Growing churches in a multichurch district
Pastoring a multichurch district has its challenges. How one approaches those challenges makes the difference between just surviving or thriving as a pastor of such churches. During the last eight years, I have learned, as a district pastor, some lessons and these granted me some skills in growing churches that I believe can benefit other multichurch pastors as well. In this article, I wish to share eight principles that helped me in my multichurch ministry.
1. Dispel the pastor-laity dichotomy. As a district pastor, you start with an advantage: since you can’t be in all the churches each Sabbath, your church members should already be aware that each one of them needs to be a minister engaged in a specific pastoral task.
That’s one reason why I conduct a Bible-based training series for my members shortly after I take up a new assignment. As a pastor, I have the responsibility to be a pastor-teacher. Where I feel that I am not adept in a certain area, I arrange for someone else to provide that specific training. I let my congregation know that one of my major responsibilities includes training them to be my partners in ministry, to discover and then utilize their spiritual gifts for the Lord.
When members realize that they are part of the pastoral team, they come to embrace their ministry with responsibility and excitement. Each member needs to grasp this basic vision that ministry is an every-member responsibility. No such thing as I am the pastor, you are the member exists. You and I are both parts of God’s ministry to a dying world.
2. Set people apart for the work of the ministry. Doing this accomplishes two major things. First, setting people apart helps us to build confidence and respect for one another. Second, I have an opportunity as a friend to help church members discover God’s calling in their lives.
Once members of a congregation discover their calling, I encourage them to fullfi ll that calling through two main venues. First, I have them attend a spiritual gifts’ seminar. Second, I have them commit to a specific ministry in which they prayerfully choose to engage. Once they have begun their ministry, the church gives them a certain autonomy to work as God has called them to work.
Of course, like all things there are checks and balances to monitor progress as well as maintain unity. This becomes necessary to ensure a cohesive working pattern within the church structure. In the churches I have pastored, I have seen individuals develop and utilize various gifts—preaching, teaching, music, administration, and hospitality, for example. Members so trained may utilize one or more of these gifts to enhance and enrich the life of the church. As this aspect of the work flourishes, I become more of an adviser and cheerleader as I watch people grow and experience God’s power in their lives. Even more exciting is to see how the church grows in unity and love as well as in membership.
3. Encourage small groups to learn and grow. In the district where I presently pastor, we have nine small groups. These groups are diverse in nature, study, age, and approach. These groups meet the needs of the community and the church in unprecedented ways. They meet on different days of the week and at various times. When people feel that they have a place to learn and grow, other than just during the worship service, it builds a bond of unity as well as impacting kingdom growth for Jesus (Acts 2:44–47).
The churches I pastor have developed small groups with the intention of having a place where everyone can go for spiritual growth and development. Besides the already mentioned benefi ts of small groups, they also free me to do the ministry that God has called me to do in the community. Thus I am available to reach and impact the lives of others in ways that I would not have been able to (such as the on-call chaplaincy duty I perform at the local hospital) if I was doing all the ministry in the church. As a result, I have had many opportunities to lead others to Jesus as well as help others get a better understanding of Seventh-day Adventists because of my availability to the community.
4. Involve members to create an awe-inspiring worship. With each member assuming a responsibility in the life of the church, we have an atmosphere where congregational worship becomes not a one-person-directed activity but an every-member-involved event of inspiring worship. Our churches are meant to be places where people come to meet with God and experience the presence of the Spirit. Over the years the churches I have pastored have realized that our worship service should be evangelistically oriented. As a result, from the moment people walk in the door every effort is made to make them feel like a welcomed guest with a worship service designed to uplift Christ in our singing, praying, preaching, and teaching.
Our worship service focuses on an encounter with Christ. The service includes a time of praise in singing and testifying, leading to an experiential service in which we all have given of ourselves as well as receiving the blessing that God intends for each one of us.
5. Be relationship builders. In training members to bring individuals to Christ, our emphasis should be to build trusting relationships with others before seeking to indoctrinate them. While we must teach others the messages of the Word of God, we limit our success when we seek to hit them right between the eyes and let them have it without taking the time to let them know how much we really do care for them. We need to exemplify that care through genuinely meeting their needs.
A fellow minister shared with me that he was having a problem getting a couple with whom he was studying to make a commitment for Christ. As he shared his dilemma, I helped him understand that this couple was having marital problems, and this was the primary need at the moment that needed to be addressed. My colleague came to realize that he was not meeting their need, and therefore this couple couldn’t make the decision he wanted them to make. Of course, he was giving them Bible studies regularly. This in and of itself is a good thing; however, what this couple needed first was some time and attention to resolve their relational issues. As this need was met through pastoral counseling, support, and prayer, they gave their hearts to Jesus and were baptized. There lies an important principle in getting people involved with the church: relate to them, understand their needs, and let them know how the Lord meets their need. Once this is done, they are ready to be your partners in ministry.
6. Let everyone know that church growth is everyone’s responsibility—indeed the entire district. Get the church members to see that growth happens as we are concerned for each other. Educating the churches in your district to see that they are all part of one single church instead of two, three, or four different churches helps each church to participate in activities that will contribute to the growth of God’s church.
One way to accomplish this is to have district-wide programs that promote unity, cooperation, and contributions from each church. Recently we had an evangelistic series where the churches that I pastor contributed leadership, finances, and talents to bring people to Christ. Three persons were baptized. What was impressive about the involvement of the members from each church? That no one worried as to which church the three new members would join. The focus was kingdom growth for the Lord.
7. Remember that you are the pastor of the community where you serve. In order for pastors to succeed in their district, they must be visible in the community. In order to be visible pastors, they must believe that they have been called by God to pastor the community. In the community that I pastor, I am active in providing Christian counseling and chaplaincy services to the community hospitals, police station, and businesses. I have done this by building relationships with people, churches, leaders, and organizations in the community. As a result, I am an invited presence in my community as a pastor to all people, and it is not uncommon for me to receive a phone call from some official, organization, individual, or family to come and provide spiritual care. This happens because of being available and present for everyone in the community that I serve as pastor. As I minister to others, people learn of the love of Christ and desire to know me, the God I serve, and the church to which I belong.
8. Provide ongoing training. Ongoing training of the people we serve turns out to be crucial to the growth of the church. In my district the training centers on the areas where we see God leads us. We approach this prayerfully as we seek to observe where God is working and desires for us to join Him in ministry.
While we do have scheduled training in areas on winsome witnessing, small groups, church growth, spiritual gifts, etc., we also will seek to improve our skills by scheduling some of our training in areas where we realize that we need to grow and become more effective as ministers and in soul winning churches for God. We will either utilize a person in one of our congregations who has profi ciency and skill in a certain area(s) to give the training, or we may invite someone else to provide the training for us. I have found that offering ongoing ministry training for the people that I serve does much for their enthusiasm and growth as effective Christian ministers.
Conclusion: What God has done
The decision of our churches to work together in ministry has resulted in seeing great things happen in our midst. Our 20-member church has grown to 55 members as they followed God’s call to reach the community. A new Spanish church has been planted that has grown from four members to 40 in an 18-month period. We have seen another church grow from 20 to 65 members in the same time period. The third church in the district has built a new church with 40 people in attendance. A year later, weekly attendance in the same church averages around 100.
Numbers aren’t everything, but as we have sought God’s model on how to “do church,” He has blessed us in ways that we could have never imagined. As we move forward working hard for Jesus as well as following God’s will and plan for our churches in our multichurch district, we know that the best is yet to come!
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