Three Western Arkansas Churches Reveal Growth Strategies

Pastors, staff, board members, and church members of three Christian churches in the cities of Van Buren and Fort Smith, Arkansas discuss strategies for church growth in the 21st century. Pastor Kevin Hardcastle from The Current outreach church in Van Buren, Pastor Clint Trentham from the Calvary Assembly of God church in Fort Smith, and Pastor Patrick Kimberland from Butterfield Church in Van Buren, along with their staff, explore numerous church growth plans that they believe will help church leaders of any size congregation.

Pastor Kimberland Sunday Morning Message
Pastor Patrick Kimberland preaching a Sunday morning sermon. Photo taken by Christian Journalist, Kendee Hughes (2015).

Pastor Clint Trentham explains, “There are two main aspects of church growth, physical and spiritual. The two go hand-in-hand.” Trentham has served in the ministry for more than 20 years total, initially as a youth pastor, and as a credentialed Assemblies of God minister for the past nine years.

“Healthy church growth is not only numbers, but it happens when we all grow in Christ, “ stated Hardcastle, Pastor of The Current. This church was birthed out of a need for an outreach ministry to individuals and families who were homeless and might not attend church otherwise. The first service was held in 2009 under the I-540 bridge that crosses from Van Buren into Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Current has grown tremendously and runs between 175-200 people on Sunday mornings. They have also opened up a second location in Fort Smith.

Pastor Hardcastle studying before message
Pastor Kevin Hardcastle of the Current Outreach Church in Van Buren, Arkansas studies the word of God before service. Photo taken by Christian Journalist, Kendee Hughes (2015).

In David S. Lim’s article (2004), “A Missiological Evaluation of David Yonggi Cho’s Church Growth,” he explained that the emphasis of church growth is not on biological growth or physical growth, but on conversion growth. The main means of increasing membership in Cho’s church stemmed from ongoing programs for evangelism and discipleship in the church.

“Having people involved in different ministries is a key component to keeping the life of the church vibrant,” stated Children’s Pastor Michell Drummond. Drummond and her husband, Jimmy, have been in full-time ministry for the past five years, and have volunteered for various ministries for 15 years prior.

Youth have fun for STL fundraiser
Anthem Student Ministries at Butterfield Church hosts a fun paint night to raise money for Speed the Light Ministries. Youth members plaster each other with paint. Photo taken by Christian Journalist, Kendee Hughes (2015).

In an article by Elmer L. Towns, The Relationship of Church Growth and Systematic Theology, he stated that church growth is defined as being scientific in nature; its scope is Christian churches; it is related to the implementation of the great commission; and it combines eternal theological principles with insights from contemporary social and behavioral sciences.”

According to this group of pastors and church staff, there are five main concepts that comprise a solid, foundational church growth model. However, each pastor agrees that although this model provides a basis for pastors of stagnant or dying churches, there is no one size fits all model for church growth and church ministry. Each pastor confirmed that these five concepts are vital to building a healthy and a growing church.

  1. Prayer
  2. Outreach
  3. Discipleship
  4. Clear Vision Casting and Buy-In
  5. Family-Oriented Programs/Activities

Prayer

Although each pastor’s experience with church growth is unique, they all agree that laying a solid foundation for physical, spiritual and financial growth begins with prayer. According to a dissertation by GeunBae Hwang, Sang Ho Kim, co-pastor of Danhan Presbyterian Church in South Korea, he stated that, “a church must be equipped with worship, discipleship, evangelism, and prayer in order to grow.”In the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, Psalm 145:18 says, “The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.”

In his article, Church Growth and Evangelism in the Book of Acts, former church consultant, Thom S. Rainer wrote, “Prayer was the primary weapon of the early church because the followers knew their battle was not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Rainer is President of Lifeway Christian Resources and is the author of twenty-four books dealing with the health of the Christian church.

Women praying before service
Two women pray before a Friday night church service at the Current Outreach Church in Van Buren, Arkansas. Photo taken by Christian Journalist, Kendee Hughes (2015).

Pastor Ryan Rose, Associate Pastor at the Calvary Assembly of God church, reinforced that “prayer remains the only facet of church growth that knows no physical, spiritual or financial boundaries.” Rose has been in the ministry for 10 years, and been part of churches that have experienced high levels of growth, those that have plateaued, and those that were stagnant. “The thing that prayer helps us do is stay fresh and keeps us from getting stagnant,” stated Pastor Kimberland, who has been in the ministry since 1989 as a lead pastor and evangelist. He has spent the last three years at Butterfield Church in Van Buren, Arkansas. Kimberland became an ordained minister for the Assemblies of God in 1992.

Community Outreach/Missions

In addition to prayer, these leaders agree that community outreach and missions should be one of the top priorities for church growth. Rose suggested that both spiritual and physical growth require the church to reach out to those who are hurting and those who are lost, and supply them with love, hope and mercy of Jesus Christ through salvation.

When churches reach out to the community, they should also experience greater ethnic diversity in the church, according to statistics from a study by Hartford Seminary in 2005. In the article, “Church growth keys: Multiracial, happy, more males active” (2007), the author describes one of the key growth factors as becoming multiracial. The Hartford Institute for Religion Research at Hartford Seminary reports, “Multiracial congregations had a better chance of growing than those predominantly consisting of one racial group. Some sixty-one percent of multiracial churches said they had experienced growth, while just thirty-one percent of predominantly Anglo congregations said the same.”

Discipleship

The third concept these pastors believe to be a crucial aspect of church growth is to engage congregations through discipleship programs. Church growth cannot be maintained without proper discipleship programs that meet the specific needs of the congregation. For example, church leaders must know the demographics of the church, and tailor activities and ministries that will meet the needs of that group of people. Without engaging services, ministries, and activities, churches will lose members.

Inspire Drama Team members practice
I.N.S.P.I.R.E. Drama team members practice for their human video performed at Butterfield Church on Sunday, August 30, 2015. Photo taken by Christian Journalist, Kendee Hughes (2015).

Authors and researchers, Stark and Fink (2000) contend in their article, “Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion” that church members are more likely to pay higher commitment costs for greater rewards. Members will likely commit more time, money, and other resources when they believe the rewards are worth more than the costs. According to an article by the Pew Research Center, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, from 2007 at 78.4% to 2014 at 70.6%, the number of adults in America who associate themselves with the Christian faith decreased by more than eight percent. Rainer explained in his article, “The Number One Reason for Church Decline in Church Attendance,” that church membership means less to people, and consequently commitment dwindles.

Kevin Dougherty suggested in his article (2004), “Institutional Influences on Growth in Southern Baptist Congregations,” that high levels of participation promote congregational growth. Active engagement by members confirms a sense of belonging.

Clear Vision Casting and Buy-In

In addition to prayer, outreach, and discipleship, congregational buy in to the pastor’s vision plays a vital role in the process of church growth and unity.

“In order to keep a sense of unity in the church body, the members must buy in to the vision that God has given to the pastor,” stated Kimberland.

Australian e-journal of Theology published an article (2014), “Churches with a Vision for the Future: A Profile of the Baptist Union of Victoria,” and founded that a solid commitment to the vision, goals or directions of the church is directly associated with physical growth.

In an article by Dr. Richard J. Krejcir, he commented, “Do not just copy your vision from another church. You, the leaders, and then the church must go through the honing process. The vision must fit your church and neighborhood. This makes every vision unique in character, even though the words and principles may be similar.”

Family-Oriented Programs/Activities

The final element of developing a healthy and a growing church, according to these pastors, is to offer ministries, activities, and programs applicable to all age groups.

Trentham said, “Families with young children need access to a great nursery and children’s program. You need strong families to build a strong church.”

BC Kids await their turn to take up a mission's offering for BGMC at Butterfield Church. Photo taken by Christian Journalist, Kendee Hughes (2015).
BC Kids await their turn to take up a mission’s offering for BGMC at Butterfield Church. Photo taken by Christian Journalist, Kendee Hughes (2015).

An article published by Charism.info, a Christian website providing resources for churches and church leaders, stated, “Specialized ministries and activities should be provided for every area (age group and interest group). In general, the local church should be like a spiritual oasis, attracting people to its activities.”

Along with physical and spiritual growth, church leaders must also learn to manage financial aspects of growth as well. Butterfield Church’s Treasurer of the Board, Ross Baldwin, explained the importance of evaluating trends in attendance and tithing for future church growth.

He said, “A lot of times, tithing can be seasonal. For instance, in the summer months it might wane a little bit. In order to reach out into the community, tithes and offerings are key. You must have cash flow in order to put that money toward outreach, missions and future church growth.”

Baldwin works as the Director of Finance at the University of Arkansas Alumni Association in Fayetteville, Arkansas and has worked in the accounting field for the past ten years.

Rose offered this statement, “God wants churches to grow. He wants us to assemble with one another. Powerful things can happen from there on the inside and outside of the church walls. Hebrews 10:25 says, ‘Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.’”

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