As we said in the preceding post, the Christian Chronicle has listed three key strategies for church growth: adaptability, moderation, and evangelism. We discussed adaptability and moderation in the last two posts. This post is about evangelism.
I’m thankful that the Chronicle has offered some examples of churches that have grown through evangelism. After all, many churches grow through transfers or just being in a good location that lots of people are moving to.
I recently asked our staff for the names of congregations that were growing from actual evangelism. As we went through the list of growing churches we were familiar with, not all, but most were growing by virtue of their location or out-competing the other churches in town for people already saved. Not that many are growing from evangelism.
And this is shown by the figures. As a denomination, the Churches of Christ are growing at about 0.7% per year, which is lower than the rate at which we’re bearing children! We are an evangelistic disaster.
Fortunately, there are some that are effective at seeking the lost. Here are some examples that we can learn from —
The East Baltimore Church of Christ
Here’s a great 2006 story from the Chronicle about this congregation. Its preacher is a converted Pentecostal preacher who evidently doesn’t know that Churches of Christ aren’t supposed to grow! (I don’t know why the Chronicle’s archives lump the story all into one paragraph. It’s annoying, but the story is well worth slogging through the text.)
This month’s issue also has a brief story on this church —
BALTIMORE — In 1995, Keven Bethea and a group of 35 church members planted the East Baltimore congregation. In the dozen years that followed, the church grew to more than 375. In addition, the urban congregation has planted two other churches in the Baltimore area — with a third planned for October, Bethea said.
The church preaches “everybody bring somebody” evangelism, Bethea said. The congregation has a special class for new converts and focuses the first six months after baptism on relationship building. Bethea estimated that about 75 percent of new converts stay in the church. “Saving Souls and Keeping Souls Saved” is the congregation’s motto.
The church developed an urban evangelism plan that has resulted in more than 100 baptisms, Bethea said. The plan “has the potential to be the right answer to the question, ‘Are we growing?’” he said.
Saturn Road Church of Christ
The Chronicle reports,
GARLAND, Texas. — For the third consecutive year, the church in this Dallas suburb surpassed 150 baptisms in 2007, senior minister John Scott said. Since 1992, the church’s membership has grown from 950 to more than 2,300.
“Our area is a transitional community — an aging Caucasian population with huge influx of Hispanics and African-Americans,” Scott said. “The challenge is … building a new multiethnic congregation where a once all-white congregation stood.”
The church has taken steps to make its ministerial staff look like its community. Mike Crosby, who is black, recently became the church’s evangelism minister. Crosby, Scott and Joe Hernandez, the church’s Hispanic minister, take a team approach toward evangelism, Scott said.
Strong ministries for children and teens have drawn families to Saturn Road, Scott said. The church sponsors a ministry to children in its neighborhood that runs daily for seven weeks each summer and is involved in outreach to a local drug rehabilitation program for women.
“Our leadership has committed itself to be a church of mirrors, reflecting who lives in our area now,” Scott said. “We talk about and celebrate outreach.”
Churches in transitional neighborhoods are supposed to fail — or move. Churches of over 2,000 members are supposed to be white and upper middle class. Saturn Road proves that the rules aren’t really rules.
Christ’s Church at Remmel
I’ve mentioned this one before, but it bears repeating. This rural Arkansas church of 170 has had 85 baptisms! And it did it through caring about its community.
Here’s how they tell their story on their website —
Although flourishing through most of the 20th century, this rural church of Christ found itself near collapse as the century wound to a close. Loss of local population and loss of interest had left the church with few kids and only a handful of adults. Should it go the way of so many other rural churches that had been allowed to slip peacefully into non-existence, or should it and could it be salvaged? We chose the latter, and God rescued us.
We had known for some time that some of what we were doing came more from tradition than from God. God had never said a word, for instance, about making the children sit still and be absolutely quiet while the preacher went on and on about something they couldn’t possibly understand. It was we, not God, who had come up with wearing our “Sunday Best” to church services, even though that placed a burden on some. It was our idea to sing “Amazing Grace” as if we’d just learned we had cancer, even though, God had always insisted we rejoice and be glad. The list goes on.
It’s different now that we’ve finally mustered the courage to try it more like we think God wants it. Kids are back in droves. Teenagers often led the way in turning control of our church back over to God. Additional seating had to be added in the auditorium and in classrooms. There are always visitors, even though the building is difficult to find. Children’s church is a popular choice for younger kids during preaching. Prayer has taken on an enormously greater role. Neckties are not only not required, they are rare.
Here are a few other comments from their FAQ section. They give a good feel for the personality of the congregation (most websites aren’t nearly as revealing).
What is the attitude of the Remmel Church toward other Protestant groups?
That may depend somewhat on which member you ask, but our general attitude is one of deep gratitude for the extraordinary reform efforts that produced these groups. We also truly regret the many harsh, hateful comments by members of churches of Christ in times past that caused hard feelings to exist to this day. We accept into membership of the Remmel Church, anyone who believes and has been baptized by immersion to obey God, regardless of their previous religious affiliation or who performed that baptism.
What would I be expected to do as a member of the Remmel Church?
Each of us has a responsibility to be of encouragement to others in the church, and to build up the church in any way we can. After all, the church is the “bride of Christ”, and He would certainly want her treated with the greatest respect and honor. A simple smile or friendly, “Hello”, can work wonders. A kind word or listening ear for someone with trouble always helps. You may learn to pray with someone who is struggling. You may be able to tell someone of Jesus and, in that way, participate in their salvation. But you will never be pressed to do what you are altogether uncomfortable doing. We are a family of God, and each one of us needs to have a part. It could be turning out the lights in the church building, or picking up trash outside. We are in constant need of teachers in children’s classes. The elders will help find a job that’s right for you. Being a part of a growing church is exciting, but it takes a lot of work. Jesus explained a great mystery when He showed us that greatness comes through serving others. You will be allowed to join in that blessing. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as the result of works, that no one should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10).
What is the official name of the church in the Remmel community? Is it Remmel Church of Christ, as some road signs say, Christ’s Church at Remmel as the bulletin says, or Remmel Church as many members say?
This church, like congregations in the Bible, has no official name. Since there are no other religious groups in the community from which to distinguish ourselves, and because we prefer not to align with any denomination, we seem to be moving toward Remmel Church, but any of the designations mentioned in the question are fine.
Read the story about them in the Chronicle. It’s a great one.
Good old fashioned evangelism still works, but it works best in churches not caught up in legalism and pointless, stifling traditions. It works even better in churches on a mission.
Some churches grow by virtue of being in a place lots of people are moving to. Some churches grow through great marketing. Some grow through great programs. But the Kingdom grows when churches try to live like Jesus — serving others from the heart, having compassion for those in need, heartbroken because the lost are heading for hell, and not being afraid of what others might say.
I have to add this. Several of the churches that the Chronicle highlights (not mentioned in this post) are very conservative — even legalistic. At least one is notorious for its legalism. It would be easy to conclude that we can be that way and grow. And growth, we might figure, justifies our theology. It doesn’t.
The research shows that, although the Churches of Christ are growing very poorly, those with more progressive teaching are growing reasonably well, on the whole, while those with more traditional teaching are not, on the whole. For every conservative church that’s growing, there’s another conservative church that’s declining more rapidly, and the net is negative.
I am deeply concerned that the Chronicle‘s reporting may give the impression that continuing do things the way that was standard in the 20th Century would be acceptable to God and a path to growth. It’s not.