Pastors' Forum


Evolution of Ministry

How are you doing ministry different than you were ten years ago? How has your style and structure changed with time? How do you see your ministry changing in the next ten years? Do you have a succession plan in place, and if so, what is it?


Pastor Sam Smucker – Lancaster, PA
When we pioneered our church 33 years ago, we had fast growth for the first 20 years and then we hit a plateau. After not growing and starting to decline for several years, I got my team together and we evaluated everything including our style of ministry. We realized we needed to connect better with our culture and that we were not ministering effectively in a relevant way.

We have not changed our beliefs in The Word of God. We are doing our weekend services in a more purposeful way. We have a service planning meeting each week where we review the previous weekend and plan for the coming weeks. I plan my message series 4 to 6 months in advance. I am always open to making last minute changes as The Holy Spirit directs. We use more sermon helps such as video clips, short dramas, and recorded or live interview testimonies in our messages. We are now seeing our congregation grow again. I also brought some younger men and women on staff and on our board of directors. I am 63 years old and I am concerned about reaching the emerging generations.

We are seeing many new young families and singles coming to the church, which is awesome. My goal for the future years is to stay updated as a church and do our best in reaching people where they are.

This year I will begin working on a 5-7 year succession plan. I have several individuals in mind to succeed me, but I don’t know which one is the one yet. I will put together a team to help me prayerfully put together a succession plan.

Pastor Stan Saunders – Chillicothe, MO
I discovered years ago, after much frustration, my mission as a pastor. For many years, I whipped and drove people to hook up with my vision for the church. I believed my job was to recruit people and money to support the vision God gave me for the church. This put much pressure on the people and on me. I believe that this drove people away from the church and from me.  I later discovered my mission is to help people discover the vision God has for their lives. Vision is the picture God shows a person about their future that causes them to become passionate. The Lord gave me a vision of a community of Christ-followers doing the works of Christ in our everyday lives and developing ministries to bless people. Too often in the past, our church members thought they needed me to assign them duties, give my approval to their ideas, or grant them permission before they would do anything. Without realizing or intending so, I was limiting growth in our people and in our church. I now believe the only permission people really need is found in the pages of their Bibles. People do not need my approval to do the Bible!

Ten year ago, the style of our church was much more radical than today. Now, our services are more mainstream, much more reflective of the personality of our community. We reach people from every demographic group in our community. We had to change style to do so. I do not believe we have compromised doctrinally as we have changed our approach. We simply eliminated unnecessary distractions. We reach people from every denominational background, from Amish to Catholic, from Baptist to United Pentecostal, and many others. Our services are much shorter than ten years ago, from around two hours down to about 70-75 minutes. We change the look and sound of the services often. Change is the spice of life. My preaching is much tighter. I focus on one thing each message. I ask myself when preparing each message, “What one thing do I want people to remember; and what one thing do I want them to do about it?” This method has increased my effectiveness by about 50% in my estimation.

The changes in the next ten years will come about in the same manner they have during the past ten years. Our leadership team constantly discusses how we need to make our church younger. While we are getting older, we must force ourselves to have a younger appeal. Our church will become old and obsolete unless we purposefully reach down to the next generation. We will continue to make our church kid-friendly.

At 48 years old, I do not have a succession plan in place yet. We do have a procedure in place in the case of my untimely death or moral failure to search for my replacement.

Pastor Thom Fields – Kennewick, WA
I believe that it is paramount for the Church to recognize the changing face of our culture. It is my opinion that we can change the method without changing the message, if we’re willing to work at it. We are very much a “Word of Faith Church,” even though we are completely Independent. We worship in spirit and in truth, teach faith, pray in tongues and heal the sick. We also sing one song, set a five minute timer and share a bottle of water and a cup of coffee during two of our three weekend services (by the time we reach our third service we are just too tired of cleaning up after the people!). I am extremely aggressive when it comes to addressing God-life and how we choose to live as followers of Christ. We’re a long way from perfect, but we’re seeing great results. My daddy would be proud of us…as soon as he got over being totally freaked out by how we do church!

Leading a growing congregation demands that attention be giving to the dramatic cultural changes that are taking place within our society. It isn’t always necessary that the Church react to every individual bent of a society, but it is vital that the relevant Church be fully aware of these shifts.

In a recent demographic study, I read some very interesting information that stated that today’s culture, for example, considers themselves to be totally committed to a local church if they attend at least one or two services per month. In the same study, it was stated that a majority of responders also consider themselves committed attenders, even though they did not attend services at “the same church” every month. In other words, they attend several churches and are not truly loyal to any one church in particular.

Whether or not we agree with these mindsets (which I don’t!) is not the bottom line issue. The issue is that this current culture thinks along these lines and to be effective we must understand their thought patterns. Understanding these and other cultural beliefs has greatly impacted the way we “do church” at The Garden. We are NOT a seeker-friendly church; however, we choose to grapple with these issues in our attempt to lead people towards true spiritual growth. We’ve elected to tackle some of these belief systems head-on by teaching a series I developed called “The God Challenge.” In this series I challenge the people in four basic areas of Church Life. I pound in the idea that the culture that is being built at the garden is one where we have committed to: Church Attendance—Tithing—Daily Prayer—and Daily Bible Reading. We also explain that the process of our church is to move people from connected to committed and then from committed to completed.” We then work to move them from completed to compelling. We are attempting to change the way our local society thinks about and values the Church. It’s hard work, but it’s paying off. Attendance at our church is on the upswing. We continue to see new people visit, but we’re also seeing an increase in the weekly attendance of our regular members.

We’ve relaxed the dress code at the garden to fit in better with our local culture. We just don’t see many people anywhere in town doing business in suits and ties, so we elected to stop wearing them at church, as well. Our worship style is as contemporary as I can handle it, realizing that in order to attract the younger generation we’re going to have to offer something that seems relevant to their generation.

Our service times are another area where we’ve invested great discipline. After MUCH prayerful consideration, we’ve come to realize that people who are achieving greatness in life WILL NOT allow you to waste their time. So we “make the most of time” by conducting each of our three services within a 90 minute timeframe. God continues to move, lives are changed, and people are motivated to grow. We have refused to soften on the issues of the Word or the moving of the Holy Spirit. We had a healing service just a couple of weekends ago and had over 50 instantaneous healings in our three services—but we still push to end the service “on time.” We’ve learned that people in this area simply disconnect after a certain period of time and when we go too long it costs us our effectiveness.