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Bill Easum and Bil Cornelius are two strikingly different, yet surprisingly similar pastors. One undertook to revitalize a moribund mainline church; the other, to plant a new nondenominational congregation. Coming from different generations, their ministries took place under dissimilar circumstances. Yet both have experienced substantial, even explosive, growth in congregational mission and membership. Along the way they learned some important lessons, such as the centrality of strong pastoral leadership, the ...
Bill Easum and Bil Cornelius are two strikingly different, yet surprisingly similar pastors. One undertook to revitalize a moribund mainline church; the other, to plant a new nondenominational congregation. Coming from different generations, their ministries took place under dissimilar circumstances. Yet both have experienced substantial, even explosive, growth in congregational mission and membership. Along the way they learned some important lessons, such as the centrality of strong pastoral leadership, the need for an unhesitant pursuit of excellence in all areas of the church's ministry, and the requirement that you picture an audacious vision for your church and live into that vision.
Regardless of the current size of your church, you will find here inspiring, ready-to-implement ideas to help your church go BIG.
THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS THE ZEROS
Seven years ago, a twenty-six year old showed up on Bill E.'s doorstep. "Hi," he said. "My name is Bil Cornelius. I'm starting a church in Corpus Christi, and I need help."
Bill E.'s first reaction was, "Sure. I've been here before." But after a few minutes with Bil C, it was clear that this was a young Christian in whom it was worth investing some time. And so it was. Seven years later, Bay Area Fellowship has over 4,000 people worshiping on an average weekend and has been involved in four church plants.
The problem with most pastors is that they don't dream big enough.
Corpus Christi is not the most logical place for a Protestant megachurch to emerge. It is a city of slightly over 300,000 with roughly 60 percent of the population Catholic. Yet in seven short years Bay Area Fellowship has become the largest Protestant church in the city.
How It All Began
Bay Area Fellowship began as a dream in the heart of Bil Cornelius. Five people gathered in Bil and Jessica's home for the first meeting, where Bil announced boldly, "We're going to be a church of thousands one day." After every core group meeting he would challenge the group members with this vision, "Bring everyone you can." And they did. The group went from five to ten people. Then the group grew from ten to fifteen people. Fifteen might not sound like a lot, but to Bil it seemed huge.
Before long the group grew to twenty people and moved out of the apartment, traveling from home to home. Soon the homes were too small and the group moved into a small storefront. The momentum was gathering and so was the excitement.
When the group reached twenty-five, Bil said to the group, "Alright guys, here's what we're going to do. We're going to spend every dime we've got. We're going to blow it all in one weekend. Let's launch. And let's do this BIG." A few years later the people in that core group would remember these words and rejoice that they had not discounted them due to their small size.
With that the tiny group rented a school and, using a regional marketing company, sent out 70,000 direct mail pieces to homes, something that no church had done before in Corpus Christi. At the same time Bil challenged the core group to bring in at least ten people—each!
We are aware that sending out a direct mail piece in some parts of the country may seem old hat. The point we are making is that in Corpus Christi it had not been done before. The mailing worked because it was a unique mailing piece (often off-the-wall) and it was a unique tactic for the area. So it is incumbent on you as the leader to find whatever will work in your situation. But we encourage you not to blow off direct mail too quickly even if it has been used several times before in your area, because no one throws away a piece of mail without first glancing at it. When they do, they notice the name of the church.
The first Sunday 236 people showed up and Bay Area Fellowship was born. As expected, the next week's attendance dropped to 150 people, but compared to the twenty-five who launched the church, this number appeared awesome to the group!
The church grew from 150 to about 250 people and moved from the elementary school to a junior high for a bigger campus and more parking. Again, the church grew to 400 or 500 people and God opened the door for the church to purchase an old Moose Lodge. It was a piece of junk, but it was their own junk! No longer did the group have to set up and take down each week. Today, it's still junk, but it's a pretty piece of junk.
Over the next three years the church grew an average of 75 percent a year. Today (2005), Bay Area Fellowship averages over 4,000 people and has purchased 100 acres of land and has plans to build an auditorium large enough for it to continue to expand.
Today, the dream of BAF is to commit a million dollars a year to plant ten churches a year, for ten years. And, according to Bil C, it will happen as if it's already a fact.
A Snapshot of Bay Area Fellowship's Growth
1998: Launched with one service at 11:00 a.m.
1999: Added a 9:30 a.m. service and moved to another school late in the year.
2000: Added a Saturday night service at 6:00 p.m. and took away the Saturday night service for the summer.
2001: Moved to new facility and added back Saturday 6:00 p.m. service.
2002: Added a second Saturday night 6:00 p.m. service and new 7:30 p.m. service.
2003: Moved Saturdays up an hour to 5:00 and 6:30 p.m.
2004: Added an 8:30 a.m. service on Sunday and went to 8:30, 10:00, and 11:30 a.m.
2004: Added 8:30 plus a Sunday night video venue 5:00 p.m. and college service 6:30 p.m.
2005: Added another service on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and cancelled the college service 6:30 p.m.
2005: Plans laid to add back the college service.
2006: Added a second site in Kingsville, Texas.
Big Churches Were Once Small Churches
Over the last couple of years, Bay Area Fellowship has been featured in Outreach Magazine and has had extensive news coverage in the city to the point that leaders from all over the U.S. come to BAF to check out how they've accomplished so much in such a short time with so little in the way of resources. Often they will hear someone say, "Yeah, I'd have 4,000 people too if I had a sound/video system like that." Or, "If I had all this space and these seats, our church could be running 4,000 people too." That's a huge mistake. They forget that just six years earlier BAF started with five people in a cramped living room.
Bay Area didn't have all of this equipment and space seven years ago. They started with nothing but a dream, high standards, and few resources (Bil had secured a salary of $30,000 and personally raised another $50,000). But they believed that God would provide whatever they needed when they needed it. Bil C. knew that what was needed most was a big dream.
BAF registers their people's commitments to Christ through the following means:
1. The registration cards that are dropped in the offering plate
2. Decisions made known in membership class
3. Reports to home team leaders
4. Conversations with ministry leaders
The names are then put into the master salvation list for the year. Those who have made a decision receive a congratulatory letter with some "next steps" suggestions. Then BAF tries to quickly get these folks involved in a home team, or a ministry.
Because BAF is in a predominantly Roman Catholic area, baptism is handled with kid gloves. Still, roughly 40 percent of those who make a commitment to Christ are baptized when they register that decision. An estimated 30 percent more are baptized over the next few years.
Don't fall victim to the small-church syndrome and feel that just because you're small you can't aim for quality and excellence. You can, and should! It's God's church and so trust God to provide your every need.
So, grasp this picture right now. Your church can be huge just like a giant oak tree. What you have to understand right now is that at the moment it's a small seed inside your heart. What you have to do is allow it to grow by giving it the right environment. We're going to talk a lot about growing that seed throughout the book. Just remember, if you're called, the seed of a great dream is already there.
Not long ago, Bil C. and Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship in Dallas, Texas, were having a conversation. "Man, you've been busy. I can't imagine your schedule. It's just got to be crazy," Bil C. said. Ed replied, "Bil, I do the same thing you do." "No, you don't," Bil C. replied. "You're Ed Young!" Ed just looked at Bil and he said, "Bil, I'm just a pastor, man. I've got to write a sermon just like you do, raise my kids, and go to staff meetings." And then he said something that made Bil stop in his tracks. He said, "The only difference between me and you is that I have the same problems, I just have more zeros on them."
Think about it. The only difference between a huge church and a small church is the number of zeros. The BAF of today is not much different than the BAF of six years ago. There are just a few more zeros.
Still, people will say, "Well, but you've got all these children's workers and we can't get three." We know. Bil C. remembers when they only needed three for the whole weekend, and then they only needed thirty, and now they need a hundred and thirty! The same is true with money. BAF is still strapped for cash. The offering is still barely enough to be able to pull off what they need to do. That's normal. That doesn't change as a church gets larger. The only thing that changes is the number of zeros.
So don't let size or lack of funds squelch your dream. Instead we want you to dream BIG. You'll always have troubles. They'll never go away. They just have more zeros by them.
But you know what? You cannot become all that God wants you to be unless you have those problems. That's what makes you into the person God intends for you to become. You see, we ask God to grow us into great leaders, but then ask for God to remove the very struggles that will grow us into great leaders. Big dreams will plow right through the struggles.
Remember, as you read through our book, seven years ago this church was nothing more than a dream. Today it is the home to over 4,000 people who worship each Sunday, with over 100 people committing their lives to Christ a month. It can happen in your church too.
What was the last big dream you had? Was it big enough for only God to accomplish? If not, what will it take for you to dream bigger?
What feelings emerged as you read the story of Bay Area Fellowship?CHAPTER 2
A WILD AND CRAZY GOD
Our prayer is that this book will be a turning point in your life and in the history of your church. We hope God will get a hold of you in such a way that you will dream bigger dreams and you will take bigger faith risks and you will step out for God more than you ever have before. So get ready to be challenged to do things you never dreamed you could do. Let God pull you out of your comfort zone and say, "Let's grow, let's do some things we never dreamed we would do." When you follow Christ, he will lead you to a life that challenges the status quo.
Fast Growth Is Biblical and God Expects It Today
Acts 1 and 2 tell us that the early church went from 120 believers to 3,120 believers overnight. But that's not all. Acts 2:47 tells us that "each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved." The number of Christians was growing daily! Acts 4:4 says that many of the people who heard their message believed it, and the number of believers totaled about 5,000 men, not counting women and children. So, how many people are we actually talking about here? Conservative estimates at this point put the number of believers around 20,000. In the first year after Christ's death, the number of believers went from 120 to 20,000. Not only is crazy, go-BIG, huge growth possible, it's biblical and God wants it!
God wants his church to grow because as it grows, so grows the kingdom.
That's the blueprint God gave us. We need to get out of the mind-set that looks suspiciously on churches with large numbers of people. We need to realize that biblical growth has nothing to do with being small.
What's keeping you from asking God to multiply your ministry? Right now, would you just ask God to unleash the dream you have? Would you ask God to help you reach the entire city?
What do you think God is going to say? "No, I don't want to do that"? God wants to do just that. So what's holding God back if we know it's biblical; if we know it's the blueprint that God gives us? We are! But God is just getting warmed up. Acts 5:28 tells us "You have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about Jesus." Acts 6:1 says "The believers rapidly multiplied." It is only now that they use the word rapidly. So from 0 to 20,000 Luke didn't use the word rapidly. Luke says that now that they are warmed up they're really going to start growing. This is crazy, psycho growth. It just went nuts like a wildfire. And that's what God wants to do in your ministry.
God Wants Your Church to Reach the Tipping Point
This wildfire of growth was not over. Acts 21 uses another word in regard to the growth— myriads. That means tens of thousands of believers now in Jerusalem. The number of believers at this point in the story is staggering. Especially when you realize that Jerusalem had only around 55,000 inhabitants at the time. The church in Jerusalem passed within their city and region what Malcolm Gladwell calls the "tipping point." The tipping point occurs when you're pouring a big bucket of water and get to the point where it all gushes out of the bucket seemingly at once.
The time will come for a tipping point in your ministry. That's the kind of growth God wants to give your ministry. It's the heart of God; it's written all through God's word that God wants your church to grow.
Some people might be impressed by Bay Area Fellowship's growth in the last two to three years. But Bil C. isn't. He calls what's happened "stupid growth":
We just show up and it grows. It's not impressive. Neither is going from 4,000 to 7,000 in the next couple years. You know why? Because it didn't take anything strategic to do that, other than space considerations. Strategic growth is when you're running thirty people and asking God to make you into a church of thousands. Strategic church growth is when you say, "Okay God, we have to put the blueprint in place for this thing to go crazy." Right now it doesn't take a lot of strategy; at this point all it takes is more services and more seats. What was difficult was getting our people to understand that they're missionaries in this city and their job is to go reach the people and to continuously put the word out again and again and again and when you put the word out enough, eventually you have an evangelistic explosive tipping point, to where all of a sudden it just goes crazy.
Don't overestimate what you can do in a year or underestimate what you can do in ten or twenty or thirty or forty years. You will hit a tipping point where everyone in your community will know that's the church to attend.
Hitting the tipping point requires years of faithfulness. An overnight success is still about ten years. It takes time, energy, sweat, tears; it is hard work. Don't let anyone tell you that church growth is easy; it's not. Sure, you have to trust God, but you also have to work hard.
The Lead Pastor Is the Stopping Point or the Catalyst
Lead pastor, if your church is not growing, you are the stopping point. If your church is growing, you are the catalyst. It's that simple.
God works through the leaders he raises up rather than through committees.
When God wants to change the world he raises up leaders. God does not change the world by committee. When God wanted to lead the people of Israel into freedom he raised up a leader. When God wanted to help a blind man see again he brought a leader. When God wanted to change people's hearts and lives in Jerusalem, he raised up leaders. When God wanted to change the world in Antioch, he raised up leaders. When God wanted to change the city in Ephesus, he raised up leaders. God works though leaders, not committees.
When God wanted to change your part of the world, he placed you there for such a time as this. We hate to tell you this, but you're it. Start taking responsibility for what God wants you to do with your life.
Every church eventually is a shadow of its leader.
So instead of saying, "Well, if I were in a bigger city," or "If we had more money," or "If I didn't have this bozo on my church board," or "If I could get people to show up," or "If I didn't have this going on," or "If I could just get the right music person." Get over it. Quit making excuses and start being the leader God called you to be!
Leadership is the answer to any problem you have. That's why you're reading this—you want some direction.
So, it's time to take your church and your ministry to the next level. Your church is not going to go to the next level until you do. So you have to be willing to go there. You have to be willing to say, "I want to learn what I need to learn; I want to begin to do this." Ephesians 5:17 says, "Don't act thoughtlessly, but try to understand what the Lord wants you to do." Mark 9:23 says, "Anything is possible if a person believes" (emphasis added). Read that one again out loud. Anything is possible. Do you believe that? Then act upon it.
What is your dream, what do you want to accomplish in your church? It's possible; there's no lid on the possibility of your ministry. The only lid on your ministry is what you choose to put on it.
Acts 15:26 says, "[They] risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ." The reason the early church had such extreme growth and radically changed lives was because the people literally put their lives on the line for God's work to happen. Are you willing to put your reputation on the line for your church? Are you willing to try new things that you know your denomination's not going to be happy with?
Excerpted from Go Big by Bill Easum, Bil Cornelius. Copyright © 2006 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
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Posted August 2, 2011
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