Pastor’s Column: Small Town Church Reaches 5-County Region, Doubling Attendance in Five Years
This is the third part of our “Growing and Thriving Rural Churches” Series
Small Town Church Doubles Attendance in 5 Years
Over 1,200 people attended our five Easter services this year. What makes this unusual is that we are a church in a community of 6,700 people. Over the past five years we have seen our church more than double in attendance, with 120-180 people per year choosing to put their trust in Christ. Currently people from a 5-county area drive to be part of our worship services. God is at work at Cornerstone Church in Litchfield!
We periodically are asked why these things are happening. The first answer is “God is doing it.” That’s true, but it’s not very helpful. Maybe a better answer is to talk about how we think God is doing it. To do that, we need to look briefly at the history of the church.
Cornerstone Church was started in 1952 and originally named First Baptist Church. They were part of the Baptist General Conference, which is now called Converge. Over the decades they saw moderate growth – sometimes more, sometimes less.
God’s Calling for a Regional Church
In the 1990’s, believing that God was calling First Baptist to be a regional church, the church board put together a 25-year plan which involved several components:
- Phase One: Re-defining who they were – this would involve building a new building, re-naming the church as Cornerstone, choosing to be a church of prayer, outreach, and evangelism; focusing primarily on reaching people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s (as well as people in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s who want to reach people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s).
- Phase Two: Deepening foundations – this would involve both deepening the spiritual life of the congregation through effective Bible teaching, intentional leadership training, and small groups, as well as identifying and designing systems and structures for doing ministry well.
- Phase Three: Multiplication – this would involve planting satellite campuses and also being a resource for rural and small town churches.
God has blessed these efforts and Cornerstone is currently transitioning from Phase Two to Phase Three. We have already begun supporting other rural churches – both in the US and overseas – and are looking to plant our first satellite campus by 2018.
Cornerstone Church’s Growth Strategy
While the 25-year plan identifies our intentions, there are some other dynamics that shape our strategy:
- Prayer: We pray often. Our staff meets for prayer every morning before starting the work day. A men’s prayer group meets at 6 am on Mondays to pray for the church, the community, the area, and the world. A women’s group does the same at 9 am on Wednesdays. Two prayer times start the day on Sundays – one at 6 am, and one at 7:30 am. In addition to that, attenders have the opportunity to write down confidential prayer requests and submit them for the staff. Once a week we meet and pray for 100-150 prayer requests.
- Welcome: We welcome people as they are. Our greeters understand that they may be giving someone the first kind word they have heard all week. Our people who are gifted in hospitality and connecting are free to roam the atrium and simply connect with people who are checking us out. We do not have a dress code, we do not engage in inside jokes, we explain what we are going to do… and then we do it. We want people to feel appreciated and loved. The best way to do that is to actually appreciate them and love them (This even extends to providing a cigarette disposal container right outside the front doors for those grabbing a last puff before they come in). We help in tangible ways through our Hope Ministries (benevolent) but we tie that help to sharing the gospel and discipling people as we have the opportunity.
- Worship: We work to create a quality worship experience. We define excellence as doing the best we can do with the resources we have. We don’t try to be like anyone else. We try to be the best that we can be. We work hard to create experiences that people can engage in – utilizing music, reading, videos, and guided prayer. Our goal is for people to experience God in our worship services.
- Kids: We value children and encourage families to worship together. We also offer children’s ministry that is fun, educational, fun, creative, fun, and biblical (Did I mention fun?) Since we are reaching out to people in their 20’s, 30’s and 40’s, our ministry to children and families has to be good.
- Word: I have a tag line I like to use: “At Cornerstone Church we will always open the Bible, read it, and talk about it. It’s what we do.” Teaching is focused on explaining biblical truth and applying biblical principles in language that a 12-year-old can understand. We have found that it is not content, but rather grammar and vocabulary, that keeps people with little or no Bible knowledge from understanding the sermon. This means that no topic is off limits, and no teaching is too deep. Quite often people (both those who are fairly new to Christ and those who have known him for decades) say: “I understood that. It made total sense.” We also encourage people to be part of a small group, where they can apply what they have been learning about God in a more intimate context.
A Church of Real People, Real Teaching
I often ask people why they have chosen to be part of Cornerstone.
Six years ago people told me “It’s so friendly.”
Four years ago people began telling me that they loved the children’s ministry.
Three years ago they were saying, “It’s the Bible teaching.”
Most recently people have been saying just two words:
Paul Jorgensen is the Lead Teaching Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Litchfield, MN.