By Brian Harfst
Looking through the Friday workshop descriptions in the 2014 CBF General Assembly guidebook, I could not help but notice the catchy title with the unusual capitalization—iMAGiNEXT: Mobilizing Love in Individuals and Congregations.
The brief explanation underneath promised a “comprehensive methodology that equips church leaders to mobilize congregations,” which left me wondering if the workshop would be a presentation, a testimony, a conversation or a sales pitch.
In the CBF spirit of local churches teaching one another, the workshop presented one congregation’s testimony of empowerment with practical ideas for nurturing a similar experience elsewhere. David White and Shaun King, the Connections Pastor and Senior Pastor of Johns Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, told their story of developing an organic process which has created momentum in their church.
The iMAGiNEXT initiative, which has been going on in Johns Creek for about a year, began when, shortly after King’s arrival, the church celebrated its 20th year. As the congregation looked back over its first couple of decades, leaders began asking, “What’s next for us?”
That basic question led them to a fundamental theological truism, “Jesus meets you where you are, but loves you too much to leave you there,” and its counterpart slogan, “In Christ, there is never not a next.”
Those ideas would frame an ongoing conversation and methodology at Johns Creek.
White and King set out to empower individuals and the congregation as a whole to move forward by simply taking one new step at a time. Their approach was twofold: provoke the imagination of the people and create a mechanism that would translate that imagination into action.
King provoked the imagination with a sermon series highlighting the variety of ways people were called to take new steps in Scripture. The sermons were presented and worship designed in such a way that worshippers were continually confronted with the idea that, as God’s people, they were called to take some next step.
Capitalizing on these worship experiences, the staff designed the iMAGiNEXT mechanisms that would then equip their people to take immediate action. Wisely, they neither narrowed the methods for commitment nor the types of commitments that could be made. Individuals at Johns Creek were given opportunities to opt in through worship response times, the internet, face-to-face conversations with staff, staff-led conversations with ministry teams, and in new members’ classes.
While the results of these options ranged from mediocre to good, the most response came from a churchwide conversation during the Sunday school hour followed a few weeks later by a ministry fair. To aid reflection in the process, a resource guide was also offered to those considering commitments.
As with the ways of responding, the types of commitment were varied. The staff discovered 70-plus “opt-in” points currently existing at Johns Creek, which were organized under the two headings of “Love God” and “Love People” and which formed the framework of the ministry fair and the resource guide. In addition, leaders fostered a culture in which new initiatives were blessed, whether they “fit” in the current structures of Johns Creek or would take shape outside of those structures.
As a workshop participant, I was encouraged by a testimony of mobilization that had practical implications for my ministry. I am an Equipping Pastor, a life coach, and an advocate for CBR’s congregational initiative, Dawnings, both in and outside of my congregation.
All three of those areas, interrelated as they are, are designed to move individuals and congregations forward in discovering and living God’s call. As churches like Johns Creek share the ways they are mobilizing others, folks like me and our Fellowship in general will refine the tools we use to nurture a “next-step” culture.
Brian Harfst is Equipping Pastor at Centerville Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.