By: Pastor Tim Estes
The old flatbed farm truck chugged through the pasture, missing on two cylinders. I was riding on the passenger side with the window down as we drove into a 75-acre hay meadow along the river. This was only our second time to meet. We talked about hay, cattle, fishing, and the artifacts we have found along the river. I needed to get back to the office, but something inside me said, “You are doing what I need you to do.” The Holy Spirit had been dealing with me about my personal witness. My new friend was rough, really rough, but I could tell he was lonely and wanted to talk. He confided about his drug addiction brought on by a devastating motorcycle accident. He told me about his divorce, his anger, his social anxiety and of almost giving up on life. In those moments, I felt God recall me to the bedrock reason I had surrendered to ministry many years ago. I was returning to being the church.
Managing a growing church has many demands. Motivating teams, reviewing finances, sermon prep, and much more is quite consuming and necessary to progress. Yet I have discovered one can become so involved accomplishing church work they may forget to do the work of the church, the difference between ‘doing’ and simply ‘being’ the church. Make no mistake, both are essential. But as I heard a wise man once say, “The why must precede the what.”
God has certainly blessed us here in Siloam Springs despite many challenges. One is our overt religious census. We were once in the World Book of Records for having most churches per capita. One of our main streets is even called, Mt. Olive! We are also a transitional church, meaning we have moved from a very conservative paradigm to a grace message. Through God’s favor we are on the cusp of building a new facility that will seat 800 people for His glory!
We have no magic formulas to share, only simple principles that fall in line with the theme of ‘Nuts and Bolts.’ It seems that the progress we have made through the years has largely been due to maintaining a steady hand on the workings of the church, by continually renewing our purpose through prayer, and by remaining tethered to forums with good growth ideology. Although there are many churches who seem to have immediate and explosive success, for which I am grateful, I recall Bill Hybels saying, “There is no shortcut to longevity.” In other words one must position themselves with a passion and a plan to remain planted for a significant tenure in order to establish true, generational success.
Tricia and I have been on staff since 1989 and were elected lead pastors in 1999. Our lowest attendance during transition was 90 people in 2006. We have weathered some storms, but we have witnessed the hand of the Lord continually lead people through our doors to a life-changing experience in Christ. Currently we regularly see 600 plus people walk through our doors on a weekend.
Our evangelistic focus at New Life is multifaceted. Remember Jesus never invited the sinner to church, but He commanded the church to ‘Go’ to the world.
Following are five ways in which we go:
- Go By Giving: We believe the placement of our treasure demonstrates to God the location of our hearts.We intentionally give in three areas.1. To local missions: This includes food pantries, a crisis pregnancy center, shelters, and non-profits that serve the needs of people in our community.2. To national ministries:We give to rehab centers, church plants, children’s shelters, and organizations that support conservative values in our state and in Washington D.C.3. To international missions:I cannot overstate how important it is to involve your church in giving to missional partnerships abroad.We have built churches and drilled water wells in India, built homes in Guatemala and Africa.We will increase this endeavor commensurate with the church growth.
- Go By Serving: Often the gospel is best told without words. To demonstrate the love of Christ with heart and hands, meeting a specific need, is the greatest message of all.We have had serve weeks where we painted, trimmed, built, and planted.Annual community events attract thousands of people to our campus.These acts of kindness sow seeds in our city that we will eventually reap as souls.
- Go By Going: Unless the gospel is mobilized it fails to meet the criteria of evangelism.There is nothing more impactful than for our people to actually go to a foreign field.There are some opportunities out there that are not prohibitive cost-wise.Getting a team to the field is a blessing to the missionary as well as your team.
- Go By Creating Functional Systems: Connecting the unbeliever is challenging and requires an intentional process.We created a ‘Guest Center’ where guests can meet members of our pastoral team after service.We give away a nice gift and serve coffee and sodas.Being intentional with the placement, call and collection of Connect Cards is vital in each service.Also we adopted a four-week class that meets during our regular services for guests to learn more about the church and to answer questions about how and where they may connect to the church.We provide snacks and childcare during every class.The class is well done and highly professional, with nice signage, video inserts and usage of our best leaders.Guests are often intimidated when coming to church and this Growth Track gives them an ‘on-ramp’ to our church family.
- Go By Being: I saved this one until last intentionally.I firmly believe this is the most effective evangelical tool, and the one Jesus both modeled and taught.It is the idea of winning people to Christ on an individual basis.For too long we have defaulted to the concept of the leaders or the pastor winning the lost.According to Ephesians 4:11-12, the pastor is to equip the believers to win other people and to do the care-giving work of the ministry.Everyone should have a personal evangelism project on which they are working!Connect Groups become the ‘net’ for catching lost people.The key is to befriend an unbeliever and first win them to yourself.This will likely require you to go where the sinner is and to get into their world.Eventually you will be able to lead them to salvation.
The drive through the hay meadow in the old truck was a moment for the Lord to speak to me. That day I recommitted to personal evangelism. If I run a smooth religious business operation and fail to win souls with the gospel I have failed. As we extend ourselves, Christ has promised to build His church, adding to it daily such as should be saved.
*originally published in 2017 Destiny Magazine; fall edition
Pastor Tim and Tricia Estes have been married for over 30 years. They are lead pastors of New Life Church in Siloam Springs Arkansas.