Effective United Methodist Churches


December 11, 2017

Live Oak UMC: How a Small, Dying Church Became One of the Denomination’s Largest and Fastest Growing

We recently reported on the latest list of the United Methodist Church’s largest, fastest-growing congregations in the United States. 

In this renewed series, UMAction Director John Lomperis interviews the senior pastors of some of these congregations about what others, particularly other United Methodists, can learn from their successes.

The following interview is with the Rev. Dr. Mark Crosby, a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and since 1996, Senior Pastor of Live Oak United Methodist Church in Watson, Louisiana.


John Lomperis: Please share about your congregation’s recent history with growth. To what do you attribute this growth?

Mark Crosby: Live Oak UMC has maintained a steady growth of approximately 100 new members a year. This growth is attributable to:

  • Sound Biblical preaching
  • A variety of worship styles and services
  • Numerous community services – including free counseling services, a Mother’s Day Out program, and musical instruction
  • A variety of outreach events are provided to welcome community members to our church – Valentine’s Banquet, Vacation Bible School and Fall Festival.


JL: What are some of the major attitudes and practices you see hindering growth and causing decline within the UMC?


  • Outdated liberal theological view points
  • Dismissing the Word of God as authoritative
  • More concerned about the wisdom of the world than the wisdom of the Word
  • Allowing political correctness to usurp Biblical authority


JL: In this Advent season, many churches are hoping to see a spike in attendance around Christmas, and hoping to draw some non-members who show up for Christmas Eve services to come back and check out the church in the new year.  What advice would you offer for congregations seeking draw people in during this season?


  • Keep the message relevant and biblical
  • Focus on evangelism
  • Follow up on those who do attend
  • Keep the service open and inviting


JL: What advice would you offer for pastors and others of declining United Methodist congregations who are feeling anxiety about losing people but don’t know how to reverse the trend? 

MC: Follow the simple formula of:

  • Preaching the Word
  • Making sure Jesus is proclaimed as the Way, the Truth and the Life
  • Loving and care for people in the ways that they are able


JL: Some may look at the great fruit you’re bearing and say something like: “You know, it’s great that you are able to grow.  But as a large church, you have so many more advantages, you have all kinds of resources and programs and connections you can offer to attract people to your church that a small congregation like mine simply does not have the bandwidth to offer.  So what works to help your congregation grow could not possibly work for mine!”  What encouraging word could you offer to United Methodists who may feel this way?

MC: I began my journey as a United Methodist pastor having one person in the congregation in a church that had no running water and no lock on the front door.  The church I’m in now was in decline, less than 100 in worship, no money, and on the verge of splitting when I started.  Twenty-one years later it is the 18th fastest growing.  The reason – evangelism, preaching the Word, declaring Jesus is the only way to heaven and loving people.


JL: What would you say to people who claim that it’s not that hard to grow a church in the South, “the Bible Belt,” and/or a culturally conservative region, but there are other locales where the culture is more secularized or the overall population is declining, and that this makes it impossible for churches in those areas to experience the kind of growth yours has?

MC: Whenever you present the gospel and meet the needs of the people regardless of where you are, churches can and will grow.  The disadvantage of the South is the attitude “We’ve heard this before.”  Keep your message relevant, fresh and biblical [and] people will respond.


(For further statistical and website information about this congregation and others from this interview series, click here for my earlier report noting the dominance of evangelical pastors in the UMC’s largest and fastest-growing congregations.)

19 Responses to Live Oak UMC: How a Small, Dying Church Became One of the Denomination’s Largest and Fastest Growing

  1. Fred Richmond says:

    Thankful that he cited the major reason UMC churches are declining: liberal theology, and why some UMC churches are growing: conservative theology. Thanks for the series.

    • Karen says:

      What is liberal theology anyway? Liberalism is not new nor is it outdated. It simply means acceptance, love, and tolerance of all human beings, respect for God’s beautiful world that He created for us, and belief in Christ’s teachings of love, acceptance, not judging others. It’s pretty simple, but I believe you see it as something political. As a life long Methodist I am, frankly offended, by this statement as the reaso. For decline in UMC attendance. I bewildered by this statement as church attendance has been in decline for many reasons. The church used to be the center of our lives, but there are many things pulling people away…jobs, mobile society, school activities, work requirements on Sundays.

      Perhaps church attendance is in decline because there are church members who do not practice acceptance of others or because members make blanket statements about an ideology that isn’t one they agree with.

      We attended a very conservative church and left because too many political statements were being made during church and from the pulpit. The final straw was when my husband found a gun left in the men’s restroom by a forgetful member.

      • Jerry Gatlin says:

        I think what he means by a liberal theology is a little like the saying that says, “be open-minded but not so open-minded that your brains fall out”. Liberal theology sounds nice, but ultimately ends up changing the word of God into something that people find more acceptable. However the Bible says God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I think what Dr. Crosby is saying is that we have to stick to the word of God, the Bible, as it was written and not change it to suit our lifestyle, because God never changes. The Bible is just as relevant today as it was when it was written.

  2. Mary Watson says:

    Sounds like the way forward is to do what you are doing, which has always worked!! Loving God and loving people in a biblical setting!! Bless you

  3. Charlotte R. Harelson says:

    Pastor Crosby is a one in a million type of guy: loving, creative, smart, energetic and humorous. A pastor’s pastor. Great article!

  4. Andy Harlan says:

    My childhood best friend attends Live Oaks. He shared a link with me over two years ago and I still listen to Dr Mark preach weekly. Keep the word flowing, church. You all are doing a great job.

  5. Kathy says:

    Dr Mark is real. Teaches in today’s world and how to relate to our society today. We get so lost in hustle and bustle. He incorporates God into all.

  6. Mark L. Schiltz says:

    Bro. Mark is my pastor, and I applaud him for taking a stand and following our Lord’s lead. He is exactly right that The Word, which is Jesus, for those of you who don’t know (I didn’t until I came to this church) must be preached. Too many Methodist churches are scared to preach the word in fear of losing members who like their ears tickled. It’s the truth. Preach The Word and they will come. It is that simple.

  7. Steve Hull says:

    Great Article, I drive for a living and I listen to his sermons on Pod cast. Great Minister that preaches the word of God and is not afraid to tell the Biblical Truth.

    Steve Hull

  8. Dean Musfeldt says:

    Dr Crosby and staff at Live Oak are awesome, always giving praise and glory to God! Always inviting, sharing, helpful!

  9. Rhonda says:

    We have an awesome church. I hunger to the hear the word. Pastor Mark is truly gifted in being able to present Gods word. I know I am going to heaven because of Pastor Marks sermons. God bless him.

  10. Mona says:

    The members are doers, not just hearers of the word!

  11. Carole Anne Brocksmith says:

    I’m grateful to be a part of LOUMC where God’s Word is taught and the worship settings offered are varied — traditional, contemporary, and blended — allowing the people the freedom to worship and connect with God’s Spirit in a very personal way.

  12. Laura Matherne says:

    We love that the focus is on Jesus! Also that all denominations are welcomed at Live Oak United Methodist church.

  13. Dr. and Mrs. Doug Ezell says:

    Excellent and on point! Dr. Crosby is faithful servant in season and out of season, no matter what circumstance he has been placed in, he has been a faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has never waivered from the Truth and he upholds the Word in speech and in deed!

  14. zaida Thompson says:

    Praise God for ministers who will preach the word.That is where we got the name Methodist from we are to preach the method laid out in the Bible

  15. Fred Rhodes says:

    Attended one service was very impressed.plan to move my letter from my present United Methodist Church to Live oak .my family have been Methodist as far back as I can trace great grandfather Methodist minister .preach from the Bible an people will come .

  16. Vida Ellis Hughes says:

    We are a struggling small congregation in Forsyth, GA. Population in this county is under 28,000. We average about 32 in attendance on Sunday worship, We have a beautiful building and grounds just not enough people. Most of us are over 60. We all want this church to grow and prosper. We have many outreach ministries for such a small congregation. I would say that we are all dedicated Christians, a very cohesive group. We need a sound plan to implement.

  17. Rhonda says:

    I am disappointed that he brought up outdated “libera theological viewpoints” without explaining what he means. This is more of a political statement and I am disappappointed that he doesn’t expound on it. Everything else I can agree with it, but this statement leaves me bewildered. His church is in the conservative Deep South Bible Belt, so perhaps he has compromised the more liberal aspects of the UMC to fit into the community.

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