It’s paramount to understand that the Spirit speaks through the primary leaders around us. Notice, I said primary leaders. Sometimes there are peripheral leaders with other agendas. Those responsible for making decisions about planters and places need to be in tune with the Spirit.

So in the face of 6 inches of snow on opening day, March 2, 1969, we went forward. Forty-two people showed up! This was truly amazing in a region not comfortable with winter weather.

2. When the Spirit is leading, you can expect miracles. We knew God had to work on our behalf to plant a Pentecostal church in the upscale West End. And God did! One of the biggest surprises was when a person who did not attend our church gave us three acres of prime land on a major thoroughfare.

Every church planter must expect the miraculous. My friend Jason Byars, a church planter in North Melbourne Beach, Fla., took me to a building they wanted to buy. In faith Jason and I laid hands on the front door’s lock and chains, asking God to open these doors for their church. Within a few weeks, they raised $60,000 for a down payment and closed on the building at an unbelievable price.

Every growing church plant, I believe, can tell at least one miracle story.

3. When the Spirit is leading, He connects us with the right people. My dream of planting a Pentecostal church that made sense hit its first snag five weeks after launch Sunday, which was Easter. There was nothing wrong with the Virginia weather by then—but only 28 people showed up. I wasn’t simply disappointed; I was crushed.

I dreaded going to meetings with my peers and having to report such a low Easter attendance. So the Spirit needed to deal with my pride before He could take me to the next level. I surrendered the weekly attendance to His care and focused instead on ways to serve the community.

One night a high school girl showed up at our home obviously in demonic bondage. After we prayed for her deliverance, I can still see the smile that clothed her face. She and her friends began to fill the first couple of rows on Sunday. When the news spread through the community that young people were being turned on to God, social and professional people began to “come and see.”

There is no substitute for the work of the Spirit in changing lives—especially young people—to spur momentum in any church, no matter its size.

4. When the Spirit speaks, He will often talk about multiplication. Before we had our first public meeting, our core group of 12 people had felt led to put in writing that we would plant other churches. Talk about vision! We were imagining other church plants before we were officially opened ourselves.

And God granted our desire. Over the years, West End has planted at least seven other churches. One huge benefit of this planting is it gives new people an opportunity to serve. I witnessed this when a lady became a key board person in one of our church plants after not finding an opening in the larger mother church. The multiplying of gifts is a plan of the Spirit as we plant churches.

A Calling for Every Church

My prayer is that we listen as the Spirit speaks to us about sending out people who want to obey what the Spirit is saying. Like Paul and Barnabas, they will return from time to time and report back to us what God is doing. All of this fans the flame of the Spirit’s fire.

Bob Rhoden is now an executive presbyter with the Assemblies of God. His book, Four Faces of a Leader, was published last year. You can follow him on Twitter @bob_rhoden.

]]> (Bob Rhoden) Growth Wed, 19 Mar 2014 19:00:00 -0400
How to Use Social Media in a New Church Plant

There’s a formula for launching a church in America: Collect lots of money. Spend lots of money getting the word out. Turn a big crowd of strangers into a church.

It’s easy—if you have lots of money. But church planters are hackers by nature, right? It’s possible to get the word out in a better way, especially today.

When my team and I began planting our church in northwest Arkansas, we didn’t want to drop a ton of money on massive but impersonal means of announcing our arrival—and we didn’t have a ton of money anyway. So we used Facebook. We’re still using Facebook. And it’s working.

Proof That It Works

We started with two couples (including me and my wife), spent $0 on traditional advertising and had 35 at our first gathering in July 2011. We grew to approximately 80 people within six months through word of mouth and while continuing to spend $0 on traditional advertising. On our first official Sunday, we launched with 176 people—most of whom heard about it through Facebook, word of mouth and search engines.

Today, we’re the most “liked” church on Facebook in northwest Arkansas, and an estimated 75 to 80 percent of our first-time guests found us on the Internet.

How to Use Facebook

We launched our church website and our main Facebook page before we relocated so we could get a jump on connecting with people. We heard from people wanting more information long before our first vision meeting. And it grew quickly.

If you’re going to use Facebook, you need to use it well:

Understand the difference between a Facebook profile and a Facebook page. A Facebook profile is for people; a Facebook page is for brands, organizations, celebrities and other entities. Your church should have a Facebook page.

Use your personal Facebook profile to connect with people. Through your own personal Facebook profile, you can connect with new people in your community, people who get in touch with your church about the plant and other people in your town you want to get to know.

Maximize your church’s Facebook page. Facebook offers all kinds of great features for pages, such as cover images, avatars, events features and an “about” section (which, by the way, should include a link to your website right at the top so no one has to dig for it). Be sure to take advantage of them.

Build one single page. When your church and its corresponding Facebook page reach critical mass, then you can start “sub” pages for different areas of your church, such as the kids’ ministry or small groups.

Don’t Forget a Website

When we think about social media, we think of all the different social networks out there—Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, to name a few of the majors—but I’m convinced you need to see your church’s website as a social network too. It’s a content hub of sorts, just like all the other platforms.

Sometimes your goal is to move people from the established social platforms to your site. Sometimes it’s about moving people from your site to the social platforms. Either way, having a hub on the web in the form of a church website is essential.

If you’re going to have a site, be sure to follow these steps:

Design it with the end user in mind. This means caring less about aesthetics and more about usability.

Make some information obvious on every page. I’m talking about gathering times, locations and directions here. Don’t make people search for this information. Make it readily available no matter where they are on your site.

Tell the story of your church. Use pictures, testimonies and video. Avoid bland, impersonal statements and data.

Make it findable via Google. Otherwise, it doesn’t exist. 

Brandon Cox has been a pastor for 15 years and is currently planting a church in northwest Arkansas sponsored by Saddleback Church and other strategic partners. He serves as editor of

]]> (Brandon Cox) Communication Fri, 14 Mar 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Evangelism: From Crusades to Soup Kitchens

During some periods of church history, Christ-followers walked around with a nail in their pockets—an ever-present reminder of Jesus’ crucifixion. The thinking went, according to historian Leonard Sweet, “Proclaiming repentance is as much about reminding me of my waywardness as it is about setting other people straight.”

If we did that today, we’d likely be seen as suspected terrorists. And forget about getting through airport security!

Today, Christians still want to obey the Great Commission. So the question is: What’s the best way to practice evangelism now?

The Meaning of Evangelism

One of Billy Graham’s greatest legacies is the Lausanne Congress, formerly known as the International Conference for World Evangelization. At the 1983 Congress, Christian leaders from more than 150 nations gathered in Lausanne, Switzerland, to explore new ways to carry out the church’s call to evangelize the world. The Lausanne Covenant was birthed from that meeting, and evangelism was defined as “the proclamation of the historical, biblical Christ as Savior and Lord, with a view of persuading people to come to Him personally and so be reconciled to God.” It further declared, “In issuing the gospel invitation, we have no liberty to conceal the cost of discipleship.”

In his book Nudge, Sweet offers a simple and direct view of the subject. He explains, “Evangelism is nudging people to pay attention to the mission of God in their lives and to the necessity of responding to that initiative in ways that birth new realities and the new birth.”

Regardless of the definition we’re most comfortable with, the call to evangelize is inescapable. Whether a huge organization launches a multimillion-dollar crusade or friends talk about Christ over a cup of coffee in a kitchen, evangelism must be practiced today like never before.

The challenge is finding not one—but many—effective methods of evangelism. It is a weighty issue because if we don’t succeed, the Christian church risks losing its ability to influence society and keep future generations engaged. Out of the search for evangelism methods that fit today’s postmodern culture, many approaches have emerged, such as:

  • Prayer evangelism
  • Generosity as evangelism
  • Acts-of-kindness evangelism
  • Missional communities as bridges to evangelism
  • Service-based evangelism
  • Crusade evangelism
  • Online blogging as evangelism
  • Social media evangelism

The list is endless, and we all realize historic methods of evangelism often no longer work. Let’s take a look at five effective evangelism methods in use right now. While not in any order of success or proven effectiveness, these five methods have verifiable results. The principles they embody are also transferable to different denominations and geographical settings.

Method 1: The Invitational Model

Relationship is the most significant access point into the private lives of others. Spiritual conversations are viewed by most people—Christian and non-Christian alike—as exceptionally private. Most people need to personally know the individual who wants to hold a conversation with them about God, faith, the Bible or any other spiritually related topic.

The invitational model of evangelism happens when a believer invites a friend, neighbor, colleague or family member to an evangelistic social outing. The real focus is not on the event—be it a concert, play or worship service—though that serves a vital role. The believer’s primary goal is to expose their friend to a gifted person who can share the gospel in a culturally relevant way. The Christian’s hope is that their friend accepts Christ as their Savior.

Warren Bird, the Leadership Network’s director of research and intellectual capital, shared the findings of the organization’s 2011 study of 25 megachurches. They received 50,000 responses to questions like, “What drew them to the church? What kept them there?”

Of the results, Bird says, “On average, megachurches do better than other churches at evangelism, and it’s often as simple as people inviting their friends to church.”

This finding does not discount the value of evangelism or the social impact of small churches. The research simply underscores the effectiveness of the invitational model of evangelism.

On a personal note, Christ Church—the church I pastor in Rockaway, N.J.—grew by approximately 1,000 people in 2013 through this method. We discovered the effectiveness of this model lies in the church’s ability to do the groundwork. This entails the creation of a worship environment where people feel comfortable bringing their unsaved family and friends.

The invitational model also requires training Christians in the ongoing practice of establishing growing relationships with the unchurched. My congregation has a long way to go in perfecting this model, but we are committed to using it alongside other effective models of evangelism.

Method 2: The Service Model

General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, built that global organization on the evangelistic principle that says, “A man cannot hear you when his stomach is empty. Feed him, and he will listen.” In other words, meeting people’s felt needs through acts of service gives power and eternal meaning to your words. Acts of kindness open a heart to the gospel.

Many local churches have positioned themselves as ambassadors of goodwill and advocates in their communities. For example, Christ Tabernacle—a multisite church based in Glendale, N.Y.—began serving families of special needs children within its community. In September 2013, the church hosted a conference in partnership with the Center for Autism and Related Disorders. The invitation was extended to the entire community.

Adam Durso, the church’s executive pastor and the dad of a special needs child, says hundreds of families came who had “battled with rejection from the public and social sector because of their special needs child.”

Through this ministry, called the Champions Club, Durso says, “Christ Tabernacle has grown in credibility and the right to speak into the lives of many people who have never heard the gospel before.”

The church is an ally and a resource to these families who struggle silently to care for their special needs children.

To demonstrate real commitment to them, Christ Tabernacle is now completing a sensory room—a learning space for children with autism, Down syndrome, ADHD and other needs. Last December, the Champions Club hosted a Christmas party, and more than 195 children came, accompanied by their parents and family members.

Roughly 90 percent of them had never darkened the doors of Christ Tabernacle before, nor did they have a relationship with Christ. They toured the sensory room and were quickly hooked, finding themselves at home in God’s house.

“We’re seeing the congregation empowered to serve a demographic that is greatly underserved throughout our city,” Durso says.

The service model is used in a slightly different way at Liquid Church—a fast-growing multisite church in northern New Jersey.

“Hundreds of men in our church stepped up to donate over $50,000 and 5,000 hours of labor to do an ‘extreme makeover’ of a battered women’s shelter in New Brunswick, N.J.,” says Tim Lucas, the church’s lead pastor.

“A battered women’s shelter exists for one reason—because men abuse their God-given strength. We wanted to demonstrate in word and deed the power of men surrendered to Christ using their strength to selflessly serve women and their children,” Lucas says. “The executive director [of the shelter] was so impressed, she began attending our church, gave her life to Christ and was publicly baptized! She is now a key leader in our church, attending seminary and bringing her newfound faith in Christ to her leadership at the battered women’s center.”

Lucas adds, “When hardened cynics witness the church financially sacrificing and selflessly caring for abused women, neglected children or homeless families, they are inspired to ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ and ‘How can I help?’”

The beauty of the service model is the discovery that serving people without an agenda other than loving them becomes a launching pad for conversations on faith. The broader community becomes willing to listen to matters of salvation, God and redemption. Regardless of the focus your church takes with the service model, God’s love in action through His people is irresistible.

Method 3: The Crusade Model

Major citywide evangelistic events get a lot of press. They’re exciting because the big guns come to town—popular preachers, famous singers—and because crowd-drawing, gospel-centric activity takes place that most churches don’t have the resources to host.

In most cases, these stadium-sized meetings are planned over a couple of years and cost millions of dollars to pull off. Though they seldom last more than a few days, they require a lot of work—through the training of partner churches and parachurch organizations and through administratively gifted leaders, all of whom ensure the event goes off without a hitch.

I know it takes a lot of work because I served on the executive committee for evangelist Billy Graham’s final bow—his New York City crusade that took place June 24-26, 2005. New York park and police officials tallied the crowd at some 242,000 people over the three-day crusade. More than 1,400 churches representing 82 denominations provided an estimated 20,000 volunteer workers. Drawing about 700 media representatives, this event that took a year to prepare—with a $6.8-million-dollar budget—and yielded approximately 9,445 decisions for Christ, half of which were first-time decisions.

Another well-known example of crusade evangelism is Battle Cry—a Teen Mania International event conducted by Ron Luce, its president and founder. This Texas-based parachurch organization conducts crusades across the United States and in Canada to win teenagers to the Lord. In a concert-like atmosphere, teens turn away from darkness into God’s marvelous light.

Jack Redmond, an executive member of the Battle Cry steering committee, says, “The engagement of teenagers from hundreds of local churches each year is phenomenal. The 2011 crusade, for example, drew some 15,000 people, and between 1,000 to 1,500 decisions were made for Christ.”

Granted, crusade evangelism requires a lot of prep work and resources, but it is still a viable method today.

Method 4: The Testimonial Model

Sharing your faith in a one-on-one setting maximizes the spread of the gospel. Unlike the invitational model, the testimonial model—more commonly referred to as witnessing—empowers the believer to close the deal. By sharing your life with your friend, co-worker, or neighbor, you as a believer get a firsthand opportunity to bring people to Christ. Through spiritual conversations, including the sharing of your conversion story, unbelievers are evangelized.

Although this model does not carry the glamour of the crusade model, it is by far the most powerful evangelistic method, resulting in the greatest degree of church growth and discipleship. As statisticians explored sources of church growth over the recent decades, they discovered the web of personal relationships is the primary driver.

In 1986, C. Peter Wagner, professor of church growth at Fuller Theological Seminary, reported his survey finding that 86 percent of churches grow because of friends and relatives. As evidenced in the list below, the testimonial model, reflected in the category of “friends and relatives,” markedly outperforms other sources of church growth:

Sources of Church Growth

Advertisement                         2%
The pastor                               6%
Organized outreach                6%
Friends and relatives              86%

Tim Massengale, author of Total Church Growth, recently confirmed this in a new poll. He surveyed some 8,000 Christians across America and documented their answer to the question, “How did you come into the church?”

Sources of Church Growth

Advertisement                           0.1%
The pastor                                 6-8%
Walk-ins                                    4-6%
Door-to-door visitation             1-2%
Church program                        2-4%
Friends and relatives                70-90%

As you can see, the testimonial model embodied in the “friends and relatives” category still contributes significantly to church growth today.

In order to capitalize on this model of evangelism, the local church must spend significant time training its members in the art of sharing their faith. These equipping sessions must take place through a myriad of teaching opportunities beyond the Sunday morning hour.

In our church, we train the congregation to create 10-minute, three-minute, and one-minute versions of their conversion story. Becoming skilled at telling the story of your journey to faith in Christ is critical for success.

Method 5: The Event-Driven Model

Churches that experience success with evangelism and growth regularly host events that attract nonreligious people. Whether a seasonal event, such as a Christmas musical, Easter play or harvest festival, or something like a marriage and family seminar, these activities entertain with a clear evangelistic component.

In the above tables, we saw how a church’s programs and outreach impact its growth. Though a small percentage of the source of church growth, these organized events work hand in hand with the invitational and testimonial models used to attract lost people to Christ.

Churches that experience growth from conversion—not simply transfers—work hard to develop a culture of evangelism. Their sermons provide God’s answers to social issues, relationships and the other areas of life in practical ways. Weekend services are streamlined and fall typically within a 75- to 90-minute timeframe. A well-designed worship experience allows the Holy Spirit to engage the heart of attendees—believers and unbelievers alike. This practice creates ease in the members’ hearts to invite their unsaved family and friends to weekend meetings and special events.

The success of the event-driven model lies in the ability of the church to create a culture where God’s love for lost people is easily evidenced and experienced. Equally important to the effectiveness of this model is what Durso shared when asked to contrast Christ Tabernacle’s experience of the service model with other evangelism methods.

“Our street ministry outreaches, seasonal concerts, preaching in parks and on street corners are great events,” he says. “They are exciting. People come to the Lord. But our experience is that they are like a flash in the pan if not backed up with ongoing service-based evangelism that meet people’s needs.”

Durso is correct. Events are good at attracting people to the church and even at helping people investigate the claims of Christ. However, if we want people to move beyond conversion and experience discipleship, which includes responsible local church membership, our ministry events must guide people to become fully devoted followers of Christ.

Evangelism practices today are certainly different than the models of yesterday, and these five models also have a shelf life. Unlike items we purchase at the grocery store, we don’t know their exact expiration date.

But we do know that as culture changes, so should our methods. We cannot get angry at lost people if our evangelism methods are unappealing. We must continue to engage in good social research and in collaborative efforts, and we must continue to be sensitive to the nudge of the Holy Spirit as we strive to see relevant models emerge. 

 David D. Ireland, Ph.D., is senior pastor of Christ Church, a thriving 7,000-member multisite and multiracial congregation in northern New Jersey, and author of The Kneeling Warrior: Winning Your Battles Through Prayer.

]]> (David D. Ireland) Evangelism Tue, 11 Mar 2014 13:00:00 -0400
Why Millennials Shouldn't Leave Church

I recently turned 35. I was raised on Saturday morning cartoons (DuckTalesShirt Tales, lots of stuff with tales), cordless phones with extendable four-foot antennae, and Pop Rocks and Coke (they don’t kill you!). While I undoubtedly have a place in Generation X, I often share similar views with the millennials, particularly when it comes to all the church stuff. And it grieves me that so many of us have walked away from church.

Everybody has a different response and reason why our generation and those after us are leaving. They typically point to what’s wrong with the church. It’s not enough Jesus. It’s too much Jesus. It’s not enough holiness. It’s too much holiness. It’s not enough justice. It’s too much justice.

I get the concerns with church in general. But I’d like to offer the flip side of this coin: If the church isn’t what we want it to be, it’s not all the church’s fault. At least part of it is our fault. We can’t talk about the church as if it’s some abstract entity disconnected from us. We are the church.

And here's the truth: The church isn’t perfect. It’s never been perfect. It never will be perfect. So imperfections within the church simply aren’t a good excuse for anyone to leave. 

But we leave with our complaints as if we aren’t part of the problem. We’re just a tad bit spoiled. We tend to want everything handed to us. We want change, but it seems many of us don’t want the work that comes with implementing change. So we bounce around, hoping to eventually land in some magical realm where the Pew Fairy has already done all the work to make church exactly what we think it should be.

I hate to pop your balloon, but the Pew Fairy doesn’t exist.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: If you want to bring about change in the church, you can’t do it from the outside looking in. Those who are walking away aren’t helping to fix anything. I’d like to see a few of us suck it up, stop whining about everything that’s wrong, and begin working to implement the change we’re calling for.

We’re so quick to walk, but when will we get plugged in and become leaders and active volunteers? Instead of leaving, why don’t we actually become a part of it so we can help make it better?

Perhaps we’re just content to keep complaining about it. Perhaps we don’t really want it to be better—because then we wouldn’t be able to take a stand against it and we’d have to actually start attending. We’d be forced to commit.

I know church isn’t perfect. I get the arguments. I understand the frustrations. I have the exact same ones! But I’m convinced that getting out is not the best option. I’m so convinced of this that I work at a denomination’s international headquarters.

I believe in the church. I see her with a bright future. I see her speaking into the culture. I see her reaching all generations and age levels. I see her making a difference, reaching the lost, helping Christians mature, and connecting believers to God and one another. She’s not all she could be just yet, but if the next generation simply bails, she’ll never get there.

I am the church. You are the church. If there’s a problem with the church, there’s a problem with us. As long as we continue to act like outsiders looking in, change will never come. 

So, are you in or are you out? Revolutions have never been started by people on the sidelines. 

Darren Schalk promotes discipleship around the globe and serves on several interdenominational boards that are focused on discipleship. His latest book, Dear God, We Need to Talk, releases March 4. Follow Darren on Twitter or read his blog for more insight on discipleship.

]]> (Darren Schalk) Church Growth Mon, 10 Mar 2014 19:00:00 -0400
5 Stories of Salvation to Evangelism

Napoleon Kaufman knew there was more to life than football, but it took a teammate calling him out in public to wake him up. Greg Surratt was raised in a loving, Christian atmosphere, but it took a book by Josh McDowell he read later in life for Jesus to become real to him.

For either, the path to salvation didn’t come easily. Like all people—including pastors and ministry leaders—Kaufman and Surratt needed someone to share the Good News with them. Someone had to plant the seed of the gospel message; another had to water it. But whether through a tragic event, an unexpected book or the reluctant acceptance of an invitation to church, the seeds were planted for a future bountiful harvest.

The following testimonies from well-known leaders in ministry demonstrate the simplicity and power of Christ’s gospel—which, at some point, has to relay.

Ron Luce

I was raised in a religious home. I grew up going to dead and dry churches in California, not really understanding what it meant to be a follower of Christ. When I was 15, I ran away from home to go find my dad, as my parents had been divorced since I was a kid.

The first night I stayed with my dad, he said to me, “If you’re going to try any of that pot stuff, you should bring it home so we can all try it together.” I thought I had the coolest dad in the world. I remember the Bible said you were supposed to obey your parents, so I thought I was obligated. I became a party animal for about a year, thinking I was living the greatest life, not knowing I was destroying myself.

When I was 16, a friend invited me to church. I thought, “Sure. I’m cool. God’s cool. We’ll get along.”

When we arrived at church, we found about 200 people crammed into this little white church, and they were singing loud and happy. This was really new to me. I always felt like going to church was like going to prison and doing hard time for something I had done wrong. But this church was passionate.

The pastor got up and delivered his sermon, and it was really the first sermon I heard in a plain, normal vernacular that a teenage kid could understand. I thought, “This is the greatest thing in the world. I’m in.” Because it was such a refreshing atmosphere—and because no one got in my face and pointed their finger at me—I gave my life to Jesus that day.

I felt like I had found the cure to cancer. I went back to school and told everybody. Of course, my friends would want me to party, but I invited them to the real party. That was right at the end of my junior year in high school.

One day, I came home to my dad’s house and all my stuff was on the front porch, and the door was locked. My younger brother came to the door and told me, “Dad said I can’t let you in.” My stepmother said I was too much of a Jesus freak and that I had to go.

I was only 16, so I picked up my stuff and put it in my beat-up car. I drove down the road crying, not knowing where to go. I never got in trouble at all for being a party animal, and now, when trying to do the right thing, I found myself without a place to live.

For a couple of weeks, I stayed with some college-age guys I met at church. When my pastor found out, he invited me over for a birthday dinner with his family when I turned 17. It felt weird. It was a real family, and it freaked me out. They gave me a little present and made me feel special.

The next day, while I was at work, I got a message that my pastor wanted to see me in his office. I thought, “What did I do? What did I say?” I got to his office that night, and it was then and there that pastor Michael Craft invited me to live with him and his family.

I was moved beyond words. You could tell this was a man of great faith. He had three beautiful teenage daughters and he invited me to come live with him. Being a part of his family was the most incredible experience of my Christian growth.

I thank God for the older generation that takes a risk on behalf of the younger generation. And really, that’s what it takes to reach the younger generation. His generosity set me up for success and ultimately helped me make a decision to go on to Oral Roberts University and then into ministry to try to help the younger generation too.

I figured if God could reach me and rescue me—as pathetic and messed up as I was—He can reach anybody or any young person. 

Ron Luce is the co-founder and president of Teen Mania Ministries.

Barbara J. Yoder

Many times I have wished my coming to know Christ was easier.

I was born into the middle of an evangelical revival center. I grew up sitting in sawdust on the floor of the tabernacle, listening to and living by the greats in the faith. As a small child, Billy Sunday’s widow was our next-door neighbor.

Being raised in a Christian environment and home, I was “Christianized” from birth. My mother taught me to pray and memorize Scripture. Sundays were dedicated to church and family. When I was 11, a godly woman prophesied to my family about who I was to become, and it was spot on. The catch was that I never seemed to feel connected to God. And the faith I had was fear-based. I was tormented by the thought of going to hell.

I was two people—one who would lead several hundred to the Lord in a meeting one day at high school, and one who would do just the opposite the next day. I longed to know God but couldn’t seem to find Him in a way that “stuck.”

My environment became toxic because of the church I had been raised in and the one I attended in high school. Actions by a member of our church scarred my mother, who eventually committed suicide. My family was torn apart by grief. The church eventually suffered when the pastor and several members committed adultery.

I left the church, becoming a temporary atheist while in college. I was embittered by religion. God didn’t seem to work in the private lives of people in the church, and He certainly didn’t feel very caring to me. So I moved on.

Living the life of an intellectual and professor at a major university, I became desperate. I could never seem to leave behind the questions: Is God really real, and if so, is He a personal God whom I need to know? If I don’t know Him, will I end up in hell?

I immersed myself in reading both non-Christian and Christian philosophers. I closed myself off to most Christians because of their seemingly lack of authentic faith. Nothing touched the vacuum in my heart until I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s book The Cost of Discipleship. He talked about taking the leap of faith.

While reading his book, I said to God, “If You exist, I have a few things to talk over with You.” At that moment, Jesus walked into my room. I was overcome with liquid love and wept my way back to God. From that moment on, I knew Jesus was real.

It wasn’t, however, until a year later that I moved to Detroit, where I found myself in one of the largest churches in the nation at the time—a charismatic church, where I began to be discipled and eventually entered the ministry. I began to learn how to believe God, walk with God, overcome obstacles and know who I am in Christ. 

Barbara J. Yoder is the founding apostle and senior pastor of Shekinah Regional Equipping and Revival Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Ron Phillips

Mine was not a dramatic or radical conversion. But since neither of my parents were Christians, it was something that was new to me.

I must have been about 6, and I was invited to come to First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., for Vacation Bible School. What I remember most about it was that there was a teacher there named Margaret Tucker. I remember always thinking to myself, “She really smells good.” But the biggest thing I remember is that she always said to me, “Ronny, Jesus loves you so much.” You don’t ever forget something like that. I remember her love and passion for us. Years later, she wound up in an assisted living facility, and I was able to reacquaint myself with her because she was in the same complex where my mother lived.

I’ll never forget Margaret Tucker because not only does it take a witness to get you see the truth, but it also takes somebody that has a heart for you to receive that message. She was one of those people.

But it really wasn’t until a couple of years later when I was 8 that I received my salvation. We had a teacher of evangelism come to our church, C.E. Awtrey, and I remember that he was so powerful and so bold in his teaching that it scared me. I remember I was nervous and started crying, and I ran out of the church and to our car. An adult from our church named Trent came out and sat in the front seat of the car with me and talked to me and calmed me down. He taught me a prayer that impacted my life.

Two nights later, while sitting in the backyard, I remember looking up at the stars and that prayer came to the back of my mind. I prayed it, and God spoke to me. The next Sunday, I went forward—still scared—and made the profession in church. Weeks later, I got baptized.  

Ron Phillips is senior pastor of Abba’s House in Chattanooga, Tenn. His weekly television and daily radio programs are broadcast worldwide.

Greg Surratt

I came from a great family with a great profession of faith, and my parents were godly people. But our theology while I was growing up was that you could lose your salvation for any of a number of transgressions. I probably did most of them.

With the faith I grew up in, you could drop in and out pretty easily. I certainly was a wild teenager, and that made it even easier. There was a time we had a revival in our church, and I can remember hiding out under the grand piano. I remember saying to God, “If You can get me out of this place, I’ll do anything to serve You.” Of course, I didn’t follow up on that right away.

As a kid, I was always in church and had mostly good experiences there. But it wasn’t until after I was in college that I began to re-examine what I believed. I believe a lot of college students do that.

I began to question a lot of things about my faith and my beliefs at that time. Interestingly enough, it was a book by Josh McDowell called Evidence That Demands a Verdict that turned my life around. I decided that before I chucked everything, I was going to read it.

It’s not the kind of book that lends itself to an easy read. But I read it, and logically it all made sense and reaffirmed what I really believed in my heart. The thing about that book was that the Lord revealed to me through it that Jesus was, in fact, who He said He was, and if He was who He said He was, then I had better take His Word seriously. That meant the Bible was a real document.

I dedicated myself at that point to following the Lord wherever it took me, and here I am. 

Greg Surratt is founding pastor of Seacoast Church in Mount Pleasant, S.C., and a founding board member and president of the Association of Related Churches (ARC).

Napoleon Kaufman

Going into my senior year of college, I really started getting the sense that my life was changing. A lot of people would send me Scriptures and give me tracts and other things. I got this sense that God was calling me. It wasn’t clearly articulated, but I knew I needed a change in my life.

So I thought getting drafted and playing in the NFL and earning big money was what I was really missing in my life. I ended up getting drafted in the first round by the Raiders and went through a successful first season. I bought a big house in Seattle, and in the eyes of most people, I had made it.

But I kept asking myself, “Is this it? This can’t be it. Something’s wrong with my life.” Some people come to Christ when they are down and out, but for me, I had money and all of this other stuff. Still, something was wrong.

Going into my second year in the NFL, I was still going through this tug of war in my heart and in my mind. During a practice session at training camp, I was out there on the field, cussing and acting crazy with some of my friends. It was then that one of my teammates came up to me and said, “Hey, Napoleon, you don’t really look like the type of guy that would be out here acting like this. Man, don’t you know that God can use your life?”

When he said that in front of my other teammates, I immediately justified myself. But I can remember going back to my hotel room and continually hearing those words: “Don’t you know that God can use your life?”

It was at that moment that I got on my knees with nobody around and asked the Lord to forgive me of my sins and to change my life.

I accepted the Lord, asked Him to come into my life and, from that moment on, have never been the same. I repented of my sins, started reading my Bible and started going through the discipleship process.

It wasn’t until my sixth year in the NFL that I realized football was only a means to an end. What I was born to do was preach the gospel. I had just signed a two-year contract worth $6 million the year before. However, after some counseling with my pastor and my wife, I walked away from the game to serve God and to serve people—without any regrets. 

Napoleon Kaufman is a former running back with the Oakland Raiders. He is now senior pastor of The Well Church in Livermore, Calif.

]]> (Shawn A. Akers) Evangelism Mon, 10 Mar 2014 16:00:00 -0400
Cityteam: When Discipleship Explodes

After two decades as a missionary and missions-minded pastor, Jerry Trousdale felt thoroughly discouraged about the prospect of seeing the Great Commission fulfilled in his lifetime. So for a while, he stepped away from ministry to work in Christian publishing. But even after returning to the pulpit, his vision didn’t come alive until church-planter David Watson spoke at Trousdale’s church in Tennessee.

Watson knew a thing or two about discouragement concerning the Great Commission’s fulfillment too. But after struggling mightily to make inroads with an unreached people group in Africa, Watson’s team finally saw breakthroughs, thanks to a “discovery Bible study” approach to discipleship that empowers normal folks to reach people in their community through a meaningful engagement with the Scriptures.

A Simple Force

The essence of this method is utilizing laypersons to reach the lost and then discipling them by using select Scripture passages. After meeting in small groups to discuss the Bible, facilitators ask questions like, “What is this saying? What will you do as a result?” The goal of such groups is to start other similar groups and plant churches and communities of believers who emphasize obedience to God’s Word.

To the Western church, this may sound too simple. Yet disciple-making models have led to countless conversions of Muslims, Hindus and others—so many that the 67-year-old Trousdale is more excited than ever as he travels 160,000 miles a year, including several visits annually to Africa.

In addition to countless conversions, the former missionary has seen significant life changes. One example is Muslims in numerous African villages who, prior to conversion, decide to stop beating their wives after reading the Bible.

“It’s letting the Word of God change your life and family, which often begins to happens in five or six weeks,” Trousdale says. “The reason these things are going viral is people want what they see.”

A Model That Multiplies

A miracle story in itself, Cityteam originated as an inner-city mission in 1957 and gradually expanded its outreach to four other urban areas. In 1989, it established a disaster relief ministry in the San Francisco Bay Area that eventually expanded internationally.

However, its shift toward playing a major role in the discipleship movement started in 2002 after key leaders acknowledged that despite thousands of conversions and food boxes distributed annually, they were failing to make disciples.

Soon after, the ministry tried an experiment in one San Jose neighborhood. A leader moved into the area, and instead of tutoring children, he discipled 12 men to work with the students.

That created community transformation. A church of 160 people sparked to life. Nineteen couples who had been living together got married. One dealer stopped selling drugs, complaining that Cityteam had ruined his market.

A couple years later, Cityteam’s president, Patrick Robertson, met Watson and Trousdale, and the pair eventually joined Cityteam’s staff, Watson as vice president of global church planting and Trousdale as Cityteam’s director of international ministries. With an international staff of only 11 people, Cityteam has worked through a far-flung network that includes church planters working for little more than reimbursements for travel and Bible purchases.

Since 2005, the ministry has expanded into more than 50 nations and planted nearly 29,000 churches. Those congregations include nearly 1 million converts, 35 percent of which are Muslims.

Robertson recognizes such numbers prompt considerable skepticism. After an internal audit in 2011, Cityteam purged 5,000 churches from its rolls after discovering many had moved, merged or disbanded.

Nor does “church” necessarily mean a Western-style building where believers gather every Sunday. While most of Cityteam’s churches start in homes or marketplace settings, Robertson says the ministry’s insistence that converts go through believers’ baptism means they still fit the classic definition.

However, he recognizes cultural differences mean the discipleship model that works so well in African villages faces a more formidable challenge when it comes to persuading Western ministers to adapt to this approach.

“I wouldn’t call it resistance as much as significant unfamiliarity,” says Robertson, a graduate of a Bible college in western Canada. “It’s a paradigm shift and a completely new way of thinking about evangelism and disciple-making.”

A Hybrid Solution

Nondenominational Shoal Creek Community Church in Kansas City typically hosts 1,000 people each Sunday at seeker-friendly services fashioned after Willow Creek’s model. Yet a second group of members and visitors rarely see its four walls. That’s because they gather in small groups throughout the week to read the Bible, discuss it and share its lessons with their relational networks.

Roy Moran, senior pastor of the church, incorporated the disciple-making model into Shoal Creek’s church life in 2008, after searching three years for a way to expand the church’s outreach that didn’t involve more buildings or additional services.

“Having planted the church from six people in my living room, I was sure that I only had one of those [Shoal Creek churches] in me,” Moran writes in an essay called “Hybrid Church” that shares his church’s story.

After reviewing everything from multisites to missional communities to video venues, Shoal Creek settled on a discipling model because of its easily reproducible nature.

Over the past six years, Moran estimates the church has started 150 small groups in the community, with about 80 of them still active. Although tough to track conversion numbers, Moran knows nearly all of the church’s 30 baptisms annually are converts from these small groups.

Still, of the 100 pastors who have contacted him in recent years to learn more about his church’s approach to disciple-making, Moran estimates only 20 have acted on the concept. He thinks many find the idea of taking the Good News beyond their building too scary.

For leaders who are open to unconventional methods, though, Moran says these kinds of models can help churches practice the fundamental belief that God empowers every person to make disciples.

“This begins to put the average person with an extraordinary God into play,” the Shoal Creek pastor says. “This gives a pastor something to execute at a street level and a church to have an outreach. If a church can have this kind of mindset, its influence in the community can be profound.”

A Handful of Challenges

This doesn’t mean success is a given. Tony Williams discovered that truth three years ago when he tried to start a few groups in the trailer parks across the street from his church, Maranatha Christian Center.

Despite serving on Cityteam’s board for more than 20 years, Williams didn’t see its discipleship model bear any fruit just east of downtown San Jose. For one, he used veteran members of his church as leaders, which may have handicapped the process.

“The Western church is not used to this,” Williams says. “We’re better at giving answers instead of letting people discover them for themselves. We have to be careful to not present discovery Bible studies as a cure-all or the only way to reach people.”

A lot of people want a “sticks and bricks” representation of God, he says. While some will respond to a grass-roots Bible study, many see the church building not only as the primary worship center, but also as a community center. When people need a lawyer, psychologist, doctor or financial adviser, they come to the pastor first, Williams explains. He says that makes it challenging for a Bible study leader to make inroads with this new model, given he or she lacks the resources available to a pastor.

The obstacles Williams encountered is one reason he plans to attend Cityteam’s iDisciple conference, to be hosted at Shoal Creek Community Church from April 2-5—to hear what has worked for others and learn how he can adapt that to an urban environment.

“I saw it myself on the continent of Africa,” Williams says. “I want to see how it works at a local church.”

In addition to cultural obstacles, pastors should be aware others may question the reliance on untrained—sometimes even unsaved—small group leaders. They may also object to the principles or theological assumptions of the approach, especially the place of preaching in missions work.

One missions official, who asked to remain anonymous because he works in a sensitive region of the world, says critics of the discovery model cite its encouragement of nonbelievers discovering the gospel. Since an unregenerate person can’t have the Holy Spirit or apply proper hermeneutics, detractors believe they must be “told” the gospel by a pastor or missionary, he says.

“The interesting thing about this argument is most of the discovery groups are done in closed countries, where preaching is a moot issue,” the official said. “No one can preach. So in many ways, the argument is academic and limited to a Western paradigm.”

A Movement in the U.S.

While Cityteam has seen more success overseas, it is starting to see breakthroughs in the United States. Robertson and Dave Hunt, vice president of North American church planting, who wrote his 2009 doctoral thesis on church multiplication in Africa, recently met with leaders of a major denomination concerning Cityteam’s discipleship model.

Robertson says they’re also seeing movement in the Latino community, a Filipino church, a Native American tribe and a corner of academia. The latter is evidenced by the leader of a network of eight groups led by various university scholars attending a regional conference last November in Philadelphia.

Several megachurches have also held trainings. Among the results is what happened at Long Hollow Baptist Church in suburban Nashville, Tenn. Although only 20 people in the 9,000-member church attended a three-month discipleship training session last spring, Long Hollow’s staff decided to utilize discovery groups to take converts through eight key faith topics. They later expanded the invitation to others who sensed a need for spiritual renewal.

“Within six months, they had 2,000 people doing discovery Bible studies,” Robertson says. “They’re a strong, outreach-oriented church baptizing 1,000 people a year. They’re going outside of the church, too, which is ultimately what it needs to do. [They are] in the middle of an explosion.”

Jan Winters, pastor of discipleship at Calvary Church in Los Gatos, Calif., also offers an enthusiastic endorsement. In recent years, the 1,200-member church had tried Alpha courses and another small-group approach. However, after starting a dozen small groups and seeing several conversions, Winters struggled to increase group numbers. When she added one, another would fizzle.

Last summer, Winters met with Cityteam to learn how to organize groups that would develop disciples. Cityteam’s emphasis on prayer impressed Winters, who found herself praying more and listening for God’s direction. When the elders embraced these studies without any prompting, she recognized God’s movement in it.

Winters led her first discovery study on marriage with a couple seeking marital advice after an affair left the husband emotionally distant and the wife hurt and isolated. The couple reconciled, and new biblical insights helped them avoid a financial disaster.

“I have found the process thrilling,” Winters says. “It has deepened my spiritual life, as God has been directing me. We have a large team embracing this model. People are coming to me, asking what I am doing rather than me pushing any initiative.”

Trousdale recalls hearing similar comments in many other quarters of the world.

“The Word of God and the drawing of the Holy Spirit are enough,” he says. “Too often people think they must have a church to understand and obey the Word. Our goal is to see discipleship happening outside the local church.” 

 A freelance writer from Huntington, W. Va., Ken Walker has written regularly for Ministry Today and Charisma for 20 years.

]]> (Ken Walker) Discipleship Thu, 06 Mar 2014 14:00:00 -0500