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Rely on Bible, try new things, he advises struggling churches

LEXINGTON, Ky. (BP)–When Jeff McCain leads a workshop on “Creative Growth in the Smaller Church,” he speaks from experience.
McCain became pastor of New Harmony Baptist Church, Wheatcroft, Ky., in May 1993 — when only six members were attending. The youngest was 65.
Today membership has climbed to 103, with average Sunday morning attendance of 75. The church also has added a 3,600-square-foot educational building.
McCain credits the turnaround to a reliance on the Bible and a willingness to try new things.
A former coal miner, McCain said he gradually learned what worked and what didn’t, arriving at an acronym for his conclusions. Noting the church is called the bride of Christ, he uses “wife” — standing for worship, instruction, fellowship and evangelism.
However, he began with biblically based preaching, McCain said in telling of the church’s growth during a workshop at Kentucky Baptists’ evangelism conference in February.
“I didn’t know how to change anything, so I went in and preached the Word of God,” he said.
His other emphasis was on discipleship training. He started with a series of animated Christian videos that soon drew several dozen people on Sunday nights.
That led into covering such material as the “Survival Kit for New Christians” and “How to Study Your Bible.” Today the church offers 45 class options during the year, including “Experiencing God” and “The Mind of Christ.”
Laying a scriptural groundwork was a key part of growth, McCain said. “It amazes me that people can be in church for 40 years and a Christian for 35, but they’re a 1-year-old Christian for 35 years,” he said. “They haven’t grown. A pastor is called to prepare people. I may not be brilliant but I can work harder than anyone else.”
The church also needed to revive its worship, he said, recounting that New Harmony had had a reputation for lousy music.
To change that, he bought new hymnals with more praise songs in them. After noticing people sang more when they weren’t holding a hymnal, he transferred songs to transparencies and projected the words onto a screen.
The pastor also experimented with new forms of music. While some weren’t always accepted, the church now has a praise team to lead worship. Some members clap their hands, too, although McCain admitted he has a hard time doing that because of his lack of rhythm.
“We have to keep trying and working,” he said. “Real worship is not just singing. It’s praising the Lord and people testifying. There ought to be times where the preacher doesn’t get to preach. It’s exciting when that happens.”
Fellowship and evangelism have occurred as the church has increased its emphasis on missions. That has included starting an active Women on Mission group and Brotherhood for men.
Both go out in the Webster County area to help residents clean up yards, paint homes and fix roofs. They also take regular trips to eastern Kentucky to hand out supplies and witness to residents in mountain areas.
This vision extends overseas, too. Last year the congregation paid his way for a trip to the Philippines. In the city where he preached, 3,000 accepted Jesus as their Savior, McCain said.
Evangelism includes a regular visitation program led by a team of women. When he reads the days of visitation are over, he shakes his head.
“It may not work in (a large city), but if you live in Mayberry USA where I do, it works,” he said. “Look for what works in your area. We can’t take evangelism and try to make it like somebody else’s.”

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  • Ken Walker