Growing up the son of an evangelist in a family of evangelists, I guess you can say that church growth is a family business. As a child, evangelism wasn’t optional. I participated in every aspect of church growth. It was mostly a positive experience. (I’m sure if you asked 16-year-old Richie, he might say otherwise.) But, even during those years when it was the last thing I wanted to be involved in, I could not deny the transformative work of the Holy Spirit through the uplifting of Jesus Christ through personal and public evangelism. I’ve seen so many lives changed, even my own, as a result. This is why I consider it the greatest privilege to serve the Southern Union as director of church growth and revitalization. My greatest desire and goal is to see a thriving church of mission and compassion transforming lives, communities, and the world.
This has always been God’s goal for His people. Throughout Scripture, we hear God telling His creation to be fruitful and multiply. We first hear it in Genesis 1:28 to Adam and Eve, and then repeated to Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s sons, Moses, and Israel. God is constantly reminding His people of their calling to be fruitful and multiply. “I will bless you so that you can be a blessing to the world around you,” Genesis 12:2. Centuries later, changing the wording a little, but essentially saying the same thing, Jesus calls the disciples and says, “I will make you fishers of people,” Matthew 4:19 NIV.
God’s desire for His Church is the same for us today: to be fruitful and multiply. Those two words capture the essence of the Southern Union’s Department of Church Growth and Revitalization. We want to support our great conferences in bringing revitalization to our established churches (fruitfulness) and to facilitate the planting of new ones (multiply).
First, let’s talk about revitalization. In John 15:8, Jesus says, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be My disciples.” We have some incredible churches in the Southern Union. But, the reality is even the best, most healthy churches plateau over time. Statistically, most churches in America are either plateaued or declining. Our goal is to support our churches through the process of revitalization — reversing the decline, and leading to greater fruitfulness. We help facilitate this through a series of ways, such as coaching, organizational health assessments, leadership development, weekend revivals, and church growth training and resources. Every church and community is unique, and we want to develop an approach that factors in that uniqueness, playing to our strengths and addressing areas of needed growth. In John 15:2, we read, “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
One of our major initiatives is our revitalization campaign. This is an 8- to 9-month program that coaches area churches through the full cycle of revitalization, from casting a vision of mission to providing quality content and training to reach their community better. This all leads up to a dynamic reaping series entitled “Darkness Will Not Overcome.” This year we’ve been blessed to organize and execute three revitalization campaigns in Raleigh, North Carolina; Clinton, Mississippi; and Sarasota, Florida, and God has blessed in a mighty way. We have major revitalization initiatives planned for 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia; Montgomery, Alabama; Fort Myers, Florida; and Asheville, North Carolina.
We are also developing a revitalization cohort that will provide hands-on training for a select small group of pastors and lay leaders each year. The training will be composed of four two-day modules that will take them through the entire process of revitalization. These modules will be facilitated by myself and a team of effective practitioners speaking to a variety of topics necessary for revitalization. We have also started a YouTube channel to provide resources, inspiration, and best practices, as well as a newsletter that will keep you updated on area training, events, and opportunities. We’ve just touched the surface and are excited to see how God will continue guiding and bringing revitalization to our churches and communities.
The second major area my department serves in is to support and facilitate church planting in the Southern Union (multiply). Not only do we want to reverse the decline of established churches, but we need to plant new ones. Throughout the New Testament, we see the necessity of church planting. Church planting wasn’t one of the many ways they spread the Gospel; it was the way.
Our department is dedicated to helping church planting multiply today. We are here to support our conferences and churches in a variety of ways, from consultation and coaching to church planting training and resources. North America Division Evangelism Institute Seeds Vision conference and ACTS church planting cohort are essential training opportunities we facilitate and would love to see expand even more in our territory.
Church planting is vital not only to reaching the unreached, but in discipling those we have. Too often people are baptized into membership and sat on the sidelines instead of being sent to the frontlines of the mission. Church planting forces us to disciple, grow, pray, build relationships, empower leaders, and do evangelism like nothing I’ve ever seen.
This year we’ve been blessed to see many churches and companies added to our Union. Also, in collaboration with the General Conference, North American Division, and local conferences, we’re currently giving financial assistance to 27 new church plants. I praise God for what He is doing in the Southern Union. However, to sufficiently reach the rapidly increasing population in our territory, we need to increase our church planting significantly. Churches, like people, have natural lifespans. And, unless we start planting new ones, we’re not just talking decline but extinction. Yes, our God can and does perform resurrections. However, new birth is the preferred method of multiplying the mission.
I believe Jesus is returning soon, but if it is another 100 years before He does, I want to make sure my grandchildren and their children still have a church to call home — community that will love, disciple, and send them out into the world. If we want to pass on the mission to the next generation, it won’t be with bigger churches but a bigger movement of church planting. God has called us to be fruitful and multiply. Regardless of how difficult it may seem for the church to go from declining to thriving in our world today, I know God can do it.
One of the things I noticed as I was studying is God’s calling and command to be fruitful and multiply was often given to people who seem unable to have children. We see it with Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Ruth, Samson’s mother, Hannah, and Elizabeth, to name a few. However, in each case, God performed a miracle, fulfilling His promise, and blessing them with children who became great leaders and deliverers of Scripture. However, these just pointed forward to the ultimate miraculous birth of Jesus Christ. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in Me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing,” John 15:5 ESV. God wants us to know no matter how rough things look, He can take something from dying to multiplying, from surviving to thriving. No matter how impossible things may seem, our God can do the impossible. No matter how barren things may seem — the entire Bible is about God blessing the barren and turning it into a movement of multiplication. The enemy is going to do everything in his power to keep the church from being fruitful and multiplying — “The dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it,” Revelation 12:4 ESV. But the good news, the message of Christmas, is that, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” John 1:5 ESV. Because of the ultimate miraculous birth of Jesus Christ, we can’t help but be fruitful and multiply. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit,” John 12:24.
I believe our best, most fruitful days are ahead of us. I believe we’re at the beginning of a great movement of multiplication that will reach the world with the Gospel and usher in the return of our Lord Jesus — this time not as a baby in a manger but as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. I am honored to serve the Southern Union in this role and look forward to partnering with you in finishing the work entrusted to us.
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Southern Union | December 2022