Old-Fashioned Growth In A Fast-Paced World

Bible Book: John  3 : 10-35
Subject: Church growth; Evangelism

Four senior adult ladies were traveling in their car when they went speeding by a state trooper at the blazing speed of nineteen miles per hour. The trooper pulled them over. The driver said, "Officer is there a problem?" "Yes, ma'am," he said, "Do you realize that you were driving just nineteen miles per hour? Don't you know that it is as dangerous to drive too slowly as it is to drive too fast?" "But, officer," she said, "I was driving exactly the speed limit." The trooper said, "The sign which says '19' is the highway number, not the speed limit." The driver laughed embarrassingly and apologized for her error. The trooper said, "That's okay ma'am, just pick up your speed. I don't want you ladies getting hurt." "Oh, I will," she responded. Then before he went back to his patrol car he said, "By the way, I noticed the three ladies who are with you don't look like they are feeling very well. Is there something I can do for them? They seem pale." The driver laughed an embarrassed laugh again and responded, "No, officer, they'll be all right. I think I know what's wrong with them. You see, about three miles back I just got off highway 138."

The truth is we have become accustomed to fast-paced living, to glitz and glimmer, to staging and show. When my middle daughter was a student at a Baptist University out of state she went to a large church in that city for the first time to their morning worship service. Many college students attended the church. A kindly, older lady seated next to her assumed that she was one of the college students as she asked, "Is this your first time to our church?" Karen responded, "Yes, it is." The woman then quite genuinely said, "We are so glad to have you here this morning. You're going to love our show." You're going to love our show!? Really? Is that what it's all about?

I. Sensational

We live in a day when church, like everything else is expected to be sensational. I know all about "show" if you please. We don't intend for the worship service to look like a show. In Kentucky I pastured a church with a strong TV ministry on NBC and national ACTS. I drilled our ministry team every week, especially the Minister of Music. "Guys, our service has to sparkle. I want it so that when people come here to worship they will be so excited by what they are experiencing that they'll want to come back. I want the music to be prepared and powerful. I want our music to blow them off their feet!" It did, too. I had folks coming out the door where I was shaking hands on Sunday morning. I expected them to say, "Man, that was the best sermon, great preaching," but many times they would just say, "That's the greatest music I ever heard! You all have a great music ministry!"

I used to constantly tell the guys on the platform, "OK, remember, we are live on TV and this service has to move. I don't want any dead spots. If you are the next one on the program, I want you to be ready to reach the pulpit by the time the person ahead of you leaves. Let's keep this thing clicking. Why are these things so important, and they really are important, it's because people today have become accustomed to the finest productions the world has ever seen. Whether you are at the Fox Theatre, Turner Field, the Civic Center or in your den watching television in living color, we have come to expect our entertainment to provide the finest in stewardship of time and value. If I'm going to pay my money and give up some of my precious time for an event, it had better be the best it can be. I won't be burned twice. Well, maybe I've been burned twice, but not three times. Worship: powerful, dramatic, sensational ... But be careful ... you must also have substance.

II. Substance

A part of your strategy for growth admittedly has to be substance, real quality. When people make the decision to get up on Sunday morning, get the family ready, make the drive and spend their time at church, you had better be sure what they get when they get there is quality or they will not return. They will go somewhere where there is quality.

Having said that, though, I want to say that a part of that quality has got to be Biblical substance. People come to your church because they need to hear a word from God. I'll never forget on particular Sunday afternoon when I was pasturing over in Carrollton. I went up into the balcony and went over to the front row of seats and sat down. I leaned on the balcony rail as I looked over to the front row of seats and sat down. I leaned on the balcony rail as I looked over into the auditorium. There was room downstairs for 1000 worshippers and those seats would be filled for worship the next morning. I looked at all those empty seats and the Lord spoke to me. "Bob, your folks spend a lot of time getting ready for church in the morning. Some with small children will begin getting ready this evening. It won't be easy getting all the family here on time in the morning, but they will come. They will fill these seats. They will sing hymns and choruses. They will hear the choir and orchestra. Then you will step to the pulpit. All of these people will be waiting for a word from God. Are you ready?" I don't think I had ever been as impacted with the height, depth, and breadth of my responsibility as I was in that moment.

When people come to sit in your pews or chairs on Sunday morning, they need to hear a word from God. Really, that's why they have come. If they do not hear that word, they will go somewhere where they will hear God's Word. Delivering the Word with substance and power on a consistent basis takes study and a lot of it. This idea of, "I'm just going to get up in the pulpit Sunday morning and let God have His way with me and our service, without paying the price of study and worship planning, does not honor God. Some may think that it reveals spirituality to do something like that, but it actually reveals laziness. God will not honor laziness, He honors devoted, hard-working ministry committed to His glory! Get up in the pulpit too many times with the thought, "God, just let me have it!" and it won't be long before God will allow your deacons to let you have it! God honors that ministry committed to quality and substance.

I had an interesting phone conversation with a pastor the other day. He's a wonderful pastor, but he made a real discovery. He said, "You know, we developed this contemporary worship service. It's really contemporary, relaxed, and full of electricity. It's surpassed all of our expectations on growth. I'm telling you, the young people are flocking to that service. One thing we have noticed though, and that is that the more contemporary we have become with that service, the lower the level of commitment by the congregation attending. They come all right, but their commitment is in the basement." What an interesting statement. I don't personally have anything against contemporary worship as long as it is God-honoring, but it had better have substance. It doesn't matter how attractive the veneer is on the worship service, when you cut deep into it, there needs to be the substance of the Word of God to feed the people who have gone to the trouble to be there.

III. Soul-Winning

Undergirding every worship service and every church ministry should be a soul-winning ministry.

Soul-winning must take place before worship. It's the biggest part of being prepared for the hour of proclamation. You know what I discovered, go out during the week and lead somebody to Jesus and it will put the fire in your preaching. Your preaching will be driven by the motivation to draw that   person or those people to Jesus. Do whatever you have to do to reach people, but don't forget, we are here for the purpose of bringing people to Jesus Christ.

Whatever happened to the bus ministry? We got too sophisticated for it. Those kids we brought in on the bus were too rowdy, and besides they cost the church money. They didn't contribute. OK, I've heard that, but we were still going after people.

I remember the Sunday in Carrollton one of our bus ministry girls came forward at the invitation time. I took her by the hand and very ministerially asked, "Honey, how are you coming today?" Very quickly she responded, "Oh, I come by bus!" Well, maybe we need more people today who are coming by bus!

My daughter, Karen, is married to a wonderful young man. When he came to ask me for her hand in marriage, I said, "Stephen, I want you to tell me how you came to trust Christ as your Savior." This is what he said, "When I was a young child, I grew up in some pretty tough surroundings. The daddy I remember was my mom's second husband. She wasn't married long to her first husband. My daddy drank a lot and abused our family. My mother tried to stick it out, but she finally had to divorce him when I was around ten. My family didn't take us to church, but a church came by and visited our home and started sending a bus around to our house on Sunday morning to pick up my brother and me. It was through a church's ministry that I came to accept Christ as my Savior. Folks were critical of bus ministries, but my future son-in-law was saved because a church cared enough to do soul-winning from a bus. Okay, so you don't like that kind of soul-winning, what kind of soul-winning is your church doing?

Long ago, Jesus taught us how our churches are to grow. I want to tell you that, in my opinion, with all the modern methodologies we've come up with and with all the glitzy worship services we produce, there has never been an improvement on what Jesus did that day outside of Sychar! When He sent the disciples away and sat there in that personal, one-on-one soul-winning encounter with the Samaritan woman, He was doing it the best way it would ever be done. No one has ever improved on that. If you want to see your church grow, the way you will eventually have to do it is one- on-one. You may try a thousand different methods, but there is ultimately only one, and that is one- on-one soul winning. Even pastors don't feel comfortable as a rule doing personal evangelism, but the old-fashioned way is still the best way, even in our contemporary world.

Jesus led the woman to faith that day. The Bible says that she went back into her village and told everyone: "Come see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely, He is the Christ!"

James Kennedy, founder of Evangelism Explosion, says that better than winning a soul is training a soul winner. What he means by that is obvious. The pastor cannot win them all, we must train soul- winners to do effective soul-winning, or our world will not be won to Christ.

IV. Sowing Seed

Annually at our convention meetings we have witnessing events where we knock on doors throughout the city to share the Gospel of Christ. When the annual meeting was in Savannah, we saw over 900 professions of faith.

The Samaritan woman returned to her village as an evangelist and the process of multiplication began. In the first century church G. Campbell Morgan said there were 250, 000 members in the first 6 months. How did they do it? They did it just the way Jesus did it. Every member was an evangelist.

Our convention is committed to resourcing our churches. When you are ready to plant a new church, we are ready to help provide the resources. We recently entered an agreement with SouthTrust bank here in Atlanta that allows us to have access to more than double the amount of money we have had before for church loans. The growth of this convention in the 21st century will be in the sewing of Gospel seed by existing churches like yours as we plant new churches. It is a process of multiplication.

I am thoroughly committed to growing existing churches and planting new churches. This is the way we will reach people for Christ, but in performing this strategy we have to realize, it is all based on the old-fashioned evangelism of Jesus and the woman at the well.