By Kent E. Fillinger
When Don Hill started a new church in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, he wanted it to appeal to ordinary people. Hill wanted people to remember that before Jesus was the Messiah, he was an ordinary carpenter. This concept was reflected in the new church’s name—The Carpenter’s Christian Church.
Carpenter’s began with a core group of 30 people and held its first worship service in the show barn at Anderson Circle Farms in March 1999. In its early days, the church met in rented facilities throughout Mercer County. In August 2003, when Greg Warren became the church’s second senior minister, the church had grown to about 80 regular attendees and was still meeting in a rented facility.
The church doubled in size during Warren’s first year. In 2004, construction began on a permanent worship facility on a highly visible, easily accessible location in the town of about 8,000 people. Since its first service in its new building in June 2005, the church has seen steady growth. Carpenter’s average worship attendance last year was 420, making it the youngest medium church in the survey.
Perhaps most surprising, all seven paid staff members of the church are bivocational. Warren is a local middle school teacher, and the part-time children’s, middle school, and high school ministers all work in local public schools as well. The church’s associate minister is a financial planner. Even the church’s secretary, who functions somewhat like an executive minister would in many churches, isn’t quite full-time. That means in seven years, the church has grown 425 percent with only part-time, bivocational staff.
The staff members’ employment status has placed them in environments where they can meet a wider variety of people than they might otherwise. And given the nature of their jobs in the public schools, they have an opportunity to interact with and influence many students and families in the local community.
Staff additions have come from within the congregation as needs have surfaced and as individuals have been available to serve. Additionally, the ministers’ bivocational status has eased the financial burden on the church, allowing it to build sooner than it might have otherwise.
Warren attributes the growth to the power of the Holy Spirit and an excellent team of elders who have taken ownership for many of the daily ministry responsibilities of the church. Several of the elders are retired and have committed to serving “full-time” at the church; these men fulfill many of the typical pastoral roles and responsibilities, greatly reducing the administrative load Warren and his team must carry. The congregation understands the schedule limitations of the staff.
Warren also has focused on involving members in ministry. Warren and his team have become systematic in how they track the church’s guests and attendees. The church tracks small group and class involvement on a monthly basis, practicing what Warren calls “sheep counting” by identifying who is in the “fold,” who is growing spiritually, and the next steps each attendee needs to take.
When Warren started at the church, he prided himself on knowing everyone personally; he says it was very much an “Andy Griffith style of ministry.” As the church continued to grow, Warren recognized the need to develop systems of organization to better manage the influx of new people. Warren also realized he could not micromanage, but needed to empower others to lead and serve.
Face-to-face staff meetings are rare, but staff stays connected by e-mail and phone to address issues and make decisions. The elders meet monthly and hold periodic stand-up meetings, as needed. Once or twice a year, the church staff meets to evaluate and plan together.
The church added a gym and classrooms to its building in February 2007, but it is again in need of more classroom space, so it is renting space to accommodate growth. The church is hesitant to build just now, mindful of its current debt load and financial situation.
Though space is an issue, Warren said the church is committed to “going places where the fish are biting the best,” which he defines as the people who have hit rock bottom and are ready for change in their lives.
The church is focused on meeting the spiritual and physical needs of those in their community. For example, Carpenter’s has invested time in ministering to local and county jail inmates and their families. The church has also launched a bus ministry that is focusing on first reaching the children of a neighborhood and then their parents. For the last two summers, the church has sponsored an outdoor street ministry at a local public housing community. The church provides residents there with a monthly free meal and outdoor worship service during the summer.
When Warren retires from teaching in nine years, he may go into “full-time” ministry at the church, but for now, Warren and his team continue to serve faithfully with the time they have available, and God continues to grow the church.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International, Indianapolis, Indiana.