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. Rurel Ausley, longtime senior pastor of Crosspoint UMC based in Niceville, Florida. His wife, Lisa, is an ordained deacon also serving at Crosspoint. They met as students at Asbury Theological Seminary. Their congregation has grown to four different campuses with a total of 15 weekend worship services, in addition to helping build 34 congregations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
John Lomperis: Please share about your congregation’s recent history with growth. To what do you attribute this growth?
Rurel Ausley: Our average attendance doubled from 2006 to 2016….from 1800 to 3600. We added 1,000 in average attendance from 2013 to 2016. Our mission is “Connecting People to Christ” and that is our passion. In the last few years we have enlarged our vision to “Crosspoint is a movement connecting communities in Northwest Florida to Christ by starting multiplying campuses. We believe that Jesus is just as passionate about the Great Commission now as He was when he shared it with his disciples. It is what drives our every decision and every effort that we have. We believe that people will suffer a Christless eternity without Jesus as their as Savior…thus we MUST grow the Kingdom of God to fulfill Christ’s command to us….growth is not an option for us, it is what “live” things do! To reach people that have never been reached you must do things that have never been done.
JL: What are some of the major attitudes and practices you see hindering growth and causing decline within the UMC?
RA: If we ever return to the 1950s, many UMCs will be ready…lol… We must change and not be afraid of change, yet this one single attitude has paralyzed churches for generations. Churches that are not transitioning right now into what will reach new people will soon die. Churches must not change our classical Wesleyan theology, but let their methodology evolve with the times……NOT vice versa. The UMC seems to have lost the passion for leading people to Christ and then do not agree on what Christ like behavior is for new disciples. Im not sure that we even agree on what a Christian is. Churches grow when they are focused and focused on the Great Commission. We need a revival of evangelistic passion and holy living as the Body of Christ.
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?
RA: One of the things that we have done for years is to plan what we call an “attractional series” for the community for January and February. Many churches do this. We try to plan something that ANYBODY would want to hear some answers on….not just Christians. We have done series on Fears; Marriage; Child Rearing; Telling Yourself the Truth about………… Once we have done this we advertise it in our Christmas Eve services. We usually do a community wide mail out of the series in January, but we include the publicity card in the Christmas Eve program. With a compelling New Year’s series, they will come back!! We also do this after Easter and Back to School….those are great times to appeal to the community.
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?
RA: First of all, I would never accept the premise that some churches can’t grow. The pastor could add 1 a year at least…lol. Secondly, I would seek out churches like yours that are growing and go and talk with the pastor….ask them what they are doing. Our church does a conference on “How to have a healthy, growing church”….but there are places everywhere to go and see. And do not be afraid to go to non-Methodist churches too…..we are Kingdom building and we can learn from anyone. Preach, study, and pray through the book of Acts and rekindle the passion that you first had when you went into the ministry. People will follow passionate people….but first we must be excited about what we are preaching and we must believe that it is crucial that people get it!! Concentrate on doing the right things and growing too….two sides of the same coin.
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?
RA: I would say that the Gospel grew astronomically in the most secularized, antagonistic culture of all….the Roman Empire. Churches are growing and dying everywhere. Even in the South, one church in a town will be growing like gangbusters and all the others are dying. There is nothing automatic about growing a church. There are fast growing churches in every geography…..California; South Dakota; Michigan; and there are dying ones in every location….. what makes the difference? Besides, the South is no longer what you may think it is. Everybody is not running to church every Sunday down here either. It is hard work to grow a church; passionate work; transformative work; and starts with an attitude that God wants my church to grow (Mt.28) and I am determined, with God’s help, to do whatever it takes to grow it. As long as you have people hurting in your community, there is a great harvest awaiting for the people of God who will take the Gospel to them!!