March 15, 2016 Tony Morgan

How Harvest Church Is Bucking the Trend of Decline: Fast-Growing UMC Churches (Part 2)

I recently reviewed the 2016 edition of top 25 fastest growing large United Methodist churches in the U.S. The Unstuck Group and I have worked with four of the churches on this list. I reached out to those pastors to learn why their churches are growing despite an overall trend of decline in the UMC. Last week I shared an interview with Pastor Bryan Collier at The Orchard in Tupelo, MS.

Here’s the second interview in this series:

Harvest Church in Warner Robins, Georgia
Pastor Jim Cowart

Harvest Church

TONY: There’s been a lot of talk lately about how even committed Christians attend weekend services less often. Are you experiencing that at Harvest? If so, why is Harvest still seeing strong growth over the last five years?

JIM: We are feeling that trend, too. When I was growing up, you just went to church every Sunday. That was the “average.” Today, it seems some folks will attend once a month (or less) and still have the feeling they are an active, “average” attender.

We don’t fuss at people for this or try to make them feel guilty for missing. We just try to make it a reality that if you miss a Sunday, you’ve missed something good! We try to accomplish this in several ways.

  1. We want sermons to be Biblical and very applicable to people. So, we go to great lengths to ask and answer the questions, “Why is this important?” and “What do I do with this information…at my office, school, and home?”  
  2. We try to have great Children’s Ministry. We want our kids to serve as “little irritating missionaries” on Sunday mornings! Begging their parents to take them to Harvest.  
  3. Service/Ministry is a big deal in our culture. We have the philosophy of “Work One, Worship One,” which means we want our people to “work one service” by being on a ministry team and then to worship in one service. We even have a requirement in our Membership Commitment that a person activates their membership by joining a Ministry Team.

TONY: How do you and your team measure church health?  

JIM: In churches where I grew up and even later served on staff, meetings were often equated with doing ministry…and they are just not the same. We’ve simplified our expectations of membership at Harvest.  We want our members to do three things consistently.  

  1. Attend a worship service
  2. Be on a ministry team
  3. Be in a community group  

These aren’t magic, but if someone is active in these three areas, we think there is a good chance for spiritual growth and health for the individual and the church.

TONY: How would you encourage pastors who are experiencing a trend of lower average worship attendance?

JIM: I think most churches do too much — meetings, programs, etc. It’s good to simplify and focus. Sometimes we need to stop some things we are currently doing and start some new things. Not more new programs, but new strategies, structures, and ways of doing ministry.

I’m a wannabe cowboy, and an old saying that applies to a lot of churches is, “If your horse is dead…dismount!” If it’s not working anymore, you probably need a new horse.

 

Photo Credit: United Global Group

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Tony Morgan

Tony is the Chief Strategic Officer and founder of The Unstuck Group, theunstuckgroup.com. For 14 years, Tony served on the senior leadership teams at West Ridge Church (Dallas, GA), NewSpring Church (Anderson, SC) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He's written several books and articles that have been featured with the Willow Creek Association, Catalyst and Pastors.com.
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