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Calif. church ‘follows the directions’ in evangelism

HIGHLAND, Calif. (BP)–At least 200 people have been baptized each year at Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland, Calif., since 1979.

An emphasis on evangelism has characterized the church since Rob Zinn was called as pastor in 1977, when attendance averaged 180 in church and 150 in Sunday School. Today, about 3,000 people attend the two Sunday morning services; approximately 2,000 participate in Sunday school.

“We teach our people to win people to the Lord,” Zinn said. “We do [the] FAITH [evangelism strategy]; we try to follow lifestyle evangelism, and we each always have at least one outside ministry unconnected to church.

“That’s where we go after [unbelievers]. Evangelism isn’t that rough. People just don’t do it. One of the problems we’re facing with our culture is we have too many churches saying ‘Y’all come’ and the New Testament says, ‘As you are going.’

“We keep looking for new concepts,” Zinn added. “There’s nothing wrong with the old concepts –- if we just practice them. Here’s my bottom line: When all else fails, follow the directions.”

Immanuel Highland was Stop No. 50 on SBC President Bobby Welch’s bus tour of Southern Baptist churches across the nation, underscoring the cause of evangelism in kicking off “The Everyone Can Kingdom Challenge for Evangelism” campaign which has the goal of “Witness, Win and Baptize … ONE MILLION!” in one year.

“I have a 16-year-old girl [in the church] who by her own testimony was having problems at home with her mother,” Zinn said. “No one was going to church, and she was fighting with her mother. One of her friends invited her to church. She came here [for] two weeks and got saved. Her mother immediately noticed the change -– but still didn’t come to the baptism. That’s how bad things were at home.

“Three weeks after she was saved, this young girl joined FAITH,” Zinn added. “First thing she said was, ‘Let’s go visit my friend…. She’s as excited as can be. In three weeks she’s already seen three people come to Christ –- including her best friend.

“Another guy went out two weeks ago and led his dad to Jesus, so he’s pretty excited. It’s kind of like that … all the time around here.”

With the congregation growing, leaders must confront space problems, Zinn said.

“I’ve been a pastor for 28 years and in a building program for 26,” Zinn said. “It was a major challenge to move to where we are, from 2 acres to 40 acres, and now we’re filling that up.

“Our city is growing; our area is growing. Everywhere you turn where we live, houses are going up. The challenge is reaching the people who come to this area. The freeways are more congested; time is more of an issue. And the bigger you grow, the longer it takes to park. There’s always change, just to make it easy for people to get in. Trust me: We’re not bored here.”

Another challenge is staying ahead of the need to develop new leaders, Zinn said.

“The mindset is, ‘You’re so big you don’t need me’ but the reality is, the bigger you get the more [leaders] you need.”

Immanuel’s evangelistic emphasis extends beyond the nation’s borders. Its total missions giving is 27 percent and 10 percent is specifically designated to the Cooperative Program. Other areas of support: California Baptist University, Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Inland Empire Baptist Association, local missions groups and partnerships with Southern Baptists in Latvia, Oman, Mexico and the Eastern Europe Bible School. Short-term missions trips include Romania, New York and Cambodia.

“My feeling is, if more of my people go on missions, they’ll give [more] to missions,” Zinn said. “We’re putting a total of $800,000 this year into missions, and that starts with no less –- ever –- than 10 percent to the Cooperative Program. I believe in the Cooperative Program because I believe we can do far more together than we can by ourselves. I believe we have an obligation as a local church to do our part to fund our 10,000 Southern Baptist missionaries.

“I’m struggling with churches that can’t see the big picture. The bottom line is, nobody can do better by themselves than we can do together.”

Zinn said he sees himself in a multifaceted role as pastor of a large church.

“I remind myself and my church that this isn’t my church. It’s Jesus’ church,” the pastor said. “I’m not a CEO but a servant. I think I have to be the leader, the visionary, the pastor. My job is to love my sheep and my flock, and feed them.

“I spend a lot of time trying to lead the people God has given me to shepherd,” Zinn added. “I believe the pastor’s role is a servant leader. If I serve my people, they will follow.”