Intentional Continuity and Longevity Lead to Steady Growth
By TR Robertson
First Christian Church in Rolla, Missouri, was averaging about 200 when senior minister Tim Cook began his ministry there in 1982. Over the past 37 years, the congregation has moved, changed its name to Greentree Christian Church, and grown to around 2,500 members; GCC now averages about 1,200 to 1,300 on Sunday mornings.
The site where the church met for more than 100 years had only 25 parking spaces. When the church reached the point of drawing around 500 in three services, they knew they needed to expand. The additions of a gymnasium and education space led to an immediate 30 percent increase in attendance. As steady growth continued, the church built a larger facility on Greentree Road and again saw a quick 30 percent growth.
“With each phase of growth, we examine what staff we think we’re going to need to hire in the next year or two,” Cook said. “You have to have good staff and good chemistry within the staff.”
Cook plans to retire as senior minister this June. His longevity, combined with intentional continuity, have been key to the congregation’s steady growth, and it promises to ensure healthy growth for years to come.
“I believe in longevity, not only for the senior minister but for staff,” Cook said. “My guys that are going to be taking over for me in the pulpit have been here 19 and 15 years. [They were] young guys [who came here] just out of college, who worked with us in a variety of ways through the years. We’ve kept changing their roles as they’ve grown and developed.
“I tell my elders we want to recruit and keep quality people. Rehiring your youth minister every three years is a disaster. Over half of my staff are homegrown people who grew up in this church, have gone off and gotten their education, and come back. We know their strengths and weaknesses going in.”
Cook attributes a large part of Greentree’s growth to an intentional focus on men.
“You’ll never see a church die for lack of female involvement,” he said. “You’ll see a lot of churches die for lack of male involvement and leadership.”
While Greentree has thriving ministries for women, youth, and children, the church’s focus is on drawing and keeping the men, even down to the choice of colors in the worship area. The church develops programs to attract men who wouldn’t normally volunteer for anything else. One example is the group Strong Backs & Weak Minds, which takes on projects when someone in the church or community needs help moving or with handyman-type jobs.
Greentree develops leaders through an annual invitation-only class for men identified as potential leaders by the staff and elders. These men are trained and evaluated for a year before being moved into actual leadership roles.
Cook and his staff have focused on multiplying membership through baptism and by attracting people who had given up on church. Growing the congregation by growing believers—rather than trying to take active members from other congregations—fits into Greentree’s overall focus on continuity.
Cook is confident Greentree will continue its steady growth as he leaves the leadership in the hands of a pair of men who learned to lead by serving the church.
“The key is to stick it out,” Cook said. “Work through your problems. This is a pretty harmonious congregation. My two younger ministers who are both 40 are going to co-minister. They’re very comfortable, and I’m comfortable with it.”
TR Robertson is a freelance writer living in Columbia, Missouri.