10 Steps to Growth
Bishop Bob Farr explained that the congregation made the painful decision to close the El Dorado Springs Springs United Methodist Church about three years ago after it had dwindled to 19 people. The church gave the building and its remaining funds to the conference to be used toward restarting a new congregation in El Dorado Springs Springs. After a year, Jeremy Vickers was approached about starting a satellite congregation in this community 90 minutes away from Lee’s Summit because he had a successful church. Fortunately, Jeremy and his team at Grace Lee’s Summit said they would give it a try.”
It took another six months to find the right pastor to serve in El Dorado Springs. In a satellite arrangement, a pastor provides local contact and outreach, while the majority of the preaching is done via live-streaming from the Lee’s Summit church. Both McNeely and Vickers doubted whether this would work, but it has proved to be successful. McNeely focuses on worship design and local community involvement. He preaches about every six to eight weeks.
They listed 10 steps that have led to the growth of the El Dorado Springs Springs congregation. The first three steps involve the primary church understanding its purpose and identity. The fourth through sixth steps involve first steps toward building initial attendance. The final four steps are geared toward continuing to grow through community outreach.
The first step is to know your purpose. Vickers said the mission for Grace Lee’s Summit is to be a light in the darkness for the unchurched, the once churched and the badly churched. The church was aware of the struggles of many small churches in rural Missouri and wondered if there was something they might do about it. “We know our purpose we know who we are called to be,” he said, asking, “Are you making disciples? Are you reaching out and sharing the good news? If you are not reaching out you may not know your purpose.”
Second, it is necessary to have a supportive church board. The board at Grace Lee’s Summit understands that pastors are not always in the office. Rather, they support the pastors work in the community.
Third, we know our context because we know our community, Vickers said. McNeely has spent time in El Dorado Springs to learn the community and its needs. The neighborhood where the church is located is surrounded by poverty, drugs, alcohol and broken homes.
“Our vision to help the community around us and that is what we have been doing,” he said. “If Jesus showed up in El Dorado Springs springs he would come right there where we are located.”
The fourth step is to understand that worship is our primary purpose, Jeremy said. After McNeely was brought on board, Grace provided staff and resources to renovate the El Dorado Springs church. Pews were removed and replaced with chairs. Sound and video equipment was installed to enable lives-streamed sermons. McNeely’s primary job is to be involved in the community. In the first two years of worship, there have been 50 salvations and over 30 baptisms. A particular challenge during that time was that the new church went through three worship bands but even that did not appear to slow the growing congregation.
A second focus and fifth step in launching the new church was missions. With the new congregation worshiping every Sunday, McNeely sought other ways to reach out to the community. At the elementary school, it was learned that the children needed books to take home to read. Both the Lee’s Summit and El Dorado Springs churches had book drives. About 1,000 books were distributed to students at the school, with no mention of the El Dorado Springs Church. Other outreach efforts at the school included providing new shoes and coats for the students. When parents asked who donated the books, the teachers would identify the local Grace UMC. They became the voice of the church. “We asked the school what do you need instead of assuming we knew what the school needs,” Vickers said.
The sixth step is small groups. A group of members from the former El Dorado Springs UMC approached McNeeley about restarting a Thursday lunch program they had once offered. After learning that this program had not brought any new disciples to the church for many years, McNeely decided to try a Wednesday evening dinner and bible study program.
Although they are not required to stay for bible study, many do. The program includes a large bible study in the sanctuary, a young adult class and a children’s group. It has grown to almost 80 persons. Many are not comfortable attending worship on Sunday. The Wednesday evening program is reaching 40-60 people each week. Sundays fill the sanctuary to its capacity of 80 people. This fall, the church may expand to two services to accommodate more people.
Seventh, in order to sustain growth, always invite people to church.
Vickers said, “That sounds like a simple thing to do, but how many people have you invited to church in the last few weeks or in the last year?” He added, “People need to know who we are, what we’re about. The people who come on Wednesday night may not come on Sunday. We need to have different ways for people to get into the life of the church.”
McNeely asked, “Remember how it was the first time you asked someone to dance?” It’s awkward. That’s what it is like to invite someone to church. But unless you try, you won’t get results. He encourages people to issue invitations wherever they may be – at a flea market, community events, local businesses, anywhere people might be found. “Like dancing, the more you do it, the easier it gets,” he added.
Eighth, follow up. McNeely keeps a small notebook where he records initial contacts, including name, date and location. Then he returns to that location in hopes of meeting that person again because people tend to be habitual. He looks for common interests to open conversations and build relationships.
Ninth, be an outwardly focused church. The church looks for opportunities to be involved in community events. At the annual community picnic, carnival rides are located near the church, so it was opened up to the community. The church provided baby changing stations, rest rooms and a place to cool down. They also served hot dogs on the front lawn. Even when an outreach program fails, be willing to regroup and try something new.
Last, the pastor is “in” the community. Vickers pointed out that there are people who live near the church, even in rural areas. There are people who can be impacted by your ministry. McNeely has deliberately sought ways to be involved in the community, whether it is providing a prayer at a tractor pull or seeking ways to help at the school. He goes to Chamber of Commerce meetings. “People know I am available,” he said.
When McNeely takes in a poster into a business owner, he also asks if the owner needs prayer, or if the business needs prayer. “If they know you are there to help the community, the business owner will tell other about you. They become your voice.”
Vickers said, “We do everything we can do every day to reach people for Jesus Christ.”