In this final post of this blog series on the growth of The Visalia Seventh-day Adventist Church I will be looking at some of the specific things we will be focusing on moving forward in order to place us in the best position to continue to receive & handle the blessings of God’s growth in this community. This blog will probably we a little more specific and not as broad as the other two, but I believe there are still principles that I’ll be sharing that can be applied in any and all settings.
In part 1 we looked at some of the principles behind the growth of the Visalia SDA Church.
In part 2 we looked at some of the reasons why we didn’t grow more over the last five years.
And now for the third and final part (Sorry it took so long, I got sick and then the holidays but here it finally is):
What about the next five years?
Prayer. Yes, I want to start in the exact same spot I started the other two lists. It is vital for our continued growth that we continue our focus and emphasis on the power and importance of prayer. We will continue to look for ways to facilitate more prayer, encourage the participation in corporate prayer, recruit more prayer warriors. I’ve spent quite a ‘bit of time on this subject in the other two posts so I won’t say more here, simply this has to remain a priority. It can’t be something we did and then move on from!
What happens when I’m gone? This has been a question on my mind a lot lately. I’ve observed far too often within our denomination that a church may be doing well, then the pastor leaves and everything slows way down or even ceases completely until the next pastor rolls around. Attendance drops, evangelism is nonexistent, the church goes into maintenance mode. I am asking myself heading into 2014 and beyond, “if this is my last year at this church are we in a position to thrive in the absence of a Senior Pastor or under the leadership of a new Senior Pastor?” I want to be thinking and working on behalf of my successor. I want to make sure that when I’m gone systems are in place that are not pastor dependent. That a clear vision is established which is owned by the membership of the church and not just in the heart of the leader, a vision though that is based on principles that should be universal and embraced by all Seventh-day Adventist ministers, thus flexible to the ideas of the new leader. As leaders I think it is our responsibility to think about the well being of our churches not just when we are here but after we are gone as well. We need to think about our colleagues that will come after us and what we are leaving behind. So this is a goal we’ll be working towards.
Sabbath School: Sabbath School, you know that time that is the least attended activity at church (in North America)…oh wait sorry, that is the prayer meeting, the second least attended activity at church (how depressing and pathetic both those realities are!), it has been a burden on my heart recently. The scriptures say this, “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15. This text of course has been applied almost exclusively to the idea of personal Bible study, and personal Bible study is very important! But as I was taught in Seminary and as I have read in Christian literature, most of what was learned and understood Biblically in the Biblical era was not done in isolation! In fact Jesus when He was a boy in the temple was participating in a Bible study. A discussion on the scriptures, questions asked, answered, leading to more questions (“Now so it was that after three days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.” Luke 2:46, 47). We don’t do enough of this anymore! Sabbath School is a venue in which this should be done. I’ve also been convicted about this based on the reality of where the Seventh-day Adventist Church is growing significantly in the world. As I’ve had privilege to do a little traveling, what I have observed is that Sabbath School is well attended in the countries where our church is really thriving, in fact in some of these places Sabbath School attendance is higher than church attendance. Our Sabbath Schools in the United States may not look like theirs overseas, but the principle I believe still can be applied. Good things happen when folk get together to study the Word of God, emphasis on together, and the sermon time does not count, that is one person who has studied sharing with others what he or she studied, upon which most will go home and still not study it out for themselves to see if he or she was accurate in their studies. We need Sabbath School and I have a desire to see it thrive in my churches (The Ark & Visalia SDA). I’m not sure how yet, but this will be a focus!
Lost Sheep: I’ve heard it said that if we reclaimed all those that have simply stopped associating with the Adventist church our membership would be double in the United States. Here is the sad truth if we reclaimed those that just don’t attend, then our attendance would be double for sure (yep only 50% actually much less on average of the Seventh-day Adventist Church membership attend church from week to week). Here is something Jesus said, “These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying:
“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” –Matthew 10:5-7.
We know that Jesus had a passion for the Gentiles, we know that He had a special plan for reaching them (read the book of Acts), but I also see in scripture that Jesus had a special burden in His heart for those that were raised in the truth, had known the truth, and yet were not walking with Jesus. I haven’t, in fact I still struggle with this burden, but I want to be like Jesus and I feel that I should have a deeper commitment to reaching this group of folk, “the lost sheep of Israel” aka former or inactive Adventists. This will be a special focus for us in the years ahead. We have already seen some success in this area without being intentional about it, I want us to be intentional and see what happens!
Getting beyond 10%: You may have heard the statistic, 20% of the people do 80% of the work. The new reality in churches is that 10% of the people do 100% of the work. We must help folk to understand that one of the privileges of membership is responsibility! I don’t find a single story in all of scripture about a true disciple of Jesus that went to church once a week and then went home, had lunch, took a nap, did yard work on Sunday, went to their paying job during the week, clean the house Friday, and back to church Sabbath and considered this an acceptable pattern for a follower of Jesus. There is not a story in scripture that even remotely follows that pattern, then why on earth do so many of our members find this type of Christianity acceptable blows my mind! Yes that is a rebuke to any that may be reading this and saying, “hey that sounds like me.” Jesus said very clearly, we are to feed the hungry, care for the sick, visit the imprisoned, shelter the homeless. He also said we are to “GO” and witness. Paul said that we are all members of one body, and just as one body has many parts we are all separate parts to the same body and that a part is not actually part of the body if it is not functioning. And James said, that if our faith doesn’t display itself in actual works for the Lord then we really don’t have any faith. And in the book of Revelation the folk that are the marturos–witnesses. I want to know exactly how many of our members are actually serving Jesus in a proactive intentional way and then I want to grow each year on that 10% or so that it is and see lives saved and thus the church grow!
Small Groups: This is different than Sabbath School, though part of this can occur at Sabbath School time. But if we’re going to get bigger then we must simultaneously get smaller or more connected, this will only happen through Small Groups. The book of Acts is very clear, there were two aspects of the early Christian Church “house to house” gatherings and larger “temple” (corporate) gatherings (Acts 2:46). Ellen White wrote this,
“The formation of small companies as a basis of Christian effort is a plan that has been presented before me by One who cannot err. If there is a large number in the church, let the members be formed into small companies, to work not only for the church members but for unbelievers also.” (Evangelism p. 115).
A church will grow if the members are split into small groups to worship and serve together. I have yet to see a thriving small group ministry in a Seventh-day Adventist church. If you are reading this and you are in an Adventist church with a “thriving” small group ministry, please contact me! But we will continue to work at it. I believe there is plenty of evidence Small Groups are Biblical!
I am sure there are a million more things we could work on, but if this is my last year in Visalia (which I pray it is not) this is the direction I pray God will get us moving in.
Thanks for taking the time read these three blog posts. I pray that they have been beneficial to you and that you will be able to apply for sure the principles and possibly even some of the specifics that we have been focused on here in Visalia.
Remember The Church is the Body of Christ which means if your church is lifeless, if it isn’t growing, it isn’t functioning, it isn’t reaching the lost, and loving on everyone, well then it is not really the church and it is definitely not the body of Christ. But don’t despair make a decision now to see that begin to change. Even if you are the only one in your church that is committed to see your church become the Body of Christ again, Jesus will honor your commitment and work with you to bring that desire into reality!
Keep praying, keep studying, keep serving. May Jesus be glorified through the Seventh-day Adventist family!