( Matthew 28:18-20 )
This is the annual state of the church address.
Church members have come to look forward to this annual update. We hope when you leave today, you will say to yourself, “I love my church and I’m excited about what God has planned for us in 2020.”
If you are a guest, we hope this address will give you a glimpse into why we believe this is such a special place. We hope you’ll consider joining us and making this your church home. If you’re from out of town, we hope this will encourage you to think deeply about what makes a great church and inspire you to help your church be a great church.
Why is God blessing this church in such dramatic ways? It is important that every member understands why God is blessing us, so that we can properly credit our Lord and continue to see his blessings. God will bless us in accordance with our faithfulness to his mission.
Our mission comes from the Great Commission of Jesus:
[Mat 28:18-20 NIV] 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Our stated mission is “… to make disciples who make disciples.
Using the Great Commission as a guide, let’s consider three reasons God blessed our church in 2019 and will continue to bless us if we are faithful.
- HONOR JESUS AS AUTHORITY
First, I believe God blessed us because we honored Jesus as our authority. Jesus’ Great Commission begins with the words,
All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
At the top of every org chart we produce, we always put a box with “Jesus,” indicating he is the head of our church. He’s in charge. It’s his church. He told Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” We sometimes say, “I love my church,” meaning, this is the church I belong to,” like we would say “that’s my school,” or “that’s my team.” When Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church,” he was talking about ownership. He doesn’t belong to the church – the church belongs to him.
A successful church honors the authority of Christ. In a healthy church, decisions are made based on what we believe Jesus wants. Decisions are not driven by the pastor’s ego, an elder’s hidden agenda, or the secretary’s mood swings. (Have you ever been a part of a church driven by such things? Not healthy!) In a victorious church, the authority is Jesus Christ.
God blessed us in 2019 because we honored him.
To be victorious in 2020 we must continue to lift up Jesus as the head of the church. That means…
- We will stand firmly on the authority of his Word even if the world criticizes or hates us.
- We will be submissive to the leading of his Spirit and seek his will in all we do.
- We will stay humble and not act like we created the success. Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, God gives the increase” (1 Cor. 3:6).
“It is not by might, not by power but by my spirit, says Lord” (Zec. 4:6).
- FOCUS ON BOTH ASPECTS OF DISCIPLESHIP
Secondly, we were successful in 2019 because we focused on the two primary aspects of discipleship, baptizing and teaching. Jesus told us to disciple people by focusing on these two things.
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
A winning church focuses on these two aspects of discipleship. (By the way, after Saturday night’s service, a friend of mine said, “You mentioned ‘a winning church.’ That’s a funny phrase. Is this a competition?” Yes! It’s a high stakes competition. We are not competing against other churches – we hope every church “wins”! We are competing against the Devil himself for the hearts and souls of all mankind. It is definitely a competition and we must do all we can to be a winning church!)
I could stand up here all day and brag about our community involvement. I’m proud of what we do for the homeless through monthly shower ministry led by Ron and Elaine Entrikin. We have a great partnership with Empty Bowls, a community organization who feeds the hungry in our community. We let them use our building for free every year for their biggest fundraiser and we support them with promotion, volunteers and finances. I love what we do in partnering with our elementary schools through our backpack initiative every fall. And many of our members are involved in the community through prison ministries, outreaches to the local high schools and so forth.
But let’s not forget why we do those things. We love every human being made in the image of God, so we do these things. But if we only feed them physical food and never feed them spiritual food, we are not loving them. We must feed them what they most desperately need, the Bread of Life. We must bring them the Gospel. We love them and we want every person to spend eternity with us! So we use outreach ministries as a tool to open doors for the Gospel. We feed them physical food so that they will be open to receiving the spiritual food they so desperately need.
So, we do outreach as a gateway to our primary discipleship focus: baptizing and teaching.
We emphasize baptism often because that’s how Jesus told us to make disciples. “Go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them…”
My favorite moment of 2019 was the weekend of the trough baptisms. It was the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount series. Jesus says you must choose between the wide road and the narrow road. I said, “The way Jesus wants you to declare you are choosing the narrow road and crossing over from death to life, receiving his free gift of salvation, is to go through the ceremony of baptism.” I said, “We have three troughs set up in the front yard. You can get baptized before you leave and go home wet.” We had thirty-one baptisms that weekend!
Every baptism is so special. Each one represents a story of God’s redemption and grace, whether you were baptized in one of the troughs, or at the beach, or in our sanctuary, or in someone’s backyard swimming pool. (We had some baptisms in swimming pools as a result of discipleship happening in small groups!) If you were one of the 193 people who were baptized in 2019, would you please stand so we can celebrate together?
To be successful in 2020 we must keep focusing on baptism. Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples. So as long as there’s one more person we could reach, we must work as hard as we can to baptize as many as we can as fast as we can because the time is short.
The tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter this past week in a helicopter crash is on everybody’s mind. It was a reminder that no man knows the day or the hour. The church must have a constant sense of urgency to bring people to Jesus and help them reconcile with one another and with the Lord. Shaquille O’Neal has mentioned how thankful he is that he reconciled with Kobe before it was too late. He and Kobe used to be bitter enemies and treated one another horribly. But they decided to put those things behind them and reconcile, and they became great friends. It is our job to help people reconcile not just with one another, but with God. The Bible says we are at enmity with God because of our sin. We need to be reconciled. It is our duty to help as many people reconcile with God as possible while there is still time, because the time is always short.
Jesus did not just want us to convert people. He said make disciples by baptizingand “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded.” This is how we keep from being “a mile wide and an inch deep.” We focus on teaching.
The best way to be discipled – taught the commands of Jesus – is to grow up as a child in a great church. I had that privilege. I remember growing up in a great church learning about Jesus from an early age. I remember learning the books of the Bible, memorizing Scripture, singing songs… I loved church! I want every child to experience what I did. So I’m thankful for a great children’s and youth ministry where our kids are being taught about Jesus.
You saw in the video that in 2019 we averaged 77 students in our Wednesday night youth group program (sixth through twelfth grades). Pastor Robbie our Next Gen pastor came to me a few weeks ago and was so excited because for the first time they had over 100 students on Wednesday night! That has happened just about every week since then; the youth group is now averaging over 100 students.
Our greatest success in 2019 was in the area of adult small groups. In this speech last year, I said that a major focus of 2019 needed to be small groups. We were not succeeding in this area. We only had 21 groups, we had people on waiting lists, and we weren’t very well organized. Pastor Abdiel (our Spiritual Formations Pastor) and his volunteer team got to work. This past year they nearly doubled the number of small groups! We now have 46 small groups, a great accomplishment. There are about 500 of our members actively involved in group life in this church.
III. STEP FORWARD IN FAITH
One other reason we were successful in 2019: We stepped forward in faith. Jesus ended his speech with these inspiring words:
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
A winning church takes bold steps of faith, knowing we can trust in presence and the power of Jesus for success. The Bible says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”
A. STEPS OF FAITH IN 2019
We continued in 2019 to take bold steps of faith. One of the most exciting steps we took was our new partnership with GO Ministries in the Dominican Republic. There are several ways to partner with such a ministry. We chose to select one church to have an intimate partnership with. We wanted to pour resources into one church and help them plant new churches. After Mark Williams (Executive Pastor), Steve Vito and I visited the D.R. in August, we felt led to choose one of their pastors, Elvis Batista, to be our new partner. I told you Elvis would be in the building today! Please help me welcome to the platform, Pastor Elvis Batista.
(Please see a video of the interview on our website.)
B. STEPS OF FAITH IN 2020
God has blessed us because we’ve trusted Jesus and stepped forward in faith. We want to continue stepping forward in 2020. Most importantly we want to continue reaching new people for Christ. That’s our number one goal, that’s why we exist, to make disciples.
A couple of weeks ago we sent a survey to all members on our email distribution list, asking for feedback as to how we are doing as a church and whether the members are supportive of the future plans. We had almost four hundred responses to the survey! That’s about forty percent of the membership! The consultant who helped us organize the survey was not only blown away by the number of responses but by the positivity. He said it was one of the most positive results of any church he’s ever worked with. You love your church! And you’re positive about the future. I’m so thankful for that.
A significant percentage of responses to the survey was from our senior adults. (That’s not surprising because our retired members have more time, and they’re invested and want to share their opinions.) Our senior adults were incredibly positive about this church. In most churches, the older people are the ones who complain frequently. Not in this church! They were even positive about the music! (I thought about not telling Jared.)
You don’t have to be here for five minutes to discover most of what we do is not targeted to an older audience. We’re trying to pass the faith along to the next generation. So why are our senior adults so positive? Because they’re missional in their thinking. They want to be a part of a church that is reaching people for Christ. I am so proud of our senior adults! Let me remind you seniors: We need you! We need your time as volunteers. We need your wisdom in leading this church. And we need your money! We need your help to accomplish the mission of this church.
As we look to the future, most everybody understands (and this was mentioned over and over in the survey) that our biggest barrier to continued growth is space. We need more space.
A few weeks ago, I stood in the back at the beginning of the 9:30am service. Five minutes into the service a new family of three walked in. (Newcomers always come late because they don’t know they will have to navigate traffic and a busy parking lot and packed auditorium.) The auditorium was so full they couldn’t find three seats together. The ushers were helping but no luck. My dad was even trying to help them find a seat! They walked up and down several aisles. Finally, some members sitting in the mezzanine got up and gave up their seats for this new family. I found out later those members left and came back for the 11:15am service. I was encouraged by that act of service, but we can’t keep doing that!
When I got up to preach a few minutes later, I made an appeal to the 9:30am attenders. I said, “If you’re a member here, don’t come to this service! If you have to come this hour then that’s OK, but if at all possible, please come to one of the other services.” I told them, “If you come to the 8am service, you’ll have enough room to lay down!” I made the appeal in the enewsletter that afternoon as well.
That appeal helped. Our attendance the last few weeks has been about the same, but it’s been better spread across all four of our services. We now have a little bit of room even in our most popular services. But if we grow again this coming year by nine percent, then by this time next year we will again be out of room.
We have to create space to continue growing. How do we do that?
We can’t keep adding services for a couple of reasons. First, it’s difficult on volunteers and staff. Secondly, there aren’t other times we could hold a service where people – especially new people – would actually come. I talk to preacher friends all over the country who are leading churches our size and larger. We talk about service times. My friends have tried services at all kinds of unusual times: Sunday night, Sunday at 1pm, a second Saturday service later in the evening, even Thursday night. Those services are mildly successful but not nearly as popular as the main service times between nine and noon on Sunday. Saturday 5pm is sometimes successful as ours has been. That’s it. We can add a service, but it’s not helpful if it’s not at a time people want to attend.
What should we do?
We could say we have enough people and not let anyone else in. But that would not be faithful to the mission.
We could expand this auditorium or build a bigger sanctuary on this property. But that would be costly and inconvenient. And experts said this property and the surrounding roads won’t accommodate a large sanctuary. We would struggle to have enough parking. The traffic would be terrible. The neighbors would hate us. We’re not even sure the county would let us do that.
We could sell this property and buy a large piece of property out by the interstate and build a big sanctuary that holds four or five thousand people. We could grow there for the next twenty years. But two groups have asked us not to do that: The elderly, and young families with small children. They’ve said, “We don’t want to navigate a large campus.” Parking in a huge parking lot, lugging in diaper bags and kids, or walking with a walker, and then navigating a huge building and finding classrooms and so forth, is just not attractive.
That’s why, after prayer and counsel, our elders decided two years ago that God was leading us to become a multisite church. Many churches our size have found this to be the most successful method for continued growth and impact. I announced two years ago in this talk that this was our dream. I announced last year that our first expansion would be into North Port.
We searched all year in 2019 for the right location in North Port. I’m happy to announce that a few weeks ago our elders made an offer on some commercial space right on 41 in the heart of North Port. We are currently negotiating for that space, so I can’t tell you much more. But please be in prayer about this. I’m excited about the location and believe it could be perfect for our next campus.
Our goal is to secure a spot in North Port and open a campus by end of this year. That’s a lofty goal! It will take a lot of sacrifice on the part of all of us. But I believe we’re ready to take this step of faith.
(By the way this multisite approach is great because it will allow us to grow at two locations. Some of you will choose to be a part of the North Port campus, alleviating some space problems here for a little while. We’ll be able to grow here and in North Port.)
I don’t want to underestimate how big a step of faith this will be. It will take a significant sacrifice on behalf of everybody in two important ways.
First, it will take a sacrifice of time. We will need a whole new crop of volunteers at the North Port campus. Some of you will choose to volunteer there, leaving a hole to fill here. So we will need new volunteers there and here. Over the next couple of months, we really need to beef up our volunteer pool. Right now, we are lean. We have significant needs in several areas: children, youth, ushers, worship tech, even mowers for our grounds team. If you are a member and not yet serving on a regular basis, please go to the Serve INC page on our website and fill out the form. (https://ndcchurch.com/serve/)
Secondly, it will take a sacrifice of money. Six years ago, in 2014, we cast a vision to become a debt free church. At the time we were a church of 800 people and 4.7 million dollars in debt. We conducted the 2020 Vision campaign to take the first big bite out of that debt. We called it “2020 Vision” because we said, “Wouldn’t it be great if by 2020 we could do another campaign and wipe out the rest of the debt?” Well, it’s 2020. That group of 800 gave over 1.6 million dollars to begin eliminating the debt. The church has continued to pay down on that debt. The remaining debt today is 2,757,806 dollars.
We want to keep the ministry moving forward (stepping into North Port) and pay off the debt at the same time. That’s a lofty goal! To do that will require a sequel to the 2020 Vision campaign. We’ve decided to call this sequel “Beyond 2020.” So, with a little trepidation and a lot of enthusiasm, I’m excited to announce today the launching of the Beyond 2020 Financial Campaign.
Beyond 2020 will have a three-fold goal: To fund the setup and first year’s budget of a North Port campus; to renovate Peachland in order to maximize impact and prepare for Peachland to be a hub for multisite ministry; and to pay off the remaining debt.
The Steering Committee Co-Chairs of the Beyond 2020 Campaign are Tom and Connie Thrasher and Steve and Janine Vito. If you know these two couples, you know that they have leadership experience both in the church and in the community. I’m so thankful they’re willing to lead in this way.
I know you have a lot of questions. Over the next few weeks you’ll be invited to attend one of several informational meetings. No financial commitments will be made at these meetings. They’re strictly for information, fellowship and prayer. It would mean a great deal to me personally if you would attend one of these meetings.
For this step of faith to be successful will require all of us. If you were with us in 2014, you know that despite the stereotypes, this kind of campaign is fun, rewarding, stretching, and life changing. If you’ve never been through anything like this, I hope you’ll trust us: You’ll love what God does in all of us as a result of this campaign. And you’ll love celebrating the results, as lives are changed for eternity because of our sacrifice.
I received an amazing letter from two of our newer members recently. John and Karen Farrington sent me this:
Dear Rusty, You wouldn’t know us and that is OK.
We wanted to say thank you for sharing your gift with all of us.
We are a second marriage couple and John was not saved. Almost 5 years ago we attended a Christmas Eve service shortly after settling here. The church blew us away.
[She said some nice things about the church, and mentioned that I baptized them both on th beach in 2015. John had never before made a commitment to Christ. Then she concluded…]
My husband is heading for the gates as he is in the end of his cancer battle and under home hospice care. New Day brings us communion as shut ins and we are the first in the trial run of home visits. Patty and Denny Smith visit often and we have not been forgotten, even though we are unknowns to most. What matters is Jesus knows us.
In a simple way that letter illustrates why I’m so proud of this church. It speaks to the importance of our worship services: They first visited at one of our Christmas Eve services. (If you served at that service, you might have seen all these unfamiliar people and wondered if any of them ever come back. They came back, and it made an eternal difference in John’s life.) It speaks to the importance of baptism, the importance of pastoral care – of really loving people and staying organized and faithful. But most importantly it speaks to the urgency. John is “headed for the gates,” she says. Since I receive the letter, I’ve visited John a couple of times and prayed for him. What a joy to see his spirit. He is excited about the next chapter of his life. He is ready to meet the Lord. What a different season this has been than it would have been – let alone eternity – because they found New Day.
There are so many more who need to be reached. Is there anything more important than the work of the church? No, and there’s nothing more rewarding.
Thank you for making 2019 such a joy for my family and me. I love being your Lead Pastor. By God’s grace let’s make 2020 another great year. Let’s work as hard as we can to reach as many as we can as fast as we can. Let’s step out in faith and watch God work.