Central Church Adopts ‘Outward Focus;’ Changes Ministry Approach

 In Church, Health, Ministry

Five years ago, Central Church in Gaffney was a completely different church than what it is today. Its fractured congregation struggled with financial debt from a building project, a painful experience with former leadership, and declining attendance. Today, Central Church stands transformed and with a new ministry focus that it is carrying forward and into the community.

Pastor Johnny Bridges and Worship Leader Scott McClellan were called to Central Church within about a year of each other. In the face of the church’s struggles, they, along with church members, quickly realized the hope and future of Central Church would only be found in God. About three years ago, representatives from the church attended an informational meeting about a discipleship coaching and equipping process through the South Carolina Baptist Convention called the Intentional Church Multiplication Process (ICMP). McClellan said the church jumped into the process and began to see God move.

“If you have the opportunity to get involved in any church health processes offered through the South Carolina Baptist Convention, take advantage of it. It’s not a magic bullet. It is difficult because you have to look at what you are doing and ask if it is a ‘good thing,’ or a God thing. But take the plunge, and see where God takes you,” he said.

“Process” is the key word in ICMP. The purpose is not a new program for a struggling church. Rather, it is a carefully planned method of developing and equipping pastors, church staff, and laity to reset the vision and course of ministry that God has planned for that church. Congregations involved in ICMP participate in regional cluster groups, receive personal coaching, and will have a specific strategy plan to use moving forward.

Joe Youngblood, church health group director at the South Carolina Baptist Convention, praised the leadership of Bridges and McClellan as being key to Central Church’s success in experiencing a complete turnaround through the ICMP process.

“Central Baptist has done a wonderful job of implementing the church health principles of the Intentional Church Multiplication Process. The church was in a divisive condition with little or no sense of direction and was declining. Now, it is growing both numerically and spiritually, with a true spiritual impact on its community. These two men have provided positive and clear leadership to the church to implement discipleship and evangelism strategies and, as a result, the church is making reproducing disciples,” Youngblood said.

“The biblical principle of Jesus calling 12 men and then pouring Himself into them is the same thing that is happening here through the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Joe Youngblood is pouring his life into a group of men who are in turn pouring their lives into others. That’s how transformation is taking place,” McClellan said.

Bridges noted that the congregation went into the process thinking of itself as a fairly healthy and strong church. “We realized we were actually sick because we were doing mostly inwardly-focused ministries, trying to keep the church going from the inside. We realized that is not what God has called us to be. He has called us to be a disciple-making church and to impact our community. That is our goal now,” he said.

McClellan adds, “As a church, we have refocused as a result of the process. We used to be focused on what was going on inside of our church; but through ICMP, we came to a vision from God to become disciples that make disciples. Now we have set about that task.”

A pivotal question that was asked during the ICMP process: “If Central Church no longer existed, would the community even know it was gone?”

“As we wondered about the answer to that, our eyes were opened; and God showed us that we have to be about sharing the Gospel with people right here beside the church, in our community, and all over the world. Also, we realized that we can’t make disciples if we aren’t discipled ourselves. Discipleship is more than a Bible study on Wednesday night; it is about building relationships with God and with each other and allowing Him to work through you to change other people’s lives,” Bridges said.

Today, shifting the purpose of Sunday morning classes to ‘life groups’ that dig deeper into discipleship together, Central Church is showing signs of life through small groups that meet on Wednesday nights; and the church is in better shape financially. All are examples that McClellan cites as proof of a transformed congregation.

“Everything we did as a church used to be here, physically. Now, more folks are going out into the community. Groups of young people have started prayer walking on their own in the evenings and are engaging folks they meet by asking how they can pray for them. We are holding block parties at a local housing complex ; and, over the holidays, life groups from our church took complete Christmas dinners to 56 families that live there and shared information about the church with them,” says McClellan .

As a result, Bridges said outreach efforts are reaching more people in the community with the Gospel. “We now have a lot of young people from the apartment complex coming to our Wednesday night student ministry. I see the impact of ICMP in the attitudes and the perspectives here at Central. Several members have told me that they can feel and see God at work in the church and in their life, and that they are excited about getting into the word and building relationships with each other,” he said, quickly adding that it’s nothing he or McClellan have done. “It is what God is doing here. Right now, Central is being obedient to what God is doing through us.”

McClellan points to baptisms as another indicator of God at work in his church today. “Prior to engaging ICMP, we had a year with no baptisms. That was an awful thing for us; we couldn’t come to grips with it. Now, we get a little antsy if we don’t see water in the baptismal pool every so often! We have already held baptisms several times this year,” he said.

The next steps in Central Church’s ministry will include hosting other churches and church leadership looking to experience the ICMP process. However, according to Bridges, every pastor should go through the ICMP reconnect retreat and the leadership track to identify their leadership style, to grow as a leader, and to reconnect with God.

“Pastors need to stop what they’re doing, get alone with God, talk to Him, and then be silent and listen to what God says. Too often, pastors are leading and doing things they think are important but not what God is telling them to do. God gave us one mouth and two ears for a reason: we need to do less talking and more listening to what God is telling us,” Bridge continues.

“The retreat is designed to help pastors reconnect with God. It had a profound effect on us to be more obedient to God and where He wants to take us and the church,” McClellan added.

“Johnny and Scott have so grown in their leadership abilities that both men serve as coaches/consultants with the church health group. They will be facilitating the leadership track for over thirty pastors from the Gaffney area over the next twelve months. These men are now ready to equip other pastors with the leadership principles that they have learned and implemented. Central Church is making a true spiritual impact on its community through the leadership of these two men,” Youngblood said.

“We believe God is telling us that our next step is to develop more leaders, to make more disciples who make disciples. We are taking our staff and leadership team at Central to go through the same training starting in October. It is so interesting to see how God is working in our church right now,” Bridges said.

For his part, McClellan says thatCentral Church’s experience with ICMP has charted a new course for its ministry in Gaffney. “It has revolutionized and changed what we do, how we act, our worship, every gathering time that we have, where we go…it’s been pretty amazing. It is a great time to be here.”

“Central is modeling the church in Jerusalem as found in Acts 2:40-47. Through discipleship, this church is growing in each of the six functions of the church. As the church members mature in their faith in Christ, the result is the sharing of the Gospel with the lost. Discipleship and leadership is at the heart of all that Central does and is experiencing,” Youngblood said.

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