GRAPEVINE, Texas (BP)–A visit to Fellowship Church is like finding the puzzle piece you didn’t know was missing. Sure, there’s great music, flashing lights and flat-screen monitors. But what sticks with you is the intense excitement felt in worship, Bible study, children’s ministry — everything. You leave Fellowship sensing that God is moving, that His truth is real, and that His Word is indeed relevant to daily life.
The mega-church started 14 years ago in Grapevine, Texas, with just 150 people. Those first years weren’t easy, but senior pastor Ed Young Jr. never changed his vision: to reach lost souls for Christ and keep the church relevant to the local community. Today, the 18,000 people who attend the Dallas-Fort Worth-area church’s five weekend services are proof that God is touching lives.
Young and his staff now share their methods with other church leaders through the Creative Church Conference, or “C3,” sponsored by Fellowship and LifeWay Christian Resources.
This year’s C3 conference, Jan. 24-25, brought together nearly 1,900 pastors. Conference speakers challenged the leaders to think about vision, evangelism and keeping church relevant to their own communities.
“A conference like this helps refine the vision,” said attendee Devin Hudson, 32, senior pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Madison, Ind. “It’s all about separating the methodology from theology; keeping things simple, but doing them in an excellent way.”
Striving for excellence, whether in a church of 300 or 3,000, requires creativity, innovation and thorough organization, Young said.
“Creativity is about change, it’s not about style,” he said in a C3 message on vision within the church. “The bigger you get, the more complex creativity gets.”
His vision for Fellowship came while a college student at Florida State University. One of three Christians on the basketball team, Young frequently invited teammates to the traditional Southern Baptist church he attended. He began seeing church through their eyes — hearing religious terms they didn’t understand, seeing customs that didn’t make sense to an outsider.
“I decided if I ever had a church, I wanted it to be relevant to non-Christians,” Young said. “I didn’t realize God was planting the vision for Fellowship.”
Making Christianity relevant is imperative for churches pursuing the Great Commission, C3 speaker Andy Stanley said.
“I’ve come to the conclusion that we must create environments the Holy Sprit can work in,” said Stanley, senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Ga. “Environment is everything.”
Stanley cited three key elements to a relative environment: context, presentation and content.
The context, or physical environment, determines appeal, Stanley said. It should be shaped by culture and tailored to the church’s target audience. Stanley emphasized there is no one-size-fits-all context to go by. Pastors and staff should look hard at whom they want to reach in their community and use that as their guide.
“David killed Goliath every time you read it,” Stanley said. “It’s not enough to preach. Your presentation of the Word is what makes it interesting. A non-engaging presentation makes [the message] feel irrelevant.”
Sunday School teachers and Bible study leaders also should be held accountable for their presentations, Stanley said.
“Why do college students never come back to church?” he asked, then answered, “Because the presentation they heard came from a non-engaging person who failed to make the material relevant. Love does not make up for poor presenters.”
“For ministry to be relevant, it has to be helpful,” Stanley also noted. “Ask yourself, what is it people need to know?”
Prentice Scoggins, 67, left a traditional Baptist church in Irving, Texas, to help start Fellowship Church. The gray-headed volunteer isn’t bothered by contemporary worship style or that the congregation’s average age is 34.
“I came here because I wanted to help reach people for the Lord,” Scoggins said. He started and led the parking ministry until retiring a few years ago. “It’s been a great experience watching God work.”
He understands the struggles some of his peers have with new music styles or new methodologies, but he also doesn’t mince words.
“The one thing we don’t change is the Gospel,” he said. “[But] if you’re willing to reach people, you’re willing to change.”
For more information on next year’s C3 conference, scheduled Jan. 20-22, 2005, visit www.fellowshipchurch.com. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: FACETS OF FELLOWSHIP and SHARING INSIGHTS.