Since we scheduled the interview for Sunday afternoon, I had the opportunity to visit the church Bob pastors, Morning Star Baptist, that morning. Rockford is a funny town. Look at a map of how the town was designed and you'll see that the growth has been massively lopsided over the years to the eastern side, which isn't too surprising since Chicago is about an hour to the east. I noticed this lopsidedness as I drove by hundreds if not thousands of acres of corn fields on my way to the township hall far to the west side of town where the church meets. Since it's a township hall, they don't have their own signage. No PR campaign either, unless you count Bob preaching on a couple area radio stations, but the sermons he preaches are more likely to incite complaints from pluralists than to attract crowds. Contemporary music? Far from it. The only musical instrument in the building was an organ. Need I say more? Oh, and the final growth killer: church discipline. Bob didn't wear it as a feather in his cap, but the fact that Morning Star practices it came up almost by accident in our conversation.
So MSBC is way out on the wrong side of town, with no signs, no ads, no CCM, and painful church discipline, and I didn't even mention the expository preaching. But the congregation has more than tripled in size in the past couple years, and the Sunday evening and Wednesday evening attendance numbers are about 90% and 75% of Sunday morning, respectively. Rick Warren, eat your heart out. (His church with 82,000 "members" only managed to get 30,000 to attend on the one Sunday they rented Angels stadium so they could try to get the whole church in the same place at the same time.)
During my drive back to my parents' home that afternoon, I wondered what it is that contributes to the numerical growth (many are new believers) as well as the spirit of community and discipleship that was so plain in the 3 hours I was at MSBC. I could take guesses, but my limited exposure probably leaves me unqualified to think too much out loud. Regardless, it's refreshing to see evidence that the "40 days" way isn't the only way. It makes a Paleoevangelical's heart warm.
Yesterday I read Jim Eliff's article, "Southern Baptists, an Unregenerate Denomination," and noticed some striking similarities between Bob Bixby and MSBC and the kind of churches and pastors Eliff thinks we ought to be noticing. (HT: Tim Challies)
We might reverse some of our proclivity to continue as normal if we introduced our preachers more accurately in our evangelism meetings and convention settings. Try using this introduction: "Here is Brother ______, pastor of a church of 10,000 members, 6400 of whom do not bother to come on a given Sunday morning, and 8600 of whom do not come on Sunday evening. He is here to tell us about how to have a healthy, evangelistic church."
It might be better to ask a man to speak who shepherds 100 members, all of whom attend with regularity and all of whom show signs of regeneration—a man who, in the last year, has baptized 5 people who stick—rather than a pastor of 10,000 members, 7000 of whom do not come—a man who has baptized 1000 in the past year, 700 of whom cannot be found. The smaller, but more consistent numbers of the first pastor reveal a far more effective ministry and thus a far better example for other churches.