FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–Too many people are in churches today for the convenience of church membership rather than out of conviction for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, said Kenneth Hemphill, the Southern Baptist Convention’s national Empowering Kingdom Growth strategist.
Hemphill, addressing a Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service, cautioned against clinging “to our traditions just because that’s the way we’ve done it.”
Change can have merit, he said, adding a key qualifier: “I’m suggesting that to change the structure or the style of a church, you must begin with its affection. It has to have an affection for the lordship of Christ and for the nations.”
Hemphill, who travels across the country encouraging churches toward a “Kingdom” focus, recounted that he was part of the church growth movement for about 30 years. Though there have been positive outcomes from the movement, he said there also have been some downfalls.
“First of all, I think we became very mechanical,” Hemphill said during his Jan. 25 visit to the Fort Worth, Texas, campus. “We focused on methods and marketing strategy, and we forgot the message and the spirit of God.”
The Kingdom-focused church worships the living God, he said, whereas he sees marketing as having created a selfish church.
“We went out and told everybody, ‘This is what the church is going to offer you,’ and we forgot to tell them what Jesus had already offered them and what they can offer Him through the church,” Hemphill said.
The EKG leader also sees a spirit of competition that has crept up among churches rather than a spirit of cooperation.
“If we’re going to reach the nations,” Hemphill said, “I promise you it’s going to take a cooperative strategy and not a competitive marketing contest.”
A close look at the Book of Acts, Hemphill said, can reveal how churches can be Kingdom-focused and thus realize growth that glorifies God each step of the way.
He noted several characteristics of the churches in Acts that today’s churches should carefully note and model:
First, he said a Kingdom-focused church is one of proclamation.
“When you are infected with proclamation, this is what bubbles forth from you,” he said. “It’s not a memorized outline; it’s a passion and conviction of your heart.”
Additionally, the Kingdom-focused church realizes the necessity of a global strategy, which begins with the Acts 1:8 challenge to be Jesus’ witnesses from one’s immediate surroundings to the ends of the earth, Hemphill said. Believers in Jerusalem, he noted, began a church in Antioch, which in turn sent Barnabas and Saul to other areas.
“If you want to see your church develop a passion to reach its Jerusalem, you’ve got to give them a heartbeat for the world,” Hemphill said. “If you give them a target big enough, they’ll start hitting it. The target is the world; when we begin to shoot for the world, you can reach it all.”
A Kingdom-focused church, Hemphill continued, strives for a cooperative strategy. Church growth, he noted, is not about expanding your own territory but expanding the Kingdom of God. A Kingdom-focused church, for example, will seek to shatter prejudice and unite people, he said, pointing to the church in Antioch, where Jews and Gentiles came together as believers in Jesus Christ and set aside their prejudices.
“If you want to see your church become a Kingdom-focused church, something has to happen that cannot be explained by your marketing strategy or your methods,” Hemphill said.
Another key component of a Kingdom-focused church, he said, is that it practices fellowship and sound doctrine. The church is a “family of faith that enjoys one another’s company and meets one another needs,” he noted.
On the other hand, “you may draw a crowd without sound doctrine,” he said, “but you cannot build a church.”
And a Kingdom-focused church experiences supernatural power through focused prayer, Hemphill said. He turned to the account in Acts 14 when Peter and John were released from jail and went immediately to a prayer meeting.
“How did they know there was a prayer meeting going on?” Hemphill asked. “It’s because that was natural to the church. That would have been the place to go. They knew that if they were in prison the church was there praying.”