This story about evangelism and church growth compares two churches in New York City. Apple Church and Orchard Church are not their real names, but I am familiar with both. They are Christian churches of different denominations.
When the new pastor came to Apple Church 25 years ago there were 350 members. Today there are 370. When the new pastor came to Orchard Church 25 years ago there were 350 members there also. Today there are 5,000. During those 25 years the pastor of Orchard Church taught a course, Evangelism and Church Growth, at a local seminary to members of Apple Church’s denomination. The denomination’s leadership in New York City never took advantage of that. The men and women who took the course were treated as though they were unwanted invaders of an exclusive domain … an area of the church whose gate keepers kept their noses high in the air determined to keep those who are not as educated as we are away from pastoral servant/leader opportunities.
Another difference between the two churches is that many members of Orchard Church are regularly involved in service outside of the church building. They participate in prison ministry, Habitat for Humanity, City Harvest, volunteer at homeless shelters, nursing homes and mentor young people in the community just to name a few.
A small number of Apple Church members are involved with prison ministry and mentoring on their own and are not church sponsored.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf coast in Mississippi and Louisiana and devastated New Orleans in 2005, Orchard Church members traveled to that area to assist. A pastor from New York City (Apple Church’s denomination) took a truck load of donated clothing items down to help folks in Mississippi. Other members of Apple Church’s denomination in New York City made one trip to the area to assist in the cleanup and recovery effort. Only one member of Apple church volunteered to go. Prior to Katrina, members of Orchard Church had been helping with cleanup and restoration from previous storms in hard hit areas like Galveston, Texas as well as Louisiana and Mississippi. They rarely met anyone else from New York City. Yet the work they were doing was under the auspices of Apple Church’s denomination.
Members of Orchard Church are frequently out in their own and other communities serving and leading. Here is what I believe happens in the field. Let’s say it’s Habitat for Humanity NYC. Volunteer groups are fixing up houses damaged by Superstorm Sandy. A conversation between two volunteers meeting for the first time might go like this:
Volunteer, Carl, puts his hammer down and looks over at volunteer, Dave.
Carl: “Hi, I’m going to get some water. Can I bring you a bottle?”
Dave: “Oh, Yes. Thanks.”
Carl returns and hands Dave the water.
Carl: “My name is Carl, by the way.”
Dave: “I’m Dave. I’m with the Uptown Volunteer Association. What organization are you with?”
Carl: “I’m with Orchard Church.”
Dave: “Oh? Where is your church?”
Carl: “We are at 972 Elm Street at the corner of Maple Avenue.”
Dave: “Hmmm, maybe I’ll come worship there some Sunday.”
Carl: “Well Dave, worship service is at 10:00 AM. I’ll be looking for you and I’ll make sure you get a bottle of cold water.”
Dave laughs and says: “Thanks buddy.”
Carl was careful to give Dave the exact location of the church and the time of the worship service. There was no preaching. There were no questions like, “Do you know Jesus?” Carl jots down Dave’s name on a card and put it in his wallet. He looked at the card every Sunday and said a prayer for Dave. One Sunday Dave came to worship and was welcomed by his new buddy. That’s a way of doing evangelism which leads to church growth.
When you are out doing God’s work, your presence is your witness. “Can I bring you a bottle of water?” is more evangelistic than, “Do you know Jesus?”
Every church has good stuff going on and not so good stuff going on. Church membership in Apple Church’s denomination has declined over the past 25 years. But membership at Apple Church has not. Apple has some good stuff going on after all.
“How can we serve more people in the community, the nation and the world?,” is an essential question every church should ask. Most churches ask the question, “How can we get more people to come to our church?” Carl would have never met Dave at a church committee meeting. When you are going from committee meeting to committee meeting you don’t get to meet non-church folks and invite them to your church.
The increase in Orchard Church membership is a consequence of members having an evangelism and servant attitude. They weren’t out trying to build up the membership. They are out trying to improve the living condition of others. <><