Thursday, September 26, 2013

No Secrets: Growing the Church

No Secrets:  Growing the Church

The church continued to grow.  New space was added to make room for growth.  We completely covered the old metal building.  We added Sunday School rooms, a receding choir loft, restrooms, and a semicircle altar across the front.  Walls were extended, hardwood floors were elevated, and new pews replaced the old.  The house beside the church was rented for Sunday School rooms and used as a social hall.  As the church grew and new people were added, we were able to build a multi-purpose building on the back of the existing lot.  

"How," you ask, "did you grow?"  At Trevecca, ministerial studies students were assigned a whole city block and required to visit every home, read a scripture, share Christ and have prayer.  Before we left, we invited them to the church we attended or one near them.  We had to report the results of every home we visited.  This was one of the most valuable lesson I learned and I put it into practice in the new pastorate.

I knocked on doors everywhere.  If I saw children out playing, I stopped and invited them to church. When someone didn't have transportation, I would pick them up.  Some of the people I visited, had very little.  Jesus instructed us to go in the highways and byways and bring them in.  I found that my heart was filled with compassion for the poor and the needy.  I couldn't ignore my call to reach the people for whom Jesus died.  I wanted them to know that love.

I purposed in my heart to reach all people.  To grow a church, we must have a genuine love for all people regardless of their social status and get to know them where they are.  The best way to get to know them is through personal contact in the home, in their place of business and their leisure.  I believe that building relationships is the best way to win a person to the Lord.  I have gone fishing with many men, developed a friendship and later had the opportunity to share Jesus. 

The first year, we averaged 58 in Sunday School.  The next year, 95 and the next year, 118.  We had continual growth.  I can not take the credit.  Our teachers took their responsibilities seriously. They visited their absentees and wrote notes of encouragement.  They reached out to people who didn't go to church anywhere.  Most important, they loved.  

With growth, there is change.  Change is not always easy, but inevitable and necessary for growth to continue.  People will not continue to attend church if there is no place to sit comfortably.  We must expand if we are to grow.  The only time in the first 25 years that we did not show growth was when we had outgrown our facilities and had nowhere to house the people.

New families and with new children and babies 
were added to the church.

Reflections from Doris

Emory's compassion for people showed up in everything he did.  When he and I visited in a home and saw a need, God would put it on our hearts to meet that need.  Once while visiting a home with four little girls, I went to town and bought cloth, lace and buttons and went home and started sewing.  In a few days, they were the prettiest girls in the church.

When our oldest daughter, Bonnie was in the first grade, I saw a little girl standing beside the radiator with a frayed, dirty dress.  Her sweater had holes in the elbows.  She had "run-over" shoes and no socks.  Her hair was dirty and matted and had not been combed.  I asked her mom if she could go home from school with Bonnie the next day. Putting her in a bathtub of warm, soapy water, I cleaned her up, washed her hair, and wrapped her in a nice, soft towel.  I put her on one of Bonnie's dresses and she was so pretty and proud.  I sent three more dresses home with her.

Emory loved the elderly.  He never refused to eat a meal when offered even with a low tolerance for odors and a weak stomach.  Sanitation and running water was not installed in the poorest of homes.  Many times he would eat a meal and make it to the car just in time to throw it all up.  I teased him that's the reason he stayed in a size 29 slacks for so many years.  

We were once asked to do the funeral of a small child.  The home had a missing step and the rest were rickety.  I almost fell in the door. There were no screens on the doors and windows.  The heat was unbearable. Many times the bodies were brought home for viewing.  When we went to look at the child, we saw flies crawling all over her eyes and mouth.  It was hard for us to believe that people lived like this. Emory felt like it was his calling to visit the poor and down-trodden.  His stomach was weak but his heart was willing.

As we grew, we added new classes.  I started a Young Adult Sunday School class and we named it "Christian Workers," and they stood behind the name.  This busy group of young adults invited friends and families to come.  As they married and had children, new classes were formed and the church continued to grow.

"Love the Lord your God will all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself."  Jesus said these were the most important commandments.  When we love God with our entire being, that love extends to others.  Without both, you can not grow a church.

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