By Bob Russell
About These Articles
This article and its companion, “How Should We Celebrate?,” are excerpted from Bob Russell’s closing sermon at the North American Christian Convention in Kansas City, July 6.
Bob reviewed the biblical examples of celebrating what God has done, and then he highlighted some of what God is doing among us today.
This is a time when those of us in the Restoration Movement should really be celebrating God’s victories. In the early 1800s our forefathers sensed a lack of vitality in the church and prayed for revival. They desired not just a temporary emotionalism that sparked the Great Awakening, but a solid return to the principles of the New Testament. They wanted to be people of the Book.
They encouraged the church to call biblical things by biblical names and urged an end to denominationalism that separated believers. They insisted, “We are not the only Christians but Christians only.” For about 50 years the Restoration Movement was the fastest-growing religious body indigenous to America.
Sadly, after the Civil War the enthusiasm for that movement waned. By the mid-1900s the Restoration Movement had stagnated. We were recoiling from a battle against liberalism on one hand and a division over the silence of the Scripture on the other. Many churches developed a sectarian, negative spirit. There were articles in our publications asking, “Is the Restoration Movement dead?”
But for some reason we don’t understand or deserve, God has revived this movement. He has refocused a good number of us from attempting to correct the doctrine of denominations to winning lost people to Christ. Some remarkable things have been happening in the last 20 years that we need to celebrate.
According to The New York Times, the Christian churches were the second-fastest-growing movement in America in the ’90s. Twenty years ago we had fewer than 10 churches that averaged 1,000 in attendance. Last year Christian Standard listed 117 averaging more than 1,000. There are eight churches exceeding 5,000! Some ridicule large churches and try to paint them all with a shallow brush, but those 117 churches baptized more than 20,000 people last year. If the angels of Heaven rejoice when one sinner comes to repentance, that’s reason for us to celebrate.
Outreach magazine listed the most effective new church plants in America, and five of the top 25 are Christian churches. We are planting more new churches that are having an immediate impact than at any time in our history. That’s reason to celebrate.
Twenty years ago many were asking, “Where are the young preachers who are going to lead this movement in the future?” There seemed to be a leadership void. But not anymore—some of the most creative, dedicated young people are coming out of our Bible colleges, and those schools are now doing a really impressive job. The future is very bright. That’s reason to celebrate.
Our guys are setting the pace for multisite locations, ministering to community needs, and establishing righteousness in government circles. We are reuniting with many a cappella brothers and sisters and moving toward standing as one body again. We are establishing effective mission works all around the globe. The a cappella churches have more numbers overseas than they have in the United States. That’s reason to celebrate.
Most think of the Restoration Movement as being strong in the Midwest but really weak along the coasts of America. But let me share some things that have been happening on the fringes of our country. (I’ve been blessed in the past three years to have visited about half of the ministries I’m going to tell you about.)
Did you know that in Manchester, New Hampshire, there is a rock-solid ministry called Restoration House that was started in 1996? Years ago young ministers went to the East Coast and were so isolated that many didn’t survive. The Restoration House has been an oasis for preachers and has started 14 churches over the past seven years. In 1996 there were 10 churches in six nearby Northeast states with a combined total of 900 people in them. This past Easter Sunday there were 6,000 people meeting in 24 churches. The Christian church in Manchester now averages 1,600 weekly. Twenty years ago it would have been one of the five largest in our brotherhood. A church of that size in New Hampshire seemed impossible, but God is doing more than we imagined.
Move down the coast to New York City. The seed that was planted on hard soil for years by Go Ye Chapel is now taking root and, under the Orchard Group, Paul Williams relates there have been 10 new churches established in the past five years that are each averaging 500 in attendance. Forefront Christian in Manhattan is not quite two years old and averaging 185 people.
Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia is a remarkable story. Brian Jones began that church in a movie theater five years ago. It went so well the church constructed a building that looks like a theater. Though less than six years old, the church is running over 1,300.
Community Christian Church in White Marsh, Maryland, outside Baltimore, was started as a partnership between four churches, two of which are out-of-state. Mountain Christian in Joppa, Maryland, gave up 300 of her members and 25 of her top 100 givers. Though not quite a year old, Community Christian averages 650 people. Its conversion ratio is 65 percent. That church is helping to start another next year. What a great example of what can happen when church leaders have a kingdom perspective.
Did you know there are three megachurches in the Washington, D.C., area? New Life church, with 1,300 people, is just 14 years old and was listed in Outreach magazine as the 13th-most-effective new church plant in America. It has an ice cream truck that circulates in the community giving away free ice cream sandwiches. It’s the church’s innovative way to “share a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name” to break down barriers and to start spiritual conversations. One of its first baptisms at a new campus was a woman who said, “I’ve got to check out a church that gives away ice cream.”
Pete Kunkel started First Christian Church in Kernersville, North Carolina, 20 years ago with 60 people. The church is now running 1,700 people and a year ago planted a new church that averages in the mid-200s. First Christian built a family life center with an Olympic-size swimming pool. FCC invites area seniors and disabled people to use the pool for aerobics. That outreach has compelled the church to add a special service; the older seekers don’t relate to the church’s contemporary music, so it added something called a “traditional service.” What a novel idea!
Savannah Christian Church in Georgia has exploded in growth and now averages 5,000 in attendance, which includes two regional campuses. SCC has planted new churches in nearby Bluffton, South Carolina, and in New Orleans. The church does a great job with its ministry to the homeless in downtown Savannah. Cam Huxford, next year’s NACC president, is minister.
In Jacksonville, Florida, Christ’s Church, under the leadership of Dennis Bratton, runs 3,500 in attendance and has started two satellite churches, one of which began with almost 1,000 people. Each Christmas this church supplies gifts for more than 1,200 needy children in the area. (There are five other churches in Florida averaging more than 1,000.)
Alabama and Mississippi are Baptist territory. But the dynamic Pine Lake Church in Jackson, Mississippi, which is led by a young friend of mine, Chip Henderson, averages 6,000 people. It’s Baptist in roots but it has a structure, spirit, and doctrine much like ours. Christ is exalted there. That’s another reason to celebrate. Most of us are recognizing that we’re not the only Christians, but Christians only.
Journey Christian Church in New Orleans was planted just three years before Hurricane Katrina. Although many members of that church were scattered because of the disaster, Journey has been a dependable channel for millions of dollars of relief funds sent from Christian churches and churches of Christ. Journey Christian has scheduled more than 400 church groups that have come to distribute money and clothing.
There are now five churches in Texas that average more than 1,000. Crossroads Christian Church outside Dallas averages more than 3,000, and the minister, Barry Cameron, has a national stewardship ministry that is making an impact across denominational lines. If we were to include the a cappella churches on this list, we could add the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio where Max Lucado preaches and the Richland Hills Church of Christ in Fort Worth where Rick Atchley preaches. Both churches average several thousand each week.
In Arizona there are nine churches averaging more than 1,000 in worship. Christ’s Church of the Valley, in Peoria, where Don Wilson preaches, averages over 10,000. Central Christian in Mesa averages over 5,000.
Crossroads Christian Church in Corona, California, south of Los Angeles, runs more than 5,000 weekly. In Porter Ranch, California, Dudley Rutherford has an incredible ministry where more than 7,000 meet every week in 16 different venues. People who say, “The church is the most segregated hour of the week,” have not been to Shepherd of the Hills—it’s as mosaic as you’ll find anywhere. Shepherd of the Hills Church has started two other churches over the last 10 years; both average almost 1,000. Adventure Christian Church in Sacramento, has more than 4,000 meeting in the state capital. (There are 12 churches in California that average more than 1,000; only Indiana, with 13, has more.)
In Beaverton, Oregon, Clark Tanner leads a ministry of almost 2,000. In Seattle, Washington, the Overlake Church of 3,500 started Northshore that now has 1,600. The Rainier View Christian Church in Tacoma, where Roger Worsham preaches, has 1,500.
Jim Putman in Post Falls, Idaho, has an incredible ministry to 6,000 in a town of only 15,000 people and about 30 Christian churches. Those who claim large churches are a mile wide and an inch deep don’t know about Real Life Ministries, where the very first class everyone goes through is Basic Doctrine 101. This church is poised to plant a new church in Spokane, Washington.
Montana is sparsely populated, and the Christian Church Today Web site lists only 26 churches in the whole state. But Pinehaven Children’s Ranch in St. Ignatius has an impressive record of ministering to wayward teens. It’s a wonderful mission of compassion to hurting families.
In an area that has been hard soil for evangelical churches of any kind, Pat Ridpath has led Crossroads Christian Church to 700 in attendance in St. Cloud, Minnesota. In downtown Minneapolis, Brett Miller has established a ministry engaging its multiethnic urban neighborhood and is reaching out to the university two blocks away. Brett could preach anywhere but he’s sticking it out in a difficult field and has been making a difference for the past eight years.
His brother Phil Miller has the same kind of tenacity near Fargo, North Dakota. Phil stayed 17 years in Moorhead, Minnesota, and helped Valley Christian Church grow from 60 to 150. Phil represents hundreds of godly ministers who are faithful in unglamorous places and who won’t be fully recognized until Judgment Day.
Do you know about Central Christian Church in Beloit, Wisconsin? Dave Clark ministers to a church that runs nearly 2,000 every week? The River Glen Church where Ben Davis preaches, just outside Milwaukee, also has more than 1,000.
In the Chicago area there are three churches with more than 1,000: Tim Harlow at Parkview Church and Dave Ferguson at Community Christian in Naperville run 3,000 and 4,000, respectively. Dave Ferguson is a nationally respected pioneer in multisite ministries.
Did you know we have a church of 1,500 in Trenton, Michigan, near Detroit? This church, where Brett Kays preaches, had 227 baptisms last year. And I understand there’s a three-year-old church in Detroit running 800.
In the Cleveland area we have several churches over 1,000, including First Christian in Canton, one of our historic churches that has undergone a complete turnaround under the ministry of John Hampton; it now averages around 2,000 people per Sunday. The RiverTree Church in Massillon, where Greg Nettle preaches, has almost 3,000.
Go to Canada, a nation where fewer than 5 percent attend church. In Toronto, Impact Canada, under the direction of Jim Tune, started the Churchill Meadows congregation five years ago. It now averages 400 people a week. Toronto is the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Once a year the Churchill Meadows congregation has an international dinner when the people in the church bring national dishes; there are 32 countries represented in that one church.
Ours is not just a Midwest movement; it has encircled the nation and is influencing the world; it is very much on the move again. We’ve almost got the country surrounded, and that’s reason to celebrate.
“Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’” (1 Chronicles 16:31).
Bob Russell travels, speaks, and writes from his home in Louisville, Kentucky.