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- Outdated liberal theological view points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.)