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Association’s churches sharpen Kingdom focus via EKG study

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (BP)–How do you inspire an entire Baptist association to achieve unprecedented levels of spiritual health?

For the New South River Baptist Association in southeastern North Carolina, it starts with an EKG.

But this was no ordinary EKG. This “EKG” stands for “Empowering Kingdom Growth: The Heartbeat of God,” a 40-day Bible study by Kenneth Hemphill, the national strategist for the Southern Baptist Convention’s Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis.

This spring the New South River Association became the first association in the SBC to work through the study together simultaneously. About 20 churches participated in the study, and many of those churches gained a renewed vision for furthering God’s Kingdom.

“We, as an association, exist to help our churches reach their full Kingdom potential,” said Sam Gore, a pastor who serves as resource specialist for the association. “And with that … motive we’re using EKG as one of the major tools to help a church reach its Kingdom potential.”

Randy White, the association’s director of missions, said the participating pastors “were both thrilled and challenged,” with some stating that “they had never had a deeper personal walk with the Lord than they did as a result of the study.”

“Many of them shared that their churches experienced an increase in giving, attendance and a change in attitude,” White continued, noting, “One of the major outcomes was that the churches now have a vision that reaches beyond their walls and they are using Kingdom language in conversation.”

The vision for undertaking the EKG study on an associational level began in August 2004 when Hemphill spoke at an associational Sunday School conference.

“He was talking about the Empowering Kingdom study,” said Robert Ivey, the association’s associate director of missions. “And he said he had not seen anybody do an association-wide emphasis of it, and he was curious to see what would happen if an association-wide emphasis of EKG took place.”

Immediately associational leaders began discussing the possibility. By April 2005 they decided to work through the EKG study as an association, and Hemphill spoke at a kickoff rally April 4.

At the rally, Hemphill cast “a vision for our churches to really look beyond themselves and to see God at work and that they were a part of something bigger than themselves,” Ivey said.

As churches worked through the study’s daily workbook, several congregations sensed God challenging them to take bold steps of faith in order to further the Kingdom.

Macedonia Baptist Church in Fayetteville, where Gore is pastor, scrapped plans for a 1,500-square-foot addition to its fellowship hall and began construction on a 12,000-square-foot recreational facility in order to reach the community for Christ more effectively. The facility will house a gymnasium, basketball court and a separate room for dinner theater and family events.

“The building is coming about as a result of a new vision EKG brought about,” Gore said. “The effects of the Kingdom focus that our church now has are not just manifested in a building. But they’re being manifested in a substantial increase in offerings [and] missions giving. Missions participation has just doubled, tripled and, in some cases, quadrupled.”

Thanks to the EKG study the church, which sees approximately 100 in Sunday worship, experienced a “paradigm shift” in its thinking regarding the Kingdom of God, Gore said.

“It used to be when we were thinking about the church as an institution … that we would ask people to be committed to the church,” he said. “… The church with a Kingdom focus no longer asks its people to be committed to the church. It now asks the church to be committed to the people.”

Gore, who played a major role in leading the association to undertake the study, said EKG is an effective tool because it is based on the truth of Scripture.

“EKG is totally centered around God’s Word and the methods and ways Jesus taught us to reach His people and reach our community,” he said.

Temple Baptist Church in Fayetteville, which runs approximately 200 each week, was inspired by the study to hold a lay-led revival, which resulted in 13 salvations, two rededications and more than 80 church members committing to share their faith regularly.

“I wanted to use EKG as a way to encourage our people to understand what their purpose was in God’s Kingdom,” Pastor Robert Lewis said. “EKG is all about advancing God’s Kingdom here on earth and God’s people being a part of it. So I felt like the lay-led revival would be just a perfect tie-in for them to put into practice what they had learned during the EKG lessons.”

The revival involved 13 laypeople from across the state coming to Temple for a weekend of sharing testimonies and conducting door-to-door evangelism with church members. Enthusiasm for the revival resulted directly from the EKG study’s emphasis on advancing God’s Kingdom, Lewis said.

“The greatest thing that probably spoke to the heart of the people was that we are Kingdom people,” he said. “And as Kingdom people it’s our responsibility and joy to help advance God’s Kingdom here on earth wherever we are in life. They began to realize that they can do Kingdom work at home as a housewife, on the job as a construction worker [or] as a professional.”

For all churches involved in the study, EKG presented an opportunity to realize that the Kingdom of God is larger than one church or one group of individuals, Ivey noted.

“It’s really the challenge to reach out beyond ourselves and to see that what we have been called to do is … reach [the Acts 1:8 realms of] Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth,” he said. “And [God] has called us to reach them simultaneously. … Our role in that is just as important as anyone else’s role. All that we are doing is having a part of reaching the ends of the earth.”