One of the great privileges in my role among Oklahoma Baptists is the variety of churches and pastors I serve. Recently, I was asked similar questions by both a pastor and a pastor search committee. While their churches are different in approach to ministry, style of worship and congregational make-up, I gave the same answer to their questions.
Both asked me, “How can we grow our church?” Implied in that question was the impact that some of the newer churches that feature highly contemporary worship, greatly skilled musicians, theater lighting and exact planning to the last second have had on the church attendance and membership of other churches.
My first response was to give thanks for anyone reaching people with the Gospel. I am not put off by these kinds of churches and, indeed, we have some in our Baptist tribe. A focus on one hour of worship and done for the week can be very attractive to some people. Big room experiences are the bread and butter of this type church. If gathering worshippers once a week is the goal, then find a style that attracts that type of worshipper and go for it. People will be reached and saved—praise the Lord!
The second part of my response was, “Give full focus to small group ministry” (for many of us this is called by various names, but it is Sunday School). It is possible to develop a highly effective, small group ministry that focuses on connecting people to Jesus, His truth, His community and His mission in any size church. Small groups take us from one-hour, one-room experiences to caring, serving, connecting communities of faith. In small groups, people are no longer a face in the crowd but are friends who become like family. Some people like anonymity and the in-and-out religious duty pay that comes with one hour and done. Most people need (and many recognize this need) meaningful relationships with real people who will accept them for who they are but will not be satisfied to leave them that way.
The effectiveness of small groups does not need a dissertation. I would remind you that it is a proven fact that has remained constant across the years, even with shifting tides in church methodology—small groups reach 10 new people, and out of the 10, three will be reached for Christ. Small groups reach families because Sunday School is designed with every age in mind.
Oklahoma Baptists gather on Jan. 27-28 for our annual State Evangelism Conference, which is a needed focus each year. Pastors assemble together to have their spiritual batteries recharged and to be confronted afresh with the challenge to keep the main thing the main thing—impacting lostness and making disciples. During this conference, attendees are challenged by different men with different styles of preaching serving in different kinds of churches. When it is said and done, impacting lostness requires planning and priority. How can you keep the priority in front of the people and organize them to effectively stay evangelistic? Many ways are available, but I assure you the most consistent approach is a well-organized and well-functioning Sunday School.
As a pastor, I was privileged to have some very sharp staff members, but I was always the leader of Sunday School while my staff did the work! I led our church to major in developing healthy, evangelistic, caring small groups. We worked the Sunday School, and the Sunday School worked. You may say that is an old method and that it doesn’t work as well today. I double-dog dare you to try it! Did I just say that? Yes, I did. I challenge every pastor of large and smaller in attendance churches to focus on starting new classes, training your people to lead and teach classes, sharing the Gospel with those reached, caring for the classes and getting class members involved in ministry to the community. Do so and it will be one of the best years of growth and evangelism you will have experienced.
How can our church grow? Start new small groups! Train new leaders! Reach new people!