By Carl Stagner
The apostle Paul identifies his role in church growth in 1 Corinthians 3:6—“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth” (NRSV). Since God causes the church to grow, how then can we do our best at planting and watering? Columbia Community Church in Richland, Washington has tripled in attendance in the past four years. In a recent interview with Church of God Ministries, Pastor Mark Barker offered some insights into the practical steps the church took that ultimately led to God’s orchestrating extraordinary growth.
“Everything hinges on God, and we know that. But what did we do on our end?” Barker asks. “When I came in as the pastor here in 2009, we changed a lot of how the church is structured, like the leadership team. It was to the point that if the church needed more copy paper, the board had to approve it. But now it really has become a pastor-driven church—I’m not just talking about me, but I’m talking about the entire staff. The board holds me accountable.”
The church also changed how they conduct board meetings. “Usually a board meeting has representatives of each area of ministry, but these representatives tend to fight for the area they represent. So instead we have what we call the ‘Board of 30,000 Feet.’ They help us to see the vision that the staff has cast and then to cast that vision to the congregation. When we get together, we rotate meeting in the homes of the board members. We first have dinner and devotions before we get into the meeting. So we get together as family and friends first, before we handle business.”
Barker insists that their focus on the unchurched isn’t just talk. “We in the church today say we want to win the lost, but I see that a lot of churches do ministry that is still really geared toward the Christians. The staff meets every Tuesday and asks what the next Sunday looks like through the eyes of a visitor. The song choices, the greeters, the parking lot—what does it look like to a non-Christian? And how did we do last week?”
“So even in our speaking, we want to make sure it makes sense. Though we’re not seeker driven, we are seeker sensitive. So we’ll do Communion, child dedications, baptisms, but we’ll make sure everyone understands what we’re doing before we do it. We explain what child dedication means, what the difference is between that and baptism. We take about three minutes to explain that to them. The average church attendee is tired probably of hearing this all time, but again, we’re not doing it for them.”
Barker explains that the leadership at Columbia Community Church of God implemented several other changes that contributed to a healthier functioning body, as well as to a more outreach-focused mission. They removed the pews, though not because there is anything inherently wrong with pews. The new chairs they purchased allow the worship facility to serve as a multipurpose center. To encourage young families to visit and stay at the church, they increased the size of the children’s ministry area by sacrificing the established offices of the church. Columbia Community Church also conducted a meticulous search of database software until they found Church Community Builder, which Barker reports is 95 percent of what they were looking for. The program allows them to effectively keep track of visitors, first-time givers, scheduling of baptisms, and much more. As a result, they have retained more visitors.
To handle the incredible growth, many churches would opt for relocation or the construction of a bigger building. But Barker had a different idea. Instead of new construction, the church remodeled two other large rooms on the church campus and now offer three worship services at the same time, each with a different worship style. A countdown clock in two of the venues allows worship leaders to time their services up to the point that the teaching begins; the teaching is projected onto large screens. It would have cost several million dollars for new construction, but it only cost $150,000 to offer multiple venues. Columbia Community Church of God is a growing multi-site church that meets at one location!
God continues to produce more and better disciples, not just a crowd. Last year at Colombia Community Church of God, 190 were baptized. On the weekend before Memorial Day this year, the church celebrated the baptism of more than thirty believers.