By Kent E. Fillinger
Succeeding a well-known, well-loved, successful, retiring senior minister is a daunting task for virtually anyone. But Aaron Brockett also faced stepping into the ministry of a church with minimal growth for five years prior to a major relocation and building project.
Granted, several factors contributed to the lengthy attendance stall at Traders Point Christian Church, Indianapolis, Indiana.
• A prolonged relocation process kept the church idling in an undersized facility.
• A daughter church grew out of Traders Point’s young adult ministry—a good development that nevertheless cleared the bench of younger, upcoming leaders for a time.
• Senior minister Howard Brammer had served with distinction for 24 years, but now he was preparing for retirement.
During the five-month interim ministry of J.K. Jones, Traders Point showed renewed signs of life as the church started to settle into its new campus. Brockett arrived in December 2007 and significantly fanned the flames. Traders Point has exploded from an average attendance of 1,700 to more than 3,700 in Brockett’s first four years. The annual growth rates for the church have ranged from 13 percent in Brockett’s first year to 31 percent last year. Additionally, the church has baptized almost 800 people in the last two years, which is the same number of baptisms as in the previous nine years combined.
Brockett was only 31 when he started at Traders Point. He noted that his age was an asset. His energy level was strong, and he was able to connect with twentysomethings as well as those in their 40s and 50s. (He also acknowledged, however, that he needs to manage his workload differently today than he did four years ago.)
It’s true that at first some said, “What’s this kid going to do?” or “What can he possibly teach us?” But now he’s hearing, “You have wisdom beyond your years.” But Brockett is quick to note he is simply teaching the wisdom found in Scripture.
The new church facility originally was designed with an oversized, 2,600-seat worship center and an undersized children’s ministry area suitable for a church of 1,500. Leaders thought the facility would provide Traders Point with room to grow for a decade, but the church outgrew the space in less than four years. Traders Point maxed out its children space almost a year ago and has been forced to use its gym for children’s classes.
Traders Point launched a major capital campaign this spring to expand the children’s ministry space on its campus and to build a ministry center for children in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, through its partnership with CMF International and Missions of Hope International.
When Brockett arrived, he focused his attention on preaching solid Bible sermons, on learning the church culture, and on settling into the new campus and facility. The elders tasked Brockett with preaching and being a leader of leaders, and in his first 18 months he made few major changes. Over the last two-plus years, however, Brockett has made some significant decisions, including those in the worship service and upgrades to the church’s technology through the use of more video and an enhanced church website.
Growing Church, Growing Staff
The ministry staff has grown from just over 20 people to almost 60 during this season of growth. “We all feel like a 14-year-old that grew six inches over the summer,” Brockett said, “and now we are trying to play catch-up and still grow into our clothes.”
The enlarged staff has also required an adjustment to staff meetings and teams. Initially, Brockett and his team would all gather together to share and pray. Now, the staff has been organized into several more manageable teams. The full staff meets together on the first Monday of the month for informational updates, a leadership lesson from Brockett followed by discussion and application, and a time of worship.
As the church has grown, Brockett has tried to hire people from within the church to fill most of the pastoral roles. The rationale is that these individuals already own the church’s culture, have bought into the vision, and demonstrated a willingness to serve. When Brockett and his team see someone with leadership potential and a desire to serve in ministry, they work to assess the person’s calling and spend time helping him to develop it.
For example, the church’s membership pastor had been a member of the church for 15 years, and had been identified as someone with ministry potential, but the church waited three years for the right position to open to hire him.
Brockett wants to ensure that Traders Point “keeps its foot on the gas,” so twice a year he preaches what he calls “full-court vision messages” to drive home the values and mission of the church. Brockett is enjoying this stage of the journey, and he is also learning, as he leads in ways he’s never done before. He described this feeling as being “in front of a huge train watching all of the moving parts.” This phase is the biggest leadership curve both he and the church have ever been on, and he is challenging the church to sacrifice and give in significant ways.
Brockett places a high value on sermon preparation. He noted that preaching strong, biblical messages provides him with the opportunity to lead through his preaching, to establish credibility, and to speak into people’s lives in a special way. He also continues to focus on connecting with people individually and staying balanced in ministry.
The church is preparing to adopt a multisite model in the near future, as it builds on its strength as a regional church.
Kent E. Fillinger is president of 3:STRANDS Consulting, Indianapolis, Indiana, and associate director of projects and partnerships with CMF International.