This is part of a series of interviews with pastors of churches whose attendance has grown 20% or more in 5 years. We hope this series will be a resource of ideas to help increase worship attendance at your church.
Our society in particular is sharply focused upon and enamored with success. In ministry, attendance is one of the chief indicators we look at in order to measure “success” and/or effectiveness. Like most pastors, I love to see a full sanctuary of worshippers or a crowded classroom of Christian disciples. At my best, I live gratefully as Christ’s servant; want to see persons discover Christ, connect to Christ, become intimate with Christ, and commit to be on mission with Christ. At worst I want recognition, rewards, and accolades for being successful in my career as a pastor. I confess this struggle today, because I believe our preoccupation with attendance can be a two edged sword helping or hurting our effectiveness and spiritual vitality.
As the senior pastor (servant) I am humbled, delighted, and most grateful to report that First United Methodist Church in Altus, Oklahoma has experienced a slow and steady growth in attendance over the past five years. I must be quick to recognize God’s pivotal role in this and the inspiring contribution of dozens of lay leaders. I am fully persuaded that growth is God’s idea, longing, commitment, and accomplishment. I am reminded of Paul’s reflection on this subject recorded in 1 Corinthians 3:6–7 (The Message) “I planted the seed, Apollos watered the plants, but God made you grow. It’s not the one who plants or the one who waters who is at the center of this process but God, who makes things grow.” I do acknowledge however that effective leadership by individuals that are called, equipped, intimate with God, and committed to God’s Kingdom is an important piece of the “success” of ministry. It is my hope and prayer that through yielding myself to God and His call, I have been used as Gods’ instrument in some small way in accomplishing God’s will here in Altus, even as it is in heaven.
As I reflect over the past five years of ministry, the recurring theme or recipe for “success” has been prayer. Two months before arriving I was informed of the potential, pain, and challenges of leading Altus FUMC. I was filled with mixed thoughts and emotions. Leaving the congregation and community in Mannford, where I had served for almost seven years, filled my heart with grief. Facing the challenge of unresolved conflict in Altus FUMC troubled me deeply. The opportunity to meet new people and serve as God’s instrument excited me. I immediately started praying about what I was dealing with and facing in the future. I distinctly remember asking God daily for favor and the ability to love and serve His people. One of my associates, Deb Teagan, jokingly remarked a few months ago that I am “an acquired taste.” No one has verbalized this thought before, but I believe she is accurate and insightful in this assessment. I know this truth about myself and I wrestled with God about leading the church in Altus. Can I be effective? Will the congregation accept my passion, openness, and outgoing personality? Will I be able to lead a hurting, comfortable church to healing, devotion, and radical effectiveness for Christ? All I knew to do was ask God for favor and the ability to love and serve His people.
I am pleased to share that very quickly God did give me favor and within a year significant healing occurred within the church. Over the next four years the laity has taken ownership for ministry and our church is mobilizing to live out the Great Commandment and participate earnestly in fulfilling the Great Commission. Five years later, I am still dependent upon God to give me favor and I am more dedicated than ever to love and serve His people. One of my favorite Hymns is “Jesu, Jesu.” The theme of this hymn is a prayer asking God to “fill us with His love and to show us how to serve our neighbors.”
I mentioned prayer was the recurring theme for “success.” When I arrived at Altus FUMC there were no formal prayer meetings in place. In my second year God prompted me to ask one of our lay leaders to join me each week for an hour of fervent prayer. He agreed and we met each Tuesday at 7am for an hour. It quickly became the most powerful and cherished hour of the week for both of us. He unfortunately moved to California after a year and I sought God for a replacement. A dear friend, Brad Leverett, sensed God’s call to resume weekly prayer gatherings and a lady in our church, Sue Smaaland, was laid on my heart to lead this effort. When I approached her about this ministry, she agreed to serve as our Prayer Director. A weekly Tuesday Prayer Meeting at 8pm was the result and for the past three years we have seen this group fluctuate from two to about twenty. Ten months ago, in the midst of a fall Revival, God challenged me to start an Early Watch Prayer Group at 5am each morning. The urgency of God’s purpose was clear and strong upon me, so the revival speaker and I started the very next day. This group now meets Monday through Saturday each week and we have had as many as ten Prayer Warriors meeting together. I believe this “life of prayer” has unlocked a wonderful intimacy with God, obedience to God’s promptings, and a deepening sense of God’s love throughout the many aspects of our church life and mission. In addition to this, we have an active Prayer List, email Prayer Chain, weekly Prayer Vigil, and several Covenant Groups that pray faithfully for the needs and ministry of our church and world. I am fully persuaded that “success” has resulted from prayer: hearing God, aligning ourselves with God’s purpose, and becoming more available to attempt whatever God tells us to do.
- May the Gospel be heard and seen in all we are and in all we do.
- May the love of Christ be tangible to anyone and everyone who comes into contact with our church.
- May we be the hands and feet of Christ to a lost and hurting world.
- May we reach the place of surrender to God where our answer is an automatic “yes” to whatever God asks.
Joyfully yours in Christ and for His glory,
Church website: www.fumcaltus.org