The Secret of Our Success

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I had the opportunity today to eat lunch with a young man named Ryan who is currently a master of divinity student at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He had contacted me a few weeks ago because he is working on a church revitalization project for the seminary and had been looking at church growth records within the Southern Baptist Convention. My former church, Grand Avenue Baptist Church, popped up on their radar as having experienced a significant turnaround in the past eight years. I had the privilege of serving as Grand’s pastor for seven years from 2006 through 2012 and so we found ourselves at Buffalo Wild Wings over lunch today talking about “what happened.”

When I arrived at Grand in 2006, attendance had slipped to the 600 hundreds, the church was struggling to meet budget, the facilities were in need of a major “refreshing,” and the baptism record was not very good, among other things. I joke with folks by explaining that when I arrived, the only way a person could get a copy of a sermon was on cassette tape! Yes, that’s true. So, needless to say, there was much to address.

When I left Grand at the beginning of 2013, the church was pushing 1,000 in weekly attendance, we had just finished a 2.1 million capital campaign to renovate the facilities and were debt free, there was a year-end budget surplus of $250,000+, we had baptized over 100 the previous year, and we sent over 200 people on a mission trip somewhere around the world. There are many other “stats” I could point to, but the greatest intangible was the sense of excitement that God had breathed new life into this established church.

People said I was crazy for walking away

from such a great church.

Maybe they were right. But this was God’s will and I am blessed beyond measure in my new ministry at Cross Church.

So I want to be clear…the above turn around was not about me. Oh sure, I was part of it and as pastor an important part of it. But there was SO much more that went into this revitalization of a then 75-year-old church.   For starters, I was blessed with a tremendous staff team. In addition you should know that I grew up in the church as a kid so I had some “change” in my pocket that let me get away with a few things the first couple of years that an unknown new guy would not have been able to do. But the greatest asset of the church is its people…they are pure gold! Most of all, though, God was on our side. He blessed in a magnificent way and I was glad to merely be a part of it all.

But I was asked by Ryan today what I thought were some of the keys to Grand’s bold moves over the last several years. Others have asked me the same thing along the way and so I want to share three things we did at Grand that I believe are transferable to any church.

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1. An unshakable commitment to preach the inerrant Word of God in the context of a vibrant worship experience.

In the church world, Sunday morning is Prime Time. Without Sunday morning there IS no “other” in the church. It is the engine that drives all other ministries and the mission of the church. We made a commitment at Grand to pour mega resources into Sunday morning. Our worship was second to none in the city and my preparation and delivery of God’s Word consumed the majority of my time during the week.

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2. A focused priority on small group Bible study.

I learned very quickly this axiom:

The Big Room will draw people to your church,

but the Little Room will keep people in your church.

In short, my personality in the pulpit was not strong enough to grow a church. No pastor is that big. People need and desire connection. They need to know they are loved and cared for and accountable. We played around with various small group ideas my first couple of years at Grand, but when we finally settled on our strategy and then FOCUSED on it with major attention and resources, you could just feel the church beginning to surge.

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3. A raising up of the Great Commission to its proper place as THE missional vision of the whole church.

Most good churches get the first two items I mentioned. But great churches get this final and critical component. The Great Commission. All I can tell you is that in year four of my pastorate, when we shifted all attention to fulfilling the Great Commission locally, nationally, and globally, we went to a whole different level. You could feel it in the church. People began to go on mission and come back home infecting others. It was exhilarating.

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And that’s it. Pretty simple. Yet so easy to miss when you are in the midst of the numerous distractions that ministry can throw your way as a pastor or leader. Of course all of this is dependent on the favor of God. There is never a substitute or an excuse for a pastor who is not on his knees before a Holy God pleading for his church and begging the Spirit to fall.

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