Some time ago, I sensed our church was falling into a rut. We were by all standards considered a healthy, exemplary and growing church. A sweet spirit permeated our church family. I could well appreciate and agree with the statement a gentleman made to me one evening after a men’s gathering: “Pastor, these are good days.” We had established some great ministries with great results, but we needed what Craig Groeschel calls a “growth engine.” It wasn’t so much that I wanted the church to grow numerically, but to grow in their “passion for God” and “compassion for people,” which are the two phrases we use to capture the essence of the two greatest commandments.
The staff and elders of our church went through a process called “God Dreams” where we homed in on what should be the focus of our church over the next 10 years, given our context and culture. After a consensus among our leadership that our primary emphasis should be on geographical saturation with the gospel, disciple-making and leadership development, those three areas were condensed into three words to communicate our vision/mission: Reach, Raise, Release.
REACH more people WITH the gospel. If we really believe that the Word of God is timeless and the words of Jesus are true, then the harvest of those who need Christ is still abundant. I’m sure there are those who believe that people are not open to the gospel today because of their defiance toward Christianity or their defense of their respective positions/beliefs. But I believe people are more open to the gospel than ever before. The challenge is that there are few workers in the field. At the time of our “God Dreams” process, we were already implementing an evangelism initiative called “Can We Talk?” where we trained people to not only share the gospel, but to go door-to-door surveying our neighbors as to how we might serve them in hopes of leading them to a gospel presentation. There are some who say this doesn’t work anymore. Well, in the words of one of our trainers, “Staying home doesn’t work.” We utilized this on Wednesday evenings coinciding with other worship, student and children’s ministries. Upon completion of the vision process, it was decided that “Can We Talk?” would no longer be an ancillary ministry, competing with other ministries, but would now become the focus of our church, meeting on Sunday evenings for two 6-week semesters throughout the year. We have knocked on thousands of doors and seen dozens confess Christ on their front porches or in their living rooms. What’s been interesting is that although we might not see many of the conversions become members of Yorktown (which is really the essence of a mission trip, isn’t it?), I have discovered that if God sees a church go share the gospel, he knows they can be trusted with the gospel; thus we’ve seen more first-time guests and “seekers.”
RAISE more people IN the gospel. Jesus didn’t commission us to make “converts,” but to make “disciples.” Tragically, there are some who call themselves disciples of Jesus because they have confessed Jesus as Savior, know a lot about the Bible, and/or attend church regularly. But I believe a disciple of Jesus is one who MAKES disciples. I contend that making disciples is highly relational, and not just informational. So, not only do I personally disciple men individually in our church by meeting regularly with them over the course of a year, we encourage others to share in this great privilege/commission. We taught many of our people how to use Dann Spader’s “Walk as Jesus Walked,” where one meets with one or two people over the course of 10–12 weeks with the understanding they will go and do likewise, thus producing a multiplying effect. This has been highly successful in “assimilating” our people into the church’s culture and raising people in the gospel.
Additionally, because statistics show that as a man goes so goes his family, I have intentionally and passionately (and unapologetically) invested in men. Not only do I mentor seven to eight men for a year or two raising them up as spiritual leaders in their homes and in the church, I host a Monday evening men’s group two times a year in the spring and fall where we have seen anywhere from 100–150 men attend to be challenged, encouraged and trained as kingdom men.
RELEASE more people FOR the gospel. Our church experiences a large attrition rate due to people moving out of town to other parts of the world. Instead of seeing this as a frustration, we embraced it as an opportunity. Because our city is one of the largest ports in the country, with oil and gas tankers arriving from and returning to other ports around the world, we started using that analogy with our church. We have a large military presence because of two naval air stations within a 30-mile radius. We also have a large university attracting students from around the world. We started communicating to those who were in our city/church for only a season, that if they would give us three to four years, we would give them three to four years. We would invest in them, RAISE them up IN the gospel, and then RELEASE them FOR the gospel to whatever “mission field” the Lord was moving them. Because we believe that each person saved by God’s grace is a masterpiece created for good works (Ephesians 2:10), we are intentional toward helping ALL of our church body to “find their place in God’s story” by utilizing the 2:10 project (www.210project.com). We are “equipping” the body for the work of the ministry.
The harvest IS plentiful. And if we want to be a part of having a greater harvest, then we will have to sow more seed, nurture the new growth in the harvest and teach others how to sow and reap.