Overview. In a nutshell, tell us about your church. What was it like when you came? What is happening now?
The Lord called me to FBCLG in January 2002. The church had approximately 250 in Sunday School and almost 300 in worship. Our annual budget was $537,328. Today we average 510 in Sunday School and almost 600 in worship. Our annual budget is $1,216,173. In 2002, we had two worship services with one Sunday School hour sandwiched between them. Today we have two worship services and two full Sunday Schools and one partial.
During the first year, I made no changes at all to anything in order to fulfill a commitment to the church when I became pastor. After the first year, we commissioned a Long Range Planning Team. It was obvious that we were out of parking, worship and Sunday School space. During that time we cleaned out several Sunday School classroom which were serving as storage rooms and started new classes in them. Within a year we grew to over 300 in Sunday School. The church voted in relocate in 2004. By 2005 we moved our eleven o’clock worship to our gymnasium in order to accommodate the growth. We continued to start Sunday School classes in every place we could find. We started one off-campus class during the regular Sunday School hour but that did not work very well. Before we physically relocated in 2008, we hit a high of 417 in Sunday School and we were averaging about 360.
All of our preschool classes as well as children’s classes were in rooms around the gymnasium. There was little control or security due to accessibility directly from the gymnasium. Today, we have a preschool department that has a secure, check-in desk with a dedicated hall for our preschoolers. The most explosive area of growth once we relocated was our preschool department. The preschoolers brought their young parents with them.
We went from few, if any, Sunday School high attendance campaigns to at least one per year. Before relocating this really stretched our capacity. It created a lot of excitement and accentuated the need for additional space.
Today we have two morning worship services and three Sunday School hours, two complete Sunday Schools and one partial. Our church continues to be blessed.
Victories. What were 2 or 3 real moments of victory for you?
I can point out three decisive, clear victories for the church. The first one came during my first year. One evening during a revival service twelve young men accepted Christ. When I presented them and announced their decisions to the church, the church politely applauded. In her DNA, the church was rather reserved. After the presentations, I sat down beside our evangelist. He asked me if he could challenge our church to really celebrate the salvation decisions. I was thrilled that he would do so. He stood before our people and in a very loving, gentle manner chastised our people for not rejoicing in the most important decision in the lives of these young people. I could sense our church family was cut to the core. After just a few minutes of sharing, he asked our church to really rejoice over the salvation decisions. Our people were not only ready to rejoice, they began rejoicing. As they did, they stood and the applause began to intensify. Then someone shouted. The vocal praise became contagious. People began to whistle while others vocally praised the Lord Jesus. Most of us began to weep. It was a breakthrough from which we never recovered and I pray we never do! We learned that evening that God inhabits the praise of His people. Today when someone makes a public profession of faith, our church family really rejoices!
The Second key victory for the church was the vote to relocate & the actual relocation. First Baptist was constituted in 1825. She relocated to her third home in 1916. That had been her home for over 88 years. We held a number of town-hall meetings prior to the vote. We also decided that the vote would need to be at least 85% affirmative. The church voted by ballot with 86% affirmative. It was a victory for the Kingdom of God. Coupled with that was the actual relocation which took place four years after the vote. Only God could do this.
The third key victory came in the decision to begin a second Sunday School hour upon relocating. We had the Educational space to remain in one Sunday School upon relocation. But I could see that we were going to saturate our educational space within a year. I did not want our people to relocate and then experience another major change in less than a year. So, prior to relocating we planned for a second full Sunday School. It was a tremendous success. We would have easily outgrown our Educational space with only one hour. Having two full Sunday Schools allowed us to grow uninhibited for several years.
Failures. We learn from these. Tell us what didn’t work.
After being in our ‘new’ facilities for two years, we had saturated our primary Sunday School hour. I challenged our Minister of Education to begin Sunday School classes at the 11:00 hour. That just didn’t work well.
We had two years of stellar participation in our FAITH Evangelism program. The third year, I made an assumption that we would not need to personally enlist people to participate. Wrong! We went from over forty participants each Semester for the previous two years to under ten participants. General announcements and a “Ya’ll come” approach does not work. Individual, personal enlistment has proven to be the most effective means of ensuring excellent participation in anything we want our people to be involved in.
Learnings. What have been some of your big ones. What you have learned along the way?
Three huge lessons. First, years ago I read in Effective Evangelistic Churches by Thom Rainer that the best way to grow a church is to grow the pastor. God really spoke to my heart. Instead of my primary focus being on growing the church, I focused on deepening my walk with God. As I grew in the Lord, my priorities about ‘church growth’ began to change. I realized that success is not based on the size of the church but on our personal obedience. As I grow in Christ, my sensitivity to His leading heightens, my love for people deepens and my contentment in His service widens.
Second, I learned that it is best to let the church defend her decisions. It is unwise for a pastor to use the pulpit to defend a decision the church body has made. The people of God can defend what they have decided themselves. Otherwise, the pastor becomes the lightening rod. Fortunately a good friend shared this with me before I made this blunder.
Third, I learned, and I’m still learning, that it takes a long time to make changes. It is best to sow seeds in the hearts of people and allow the Holy Spirit to germinate them in His people. The germination process may take months or it may take years. Two years before we called a full-time Minister of Children/Preschool, I planted the seed in the hearts of our Personnel Committee members. I planted the seed the year before we called him. On the third year, the Committee was past ready to add this position. As you do this, God will honor you as long as you don’t care who gets the credit for the idea.
What most pastors need to know? What are the take aways? What can we learn from your story?
First, go where God leads! First Baptist had a reputation of being somewhat “reserved” and “traditional.” But, my wife and I were convinced it was the will of God to go to First Baptist of Locust Grove. He changed the climate of the church in His timing and in His way. The take away is this – don’t become pastor of a church because you think it will be great – become pastor of a church because you and your wife are convinced it is the will of God, regardless of the obstacles.
Second, I was really scared when we voted to relocate. It was a do or die vote. I felt it would change the future of the church. As I began to worry, I began to pray. The more I prayed the stronger and clearer the voice of God was to me. God spoke to my heart and basically said, ‘This is my business. You are my servant. I’ll take care of the vote, you just make sure you remain humble before me.’ Once I learned that, God gave me complete peace. The take away for pastors is don’t be anxious about major decisions the church makes. God sits on the throne and He will have His way. Even if the vote goes against what we believe is God’s will, He can and will use it.
Third and most importantly, never replace a personal walk with Jesus with ministry. We can get so caught up in ministry and growing a ‘work’ that we miss the very purpose we exist – to have an intimate, loving relationship with our Lord. Men can lose their marriages and their health while seeking to gain a ‘successful’ ministry. Prioritize your time with Christ. Real success isn’t based on the size of the church you pastor but the depth of your walk with Christ.