Month: December 2007

Discovery Day’ allows churches to focus on new work, new people

In times past, Baptist churches often held high attendance Sundays to encourage their members to invite unchurched neighbors and friends to worship or to bring back into fellowship those who had quit attending.

High attendance emphases are rare these days, but the core idea has new legs and a broader application through something that began in 2006 called Discovery Day.

The SBTC emphasis combines a high attendance effort with intentional plans to engage seekers and nominal church-goers in new Sunday School or Bible study units.

During the same week, churches participating in Discovery Day are encouraged to emphasize a specific ministry to their community.

Craig Beall, SBTC church ministries associate, said many churches opt to assist a local crisis pregnancy center, since Sanctity of Life Sunday often is the same day, or some other community outreach.

“The whole point,” Beall said, “is to make it a safe Sunday for people to invite guests. This is really when you need to make visitors feel special and valued. It’s always a great thing if you can say to them, ‘Look, we have a new class beginning today and you are welcome there.’ A new class is always less intimidating to people when they haven’t been to church at all or perhaps they are church members who are reluctant for whatever reason to join a group Bible study.”

“The big thing, if you are going to be effective, you need to follow up with these people who visit and start new classes and new groups,” Beall said. “That’s where I’ve heard reports of churches being most successful with this?in starting new classes, new ministries, and engaging new people.”
Last year, participating churches reported a 31 percent increase on that day in Bible study attendance, up from a 24 percent rise in 2006.

Al Magness, associate pastor for assimilation and development at Anderson Mill Baptist Church in Austin, said the church saw its highest attendance ever for a non-holiday Sunday last year on Discovery Day.

“This year we will have a baby dedication, which will help us focus on Sanctity of Life Sunday. But a big part of our focus is encouraging people to take the next step, whether that is a salvation decision, joining the church membership, answering a call to ministry or simply joining a small group.”

Magness said Anderson Mill will also use that Sunday to begin a new DivorceCare group and new home fellowship groups, as well as a DiscipleNow weekend for the youth.

“We try to make it easy for people to take that next step, whatever that step is,” Magness said.

Beall added: “I think the power of this is that it’s a statewide event. The printed materials that are available, most churches would not be able to produce on their own. Also, there is power in people praying at the same time across the state for the same results in their local churches. It can be a joint effort across congregations.”

Last year, in its second year, the SBTC church ministries office provided 50,000 promotional pieces requested by churches, and Beall said this year interest from churches is up significantly. He said participating churches include congregations of 40 people to those exceeding 1,500 members.

In October every church was mailed a Discovery Day promotional mailer followed by a letter from Beall in November explaining the event. Interested churches may download free Discovery Day promotional materials at, or call the SBTC church ministries office toll free at 877-953-7282 for help with resources.

Cowboy churches reaching Western culture; planting conference planned

Walking into the makeshift worship center, the familiar beat of honky tonk-style music fills the air. There are about 75 people milling about, greeting one another.

Everyone is dressed, not in a suit and tie or even business casual, but in his or her favorite pair of Wranglers and a button-up shirt. The auditorium does not hold a single pew; straw bales pass for seats here. As the pastor gathers everyone’s attention, the band starts playing “Amazing Grace” in a way that would make George Strait proud.

The pastor says, “This week we will be reaching out at the local rodeo, and inviting people to be a part of a Bible study.”

When the service begins, the congregation stands and sings along to hymns re-fashioned with a country flare. This is church in a way you’ve probably never experienced, and it’s one of the fastest-growing church planting models in Texas: the cowboy church.

“The cowboy church focuses on more than just cowboys,” said Jim Gatliff, shared ministry strategist at the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. “Cowboy churches focus on what is called Western Heritage culture; this includes rural life, horses, area events and music.”

In Texas, roughly one in five people hold to the Western Heritage culture. There are roughly 300 cowboy churches in Texas, Gatliff said.

Because of their success rate in reaching rural Texans with the gospel, the SBTC is hosting a one-day event on Jan. 26 called “Cowboy Church Basic Training.”

Gatliff said the training will teach how to plant and grow cowboy churches, and how to develop leadership in a cowboy church. The conference is planned from 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at Branded by Christ Cowboy Church, 5592 Highway 110 North, in Rusk.

“Cowboy churches tend to be pretty relaxed, unstructured and simple,” Gatliff said. “They attract a lot of people who would feel uncomfortable in a traditional church.

“Often, Cowboy churches lead their associations with the number of adult baptisms. Texas is a rural state. Baptists have always struggled with rural church planting but cowboy churches are an excellent way to reach unbelievers.”

Music is often one of the greatest factors in a cowboy church, Gatliff noted.

“There are typically three sounds of music in a cowboy church: bluegrass, Southern gospel and country.”

Most of the attendees and members of cowboy church plants are unchurched adults, which is an advantage if a church seeks to build through evangelistic outreach, Gatliff said.

“Cowboy churches are built around reaching lost people for Christ,” he said. “Cowboy churches absorb the neutral elements of Western Heritage culture and use those elements to reach the lost.”

Cowboy Church Basic Training is funded through the Cooperative Program and is free of charge. Lunch will be provided. For more information, contact Jim Gatliff at or toll free at 877-953-7282.

Reverie on a Christmas tree hunt

Sixteen years ago I wrote a column about our 2-year-old daughter’s first Christmas as a mobile and independent-minded participant in the festivities. I thought about that time this year as she, the youngest of our brood, led her mother and me on our annual Christmas tree hunt. This will be her last Christmas as a full-time resident of our home. She seemed to know it and came alive as she strolled purposefully through the rows of trees at the farm. I gave her carte blanche and she chose the tallest and most expensive tree we’ve ever tied to the truck.

I know I could be all melancholy about the impending change and that day will doubtless come.
Inevitable change made the day a little nicer, though. Watching Maggie get happy about shopping for a tree was almost as much fun, though not as funny, as when she was two feet tall. It was delightful to give her complete say about what we picked out without her having to “negotiate” with her brothers or worry about the practicality of it all. I’ll remember the day.

Because it’s “hers” she’s the one who admires the tree every time she crosses the room. She keeps it lit every hour she’s home. It’s just a fine thing.

I take pleasure in the fact that our grown kids still love some of our family traditions. That’s true even as they move toward traditions and obligations of their own. In fact, it just seems right that they and we (the parents) increasingly move along different though parallel paths. I like it so long as those paths are
not very far apart.

It’s commonly noted that God gave us spouses and children and parents partly so we could understand his love for us. That point is driven home thousands of times over the course of raising kids. It’s very hard to miss at the two ends of full-time parenting, the mostly helpless little one and the young adult going out the door. They show two important aspects of our relationship with the heavenly Father.

Of course it’s easy to see ourselves as little children under God’s care. Our small knowledge and abilities just don’t compare with his boundlessness. The image of childlike faith also lives vividly in the hearts of those who spend any time with little ones. I additionally see myself in the petty things that frighten and frustrate small children. I’ve often been reminded of how small my vision must seem to the Lord who sees the whole picture.

Like little ones, we’re tempted to think we’re bigger than we are. Like a patient father, the Lord protects us when we’re ignorant and restrains us when we’re foolish. We learn about the Lord from being fathers and we learn how to be fathers by listening to the Lord.

The lessons of parenting young adults are real but more subtle, I think. I pull back from obvious parallels that show God as the old dad who hopes to hear from his kids?it’s really not that way at all. We are the little ones and the responsible beings all at the same time. The same Father who comforts and disciplines me as a little child also holds me responsible for the things he’s given me and the people in my care.

As a father of grown kids, though, I do understand the Lord’s desire that his children respond to his love as an act of our own will. When my kids call or visit, I’m glad to hear from them whether they are asking my advice (I really like that) or just want to chat. I take those contacts as expressions of respect and love.

While God’s ego needs no stroking, he is pleased that we turn to him in respect and love. He is the one who can meet our needs and who is worthy of our worship. I understand that better now that my kids have lots of choices in relationships and choose to put me on speed dial. It seems right that they do that.

And I believe that God takes pleasure in our enjoyment of him and his stuff. Earthly fathers enjoy watching their children discover things that have grown old hat to them. In a similar way, the Lord knows that we will find delight if we walk in his truth and his way. That parallel remains the same at all stages of our lives. As much as I loved watching my kids discover frogs and Gettysburg and Phil Keaggy, it’s just as sweet to watch them learn to study and be good employees and start homes of their own. Actually, it’s a deeper satisfaction to see your children do the right things because they’re expressing their own character and have made their own commitments to the ways of the Lord.

May our Father give you joy this Christmas. May you find joy in the loved ones he’s given you for the few years of this life as well as in the Lord who is the source of all these loveable things.

What’s news?

According to the Associated Press, the deranged man who murdered people at the Youth With a Mission training center in Denver and then at New Life Church in Colorado Springs left a message, one apparently borrowed from the Columbine murderers. It makes me wonder again if our hunger for “news” doesn’t encourage insane people to go out in a blaze of infamy.

The multitude of news sources has created a level of competition that encourages foolishness. If one service behaves more responsibly while another runs toward the salacious, it often turns out that the second service is seen as more “cutting edge” or “in depth.” The more responsible service loses money and the salacious one becomes an example for others to follow. Don’t forget it is a business. Our hunger for the details of human tragedy has helped create a lot of places that will sate that hunger.

When something horrible happens, viewers want to know why. That’s understandable. I doubt, though, that 24/7 coverage on Fox News ever really answers that question. Sure, we might learn that this person was rejected for a job or that person was beaten by his dad or this other person wanted to impress Jodie Foster, but those answers don’t change much for the survivors, at least not for the sane ones. I believe we should give a little thought to what endless and detailed coverage does for the crazy ones, though.

Here’s a clue: With increasing regularity, rampaging killers are leaving manifests of some kind so that we might “understand” the viewpoint that made it necessary for them to murder strangers. They do this because it gives them a moment of fame they could have never attained by doing something constructive. And we eagerly give them their moment.

Let’s stop that. Give the victims’ names if that’s important, give the location and even give the ultimate fate of the killer. Don’t tell us anything about him, though. I don’t care what he said about what he did. His statement is either the raving of a mad man or the pathetic scribblings of a suicide. I don’t even need to know his name. More to the point, troubled people in waiting don’t need to see that they can get their names in the paper by instigating tragedy.

You see, news people shouldn’t see themselves as outside the flow of the rest of human life. It’s an odd phenomenon but occasionally a news or television person will give a comment that implies that he takes no country personally, no cause as valuable, and no responsibility for what happens after he files a story. He does this with a straight face.

Maybe he wears a suit sewn by a person whose son attends Virginia Tech, maybe he’s full of food grown by people in Omaha, or he sports a healthy glow from his ski trip to Denver. All of us are connected but sometimes it’s inconvenient to admit it. I don’t think this is a common viewpoint, but the two or three famous people I’ve heard express this view make me wonder if this is the ideal standard for others.

News people are also humans, we are citizens of countries, we hold some kind of religious or irreligious faith, and we live in communities. We just can’t do our jobs as though none of this matters.
You won’t read the names of these killers in the TEXAN. I call on other papers and news services to consider this same policy. Of course, there will always be a place where one can go to fulfill his morbid curiosity for the details. To my fellow consumers I ask, don’t look for it, don’t go to those sites, don’t read those news outlets. Let’s stop making this irresponsible news coverage pay off. We have a part in making these details important to news outlets. If we stop drinking, they’ll eventually turn off the faucet.

I don’t know that a more considered approach to news coverage would have stopped this guy in Colorado or the one in Omaha or Virginia Tech or so on and so on. What did we gain, though, from knowing their names? What was the benefit to anyone’s life in hearing the tapes or seeing the letters they left behind?

I don’t see any at all. But I can imagine the encouragement to violence that these little media fits might give to the deranged people among us. It’s time that all media people apply their imaginations, and consciences, to the same question.

Don’t be confused; God is not dead, nor can he be

If the way to capture the attention of a man is with food and the way to capture a woman’s attention is with jewelry, then the way to a child’s heart is through cute and cuddly animals. From stuffed puppies to animated mice, children love animals. This is a fact that Philip Pullman knows all too well, and utilizes this ploy in the production of his soon-to-be-released movie, “The Golden Compass.”

Disguised as another family-friendly holiday movie experience, Pullman desires his trilogy of novels to be the next big screen hit in the pattern of “Lord of the Rings” and the “Chronicles of Narnia.”

But parents need to be warned that not all is well in this featured flick of zoological animals brought to bear on the big screen. Mom and Dad need to beware lest the cute and cuddly animals transform into a rabid beast seeking to infect children with the disease of cynicism and meaninglessness as they are being prepared to face the world.

The story focuses on a 12-year-old girl named Lyra who sets out to find her kidnapped friend. Her only companion on the rescue mission is a daemon (pronounced “demon”) named Pantalaimon, which represents Lyra’s soul. Within this fictionalized cinematic world every person is portrayed as having to deal with their own daemon.

This movie has a message within its message, and it is that message which should concern parents. In various published interviews, Pullman has admitted to “flying under the radar” to get his message out to the world. In his own words, “I wanted to reach everyone, and the best way I could do that was to write for children and hope that they’d tell their parents.”

So what exactly is the message that Pullman wants to communicate to your child? Again, in his own words, “If there is a God, and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against.” He goes so far as to say “my books are about killing God.” The death of God is the very concept that motivates Pullman in the publication of this story.

In the second book of the trilogy, one of the main characters is told that he has a magical knife that “is able to defeat the tyrant,” who is revealed to be “the Authority. God.” Christianity is said to be the greatest lie propagated among humanity, and Heaven is discovered to be nothing more than a “prison camp.”

The third book sees the goal of the author come to fruition as God is portrayed as being murdered. Young children read with wide eyes and impressionable imaginations as two characters that represent Adam and Eve take of the fruit that they have been instructed to avoid, but in a twist of the biblical reality they destroy God instead of God judging them.

Granted, this portion of the story is not contained within the movie due to hit the theaters on Dec. 7. However, if the first release receives a great deal of support, we can be assured that the next two will not be far behind, in which one of them shall surely reveal the diabolical act of the murder of God, to the Christians’ horror, the atheists’ delight, and the child’s demise. I would caution all parents to avoid supporting Pullman’s work, either on screen or in written form.

Many people know the startling reality of opening the paper to the obituary section to find familiar names of friends and acquaintances of years gone by. I am reminded of an instance where one of my church members was reading the morning paper, and to his surprise, the obituary of another church member and dear friend of his appeared in the paper. After closer examination it became obvious that this was a case of mistaken identity, his friend had not passed away, but it was someone else with the same name. The reality of death is a topic of confusion for every person at some point within their life.
Much like Pullman, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche burst onto his scene in the late 19th century with the cry “God is dead.”

This statement reveals the confusion that both Pullman and Nietzsche suffer from. There is to this day a grave in Germany occupied by the remains of a 55-year-old German who succumbed to mental illness and pneumonia, though his remains are probably nothing more than some dust and a few bones that have yet to decompose. The remains belong to this same Nietzsche who announced the death of God. It seems he was confused. It is humanity that faces death, not God.

One day, Philip Pullman’s books will suffer decay, his films will be locked up in a dusty vault, and his body will decompose just like Neitzcshe’s. That is the same fate that awaits us all. However, this Christmas season, we celebrate the only One whose grave retains no remains.

Pullman, Nietzsche, and others can cry out for the death of God from now until eternity. However, this only reveals their confusion about the nature of both God and death. For in Christ, God has defeated death for all who come to him in faith. “The Golden Compass” is simply the figment of an author’s overactive imagination that admittedly seeks to destroy God by using a nation’s children as pawns within his own ill-advised endeavor.

Do not let cinematography or written literature confuse you. God is not dead nor will he ever be, though one day “The Golden Compass” shall pass into oblivion. There is a set of sandal-marked footprints leading away from a manger, into a grave, and back out again that proves it. g

?John Mann is pastor of LaJunta Baptist Church in Springtown.

Panel: Stereotypes stifle SBC Calvinism dialogue

RIDGECREST, N.C.?Stereotypes often hinder honest dialogue about the influence of Reformed theology in Southern Baptist life, participants were told at a Nov. 26-28 conference on Calvinism and the SBC.

The three-day gathering was co-sponsored by Founders Ministries and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and held at LifeWay Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. Founders Ministries formed in 1982 to advance Reformed theology in SBC churches.

When organizers began planning for the “Building Bridges” event, they hoped that misunderstandings would be dispelled, said Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources.

“We prayed that biblical and theological positions would be presented clearly, that truth and God’s Word would be so clearly presented that we would understand it,” he told the 550 conference participants. “We prayed that we would deal with misperceptions, stereotypes and caricatures.”

Charles Lawless, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., addressed four stereotypes about non-Calvinists that hinder understanding:

?”Non-Calvinists are more concerned about numbers than theology.”
In a denomination that uses numbers to evaluate progress and in which many churches are theologically weak, this claim could be made about most Southern Baptist churches, regardless of their position on Calvinism, Lawless said. While all Southern Baptists ought to be concerned when churches dilute the gospel message in the name of contemporary outreach, they also are right to be concerned that some Southern Baptists never ask the numerical questions and seem to rest on their theology even as their churches reach nobody for God’s glory.

?”Non-Calvinists promote pragmatic church growth.”
If a person reads books written by church growth experts, it is easy to see why the pragmatism of that movement would be questioned. Critics of the church growth movement, however, sometimes use extreme examples to unfairly criticize the entire movement, Lawless said. Contextualizing a presentation of the gospel to fit a listener’s culture is not the same thing as pragmatism, he said, and critics must be careful not to confuse them.

?”Non-Calvinists used faulty approaches to evangelism and are unconcerned about regenerate church membership.”
Southern Baptists should be concerned about poor approaches to evangelism, but not all uses of gospel tracts, invitations and calls to decision should be automatically dismissed. The founder of the church growth movement, Donald McGavran, clearly tied evangelism to discipleship and responsible church membership, Lawless said.

?”Non-Calvinists do not like Calvinists.”
It is not Calvinism or Calvinists that concern many non-Calvinists, but rather the accusation made by a few Calvinists that non-Calvinists are less than gospel preachers because they do not accept the five points of Calvinism, Lawless said.

Nathan Finn, instructor of church history at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest N.C., spoke to four myths about Calvinists:

?”Calvinism is a threat to evangelism.”
While there is little doubt that Southern Baptist Calvinists are not as evangelistic as they should be, that only makes them similar to everyone else in the Southern Baptist Convention, Finn said. In fact, many prominent Southern Baptist Calvinists have been very active in promoting evangelism. One of the first actions taken by R. Albert Mohler Jr., a prominent Calvinist, when he became president of Southern Seminary, was to establish the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth.

?”Southern Baptist Calvinists are opposed to invitations.”
While some Calvinists are uncomfortable with the “easy believism” of some altar calls, they are not opposed to public invitations if it is made clear that walking the aisle and praying a prayer are not the same things as regeneration and repentance, Finn said.

?”Calvinism is more or less equivalent to hyper-Calvinism.”
The latter is an aberrant view of Calvinism that embraces several doctrines that genuinely stifle evangelism, Finn said. Contemporary Southern Baptist Calvinists uniformly reject hyper-Calvinism as a perversion of the doctrines of grace and are regularly frustrated that so many non-Calvinists confuse the two movements.

?”Authentic Baptists are not Calvinists.”
Whether or not Calvinism is biblical is a point worthy of debate, but the influence of Calvinism among Baptists in general and Southern Baptists in particular is a matter of historical record that cannot be disputed, Finn said. Far from being semi-Presbyterians, Southern Baptist Calvinists have been defenders of Baptist distinctives.

Finn said bridges could be built between Calvinist and non-Calvinist Southern Baptists through common commitments to the gospel, historical Baptist distinctives, laboring together in the Great Commission and an attitude of loving humility.

“The Calvinism issue is not going to go away, so Southern Baptists must be willing to openly discuss and debate the doctrines of grace in an effort to be biblically accurate and, just maybe, come to a greater theological consensus in the years to come,” Finn said. “If we are to move toward a more cooperative future, we must all be committed to defending and commending our particular convictions, but never at the expense of either our cooperation with each other or our personal sanctification.”

NOT A SACRIFICE’ Disaster relief team spends Thanksgiving on the road

Doug and Suzi Scott of Atlanta, Texas spent Thanksgiving on the road this year?in a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Abilene apart from family?by choice.

They’d do it again, even though Suzi Scott admitted her grown children and grandkids were a bit disappointed to hear Grandma and Grandpa would be elsewhere over the holidays.

The Scotts, veteran disaster relief volunteers, were driving back to their East Texas home as part of an 11-person clean-up and recovery team dispatched by the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention disaster relief ministry to help in the aftermath of this fall’s Southern California wildfires.

“We were out there on sites every day,” Doug Scott explained. “We got there on a Saturday night (Nov. 10) and started to work on Sunday” before heading back home on Thanksgiving.

Southern Baptist disaster relief teams from California, Utah, Idaho and Oklahoma joined the SBTC team.

Working in the foothills north of San Diego on the La Jolla and Rincon Indian reservations, the crew drove about 40 miles every morning from the church where they were sleeping in Ramona, Calif., and helped the residents on the reservations remove debris while trying to salvage what was left of their homes.

Many of the residents have moved elsewhere because of the fires, but some remained behind and worked alongside the crews, Doug Scott said.

“The ones we did come in contact with were very appreciative of what we were doing,” he said, explaining that when asked why they had come all the way from Texas, they responded, “Jesus told us to love our neighbors, and you are our neighbors.”

Doug Scott said most of the structures on the reservations were mobile homes or adobe buildings where some of the walls were left standing. One of the most difficult jobs included sifting through ash and dirt for metals and keepsakes that might have survived the fires.

Suzi said while sifting through the ashes, covered in charred debris, she thought to herself, “This is all that is going to be left anyway,” only to remember that without Christ, “this is all that they see.”

“The Indians were very open to witnessing,” she remarked. “They are by nature very spiritual people. Some of them were Christians. One encouraging thing was, nobody ever said, ‘No, I don’t want you to pray for me.'”

Even though some are Christians, others believe God is found in the rocks and the trees, Suzi noted.
“It’s really not a sacrifice,” she said of missing Thanksgiving with family. “It’s really a joy to be involved in it. We had one of the best Thanksgivings we’ve ever had.”

Suzi said the bonds formed among disaster relief volunteers last a lifetime, and she recommends the ministry to any man or woman.

“The fellowship you enjoy as part of the ministry team is a just a tiny, tiny, glimpse of the fellowship you will have in Heaven,” she said.

“Pray that the spiritual blindness would be taken away, that those who believe in the spirit of the trees and rocks would know the true Holy Spirit,” she pleaded.

Can dry bones live again?

Jim Gatliff joined the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention staff on Sept. 1 as a shared strategist, splitting his energy between the convention’s missions, evangelism, and minister-church relations departments. Previously he served two Baptist associations–Hunt and Kauf-Van–in church planting, and he has firsthand experience in church revitalization.

One of Gatliff’s main tasks is providing leadership and strategy for the Ezekiel Project, an SBTC endeavor to help revitalize plateaued or declining churches, which describes somewhere between 70-80 percent of all churches, depending on which study one references.

The Ezekiel Project was initiated by several SBTC Executive Board members and is named for Ezekiel 37, which tells of the prophet Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones. The project officially launches in January, with 15 churches already involved in the process, Gatliff said. The TEXAN interviewed Gatliff on Nov. 28 about the Ezekiel Project.

Q. In terms of plateaued or declining churches, what are some of the underlying reasons why churches face decline?

A. Probably you could say that no two churches are exactly alike. There are multiple factors. It is usually a cluster of problems that come to bear on a congregation at a point in time. The great big problem always is spiritual though. There are spiritual roots to every problem a congregation could conceivably have. Part of the recovery process must engage the spiritual health of the church.

Q. Are there identifiable seasons in the life of a church that congregations should expect?

A. I think that’s one way of conceiving what churches go through. However, there are some real dangers in just viewing the church as having some sort of organic life cycle. The problem–even though you can map a church on that kind of birth-growth-decline curve–is that such a model does not show the spiritual vitality of the church. It does not indicate the kingdom impact of the church and it certainly doesn’t factor in the influence that God makes as he grips his congregation and fills them and empowers them to make a difference.

Q. What are some dangers that churches face in perceived success?

A. As a church grows, it has to reinvent itself at points along the way. For a number of years people have written about growth barriers at certain numerical points. There is some validity to that. A church can’t continue doing what it was doing, for example, when it had 35 people, in order to minister to a congregation of 1,000. Usually the churches that have stalled or are declining–at least 70 percent of churches–not only have they stalled out at one of the growth barrier points but they have bounced off of it.

One of the reasons churches have a hard time revitalizing is that once they begin a new growth process, often they bounce off the same exact growth barrier they hit before five years ago. In order to move ahead, we sometimes have to identify what lies beyond where we were at our peak.

Q. How would you encourage churches that want to grow, but perhaps the community around the church has changed from the heyday of the church’s ministry?

A. There are people everywhere in Texas who need to hear the gospel. Each year there’s somewhere close to 400,000 people moving into this state. Most of Texas is either experiencing population growth or population transition. That’s pretty much across the board, with a few exceptions in deep West Texas where there’s a county with 67 people, but virtually all of our churches are in mission fields. And most congregations realize that, even if they are at a loss about how to tap into that. In those cases, the only way to change is to cross the barrier into the culture surrounding the church. You have to cross that gap, and the church has to start acting like missionaries and thinking like missionaries.

Ed Stetzer in the book “Comeback Churches” has a great quote about how every church is relevant to a culture. The question is, does that culture exist? Reggie McNeal has a great statement he makes: If the 1950s ever come back, we’re prepared. Churches do sometimes lose touch with the culture. And there are huge segments of the population of the state of Texas that Southern Baptists have never reached. I think that is part of the explanation of why we see such explosive growth in certain segments of the culture. Even though there have always been cowboys in Baptist churches, as an example, I don’t know that you can make a strong case that Baptists have ever reached hard-core cowboy culture well. Being cross-cultural and learning how to reach those cultures is important.

One thing to remember though: Churches that try to reinvent their style of worship or ministry to fit a certain culture without engaging that culture have an almost impossible task. You have to be willing to engage that culture. The lone way that a church connects is by engaging it. You have to go out and meet people, do ministry, build relationships. There is absolutely no substitute to that. The fastest way for a church to become relevant to the culture surrounding it is to start ministering to that culture.

Q. What does the Ezekiel Project involve?

A. The process begins when a church sends us an application signifying they are interested in pursuing a revitalization process. The application is twofold. One is we want you to tell us that you want us to help. We do absolutely nothing in the Ezekiel Project uninvited. One of our key values is the autonomy of the local church. We make no decision, impose nothing, and do nothing without the invitation or consent of the local church. The second reason for the application is that becomes the first tool we use to help us understand what the church’s needs are.

The first key piece of the Ezekiel process is that we facilitate a strategy–a look at what God has next for the congregation. We don’t call it strategy planning, because we do it a little differently than what people know as strategy planning. We help the church discover the window of opportunity that God has set before the church and help them go through that window of opportunity, help them discover how to obey God and pursue what God has for the church.

For some churches, a total makeover is in the works and that’s what God says is next. They need to totally re-engineer themselves and rethink their ministry. But churches must have a clear discernment that that is what God wants them to do.

One of the reasons why church transitions fail is because they make a lot of piecemeal, sporadic changes that aren’t necessarily steps toward anything except that people for one reason or another decide they want to change. We do help churches identify what is that big picture, new model of ministry that God is calling us to and what are the basic and even minimal changes that we need to make in order to go there.

Because change is destabilizing, remember that the minimal amount of change necessary to go where God is leading the church is usually the best approach, and then implement more change later on. But wholesale change in the life of a church for most churches is usually a recipe for disaster.

Q. What role does leadership play in the process?

A. The second key piece is, we provide help for the pastor. The pastor is the key even though the pastor is not necessarily responsible for all the problems a church has. But certainly the pastor of the church that has stopped growing needs encouragement. They are usually very tired and have already gone through some hurtful experiences.

The consensus of studies show the pastor needs to change to bring a church back into vibrancy. Many would say the church needs a new pastor. I would wholeheartedly disagree with that. I like Ed Stetzer’s way of putting it: “A revitalizing church either needs a new or a renewed pastor.” And if a pastor is willing for God not only to encourage him but also to renew him to the extent that not only is he spiritually transformed but he is also willing for God to teach him an entirely different way of approaching his ministry, he can lead a church to revitalization.

The barrier that I have seen time after time is that the pastor becomes the greatest gatekeeper, and for whatever reason, he is protecting the church from the future that God has for it. He becomes an enforcer of a status quo that has become manageable and comfortable.

The pastor has to be willing, if there is a sense of ownership there, to release the church back to God again. He also has to be willing to release his ministry back to God again and throw himself back upon the potter’s wheel and say, “God, whatever needs to change in my life, my preaching, my ministry style, my weekly routine, my quiet time, whatever needs to happen differently in my life, I am ready for you to do it.”

I personally don’t believe that happens in too many pastor’s lives without a deep sense of brokenness. That brokenness is a couple of notches above just plain desperation. That is God’s process for getting our ministries back in his hands instead of our hands, prying our ministry out of our grubby little fingers so he can use us again.

The third key piece is help for every member, which really is in some ways just about as key as the pastor. The people in the church should have an awareness of the church’s needs and a sense of responsibility toward those needs. Revitalization only happens when those members develop the recognition that revitalization of the church is God’s calling on my life, first and foremost. I have a part in it. For the church to be revitalized, I need to be revitalized.

As we move along in the process, the church will engage in what is often called an alignment campaign. The most famous one, perhaps is “40 Days of Purpose,” but there are others as well. We are using something called the “Z/Life Campaign,” which is a six-week focus. Studies show overwhelmingly that churches that embark on an alignment campaign see increased attendance, renewed members and increased evangelism and baptisms, even increases in giving.

What Ed Stetzer found was that a huge proportion of the comeback churches had gone through some type of alignment campaign. Now to be clear, I don’t think the alignment campaign itself is sufficient to revitalize a declining church. But it serves to warm the spiritual temperature of the church and to help each member understand his or her personal responsibility in the vitality of the church’s ministry.

Part of the Z/Life Campaign takes place in home prayer groups, similar to the old cottage prayer meetings that would accompany church revivals. I guarantee you that if you get a sincere group of Christian people together and get them praying together and loving one another in a New Testament way, not only do most relationship problems evaporate in the church, but also you’ll discover that those people will be bonded together for life. That’s a no-lose proposition for a declining church.

Q. Obviously, there’s no such thing as a revitalized church without revitalized members, right?

A. That’s right. The key to moving through that window of opportunity for that declining church is our fruitfulness times our faithfulness. Our faithfulness is all about following Jesus—immediate obedience to him. Our fruitfulness is about, first of all, being people who pray and obey, and secondly, being disciples who make disciples.

A lot of the manpower to revitalize is in the harvest. The quickest way to get off high center is winning people to Jesus and teaching them to observe all things that he’s commanded. Thirdly, leaders who reproduce leaders. If every leader in the church would just grab somebody who has some leadership potential who just hasn’t been cultivated or find somebody who needs to be disciples and then start cultivating them as a leader—a 2 Timothy 2:2 principle.

And then finally, groups that reproduce groups. Arthur Flake was telling us 100 years ago the importance of new units in Sunday School. A church needs to see the importance of creating new groups—small groups or Sunday School classes—and also help the existing groups see those new units as an absolute necessity.

FBC Colleyville sees harvest from outreach

COLLEYVILLE?A reported 340 salvation decisions were made during the annual Mission Colleyville Christmas outreach, and the number continues to climb as follow-up strategies are carried out by First Baptist Church in Colleyville, a suburb halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth.

“It was a wonderful thing ? to see the entire front of the church full of people making decisions,” Ron Cogburn said.

Cogburn, a member of FBC Colleyville, was a member of the original team that birthed the ministry of Mission Colleyville six years ago. The ministry involves an evangelism event followed by service to needy families in practical ways.

This year, anticipating the Lord would move mightily, FBC Colleyville asked Roland Johnson to help start an Hispanic church plant with the fruit of the outreach efforts, which have attracted large numbers of Hispanic families.

Pastor Craig Etheredge said the purpose of Mission Colleyville is to share the gospel and show the love of Christ to the people who might not otherwise be able to purchase items for Christmas or Thanksgiving.

“We had hundreds of volunteers who worked hard. It was neat to see all [their work] go towards building a new church,” Etheredge said. “It’s a real blessing to have 70 percent of the decisions from among the unchurched. Through the follow-up we hoped to help birth a new church,” Etheredge said.

Planning begins months in advance as church members pray, commit resources and give themselves for the event. Volunteers participated in “blitz days” where fliers were distributed in apartment complexes.

“Even right up to the moment where people were walking into the services, church members were covering it in prayer,” Etheredge said.

On Nov. 17, the Saturday before Thanksgiving, a carnival and three consecutive worship services were held at the church. Hispanic evangelist Homer Martinez preached in English and Spanish to an estimated crowd of 3,500. During the evening services 18 people were baptized.

Service attendees registered to receive vouchers for the toy store, which was open to the community Nov. 29- Dec. 1 as church members distributed free turkeys to the 1,630 families who registered to receive them.

Cogburn said 500 new families participated in the toy store this year. As families shopped in the toy store, opportunities to share the gospel and encourage attendance at the new church plant were plentiful.

“It was a time to share not just the physical bread, but more important, the bread of Christ, the spiritual bread,” Johnson said.

The church distributed more than 11,000 toys to 1,600 families at the toy store. Families were assigned a volunteer “personal shopper” who would help assist them as they chose the age-appropriate toys for their children.

Before leaving the store, families were led to a gift-wrapping table, where as their gifts were wrapped, the gospel was presented. As a result of the one-on-one evangelism, 20 people made salvation decisions at the toy store.

“The number of decisions climbs every year. This is a sustainable ministry that reaches our community,” Cogburn said. “We’re able to reach across all social and ethnic lines and be the hands and feet of Jesus.”

For example, 100 people have signed up for the free GED classes through the church.

A crucial part of the Mission Colleyville strategy is the follow-up with those who made decisions and those who received help. Within 48 hours, people who made decisions were contacted by church members. Within a week, volunteers have visited the homes of everyone who made decisions, inviting them to church, and encouraging them to make plans for baptism.

When Roland Johnson visited the home of a young girl who had made a decision at Mission Colleyville, he shared the gospel with her mother, who made a profession of faith.

“We are constantly telling people about the new church plant,” Johnson said.

Some 180 people who made decisions during the church services indicated they were without a church home, accelerating the progress of the new Hispanic church plant through FBC Colleyville.

The Hispanic church plant has held two services, with 35 people attending each service. For Johnson, seeing several new families and new converts attend the church plant services is exciting.

Currently, the church plant is forming a core group. They are meeting in a home with space for 40 to meet comfortably. But the group is already seeing growth, and plans are being made to move to a larger space.

“We look forward to the great things ahead,” Johnson said. “We’re beginning to see consistency. It’s an exciting feeling, and we will continue to follow up,” he said.

The church plans to continue hosting Mission Colleyville next year, and is currently evaluating the strategy to see if there are additional ways for more people to be reached.

“There are so many opportunities [for evangelism] right in our neighborhood,” Cogburn said.

Etheredge, the pastor, added, “Mission Colleyville is a catalyst to reach people for Christ and start new churches. We will continue to move forward with it and continue to build on it for next year.”

Decision on ‘gay’ couples in church directory delayed

FORT WORTH?Members of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth voted Dec. 2 to delay a decision on whether or not to include homosexual members as couples in a church pictorial directory.
Baptist Press broke the story of the church contention on Nov. 6. Multiple news outlets reported on the church’s decision to refer the matter to the deacons for a recommendation by Feb. 4.

“We do not want to rush to make a decision, but rather to continue to listen to each other and for God’s leading to our church,” Deacon Chairman Kathy Madeja said in a statement. “Our members have diverse opinions about many things, but what we have in common is our love for God, the church and each other.”

Pastor Brett Younger addressed the issue from the pulpit Dec. 2.

In comments drawn from sermon audio posted on the church website, Younger said: “Some of the most committed Christians in our congregation are baffled by this whole episode. They are seeking the best they know how to be faithful to Scripture and follow Jesus. They’ve been taught all of their lives what the Bible says on this issue, and those who read the Scripture in a different way don’t seem to be taking the Bible seriously.

“The verses in Leviticus seem straightforward on homosexuality. How can the majority opinion throughout 2,000 years of church history suddenly be wrong? It’s hard for these gracious Christians to understand how anyone could disagree.”

“But there are other thoughtful Christians who feel differently,” Younger continued. “They are seeking the best they know how to be faithful to Scripture and follow Jesus. They know the Bible has been used to defend polygamy, slavery and the oppression of women. We look at the compassion of Jesus and the way that he included everybody and it seems clear that we should do the same. How can anyone who knows Jesus believe God condemns people for the way they were born? It’s hard for these gracious Christians to understand how anyone could disagree.”

Inevitably, some church members would be disappointed, Younger said, but hope lies in Jesus and in realizing the battle belongs to God. In the end, God’s people will “serve together in the unity of God’s diversity,” he said.

Younger closed by saying that some day “we will be set free to live with compassion and kindness” and “celebrate the truth that there is no one beyond the love of God, no one who is not a cherished child of God, no one for whom Jesus did not die, and no one who is not welcome at this table. We long for the day that God will make everything right.”

The church is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, Tarrant Baptist Association and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

In a statement to the church in October, Younger praised how Broadway had handled the issue of homosexuality among church members.

“Broadway has for years had an amazing policy on including gay people. It’s not a policy that a committee came up with, or the staff or the deacons. It’s an unwritten policy that came out of the shared life of this congregation, a policy I believe was inspired by the Spirit,” he said. “This church has for a long time included both gay people who are committed to Christ and members who aren’t affirming and who have serious questions, but who are willing to share the church. This has allowed us to be a congregation where the conversation can take place about being gay and being Christians.”

A former Broadway pastor was involved in bringing Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to Fort Worth, but in recent decades the church has been led by Baptist moderates. Cecil Sherman, the first executive director of the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, came to that post after serving as pastor at Broadway from 1985-92.