Date of Award
Doctor of Ministry
Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary
Doctor of Ministry DMin
Stanley E. Patterson
Problem. In 2008 the Fort Worth First Seventh-day Adventist church had nearly 200 filled volunteer positions (according to the nominating committee report) as well as a wide range of ministries that served the needs of the members. The weekly attendance at that time averaged between 220 and 250 individuals (including children). In a self-administered survey only 20 members (less than 10% of weekly adult attendance) reported that they were engaged in direct evangelistic ministry aimed at recruiting new members (accessions). A similar survey was filled out by ministry leaders and 58% of these ministry leaders reported that their ministry had an evangelistic emphasis. Members were determined to be engaged in evangelistic ministry if they gave an affirmative response to 85% of the questions on the self-administered survey. Likewise, ministries were determined to have an evangelistic emphasis if the leaders gave an affirmative response to 85% of the questions on the ministry leader survey. This deficiency, which inhibits the church's ability to minister to unchurched people and stifles the numerical growth of the congregation, appears to be a result of institutionalism in the church caused by three dominant factors: (a) a leadership structure that focuses almost exclusively on administration, (b) a lack of ministries where evangelism is the primary goal, (c) a misplaced focus on nurture of existing ministries rather than evangelism. A further challenge was an unclear understanding of evangelism. Within the Seventh-day Adventist context, evangelism is typically understood to refer to a very specific church event – namely the evangelistic series. This event is usually centered on the proclamation of specific Bible prophecies over a period of two to five weeks. This doctrinal presentation is often what Adventists think of when they hear the term "evangelism." In this document and for the purposes of this project, evangelism was given a more broad definition. Evangelism can take many different forms and it should be understood that any clear proclamation of the good news (whether through word or deed) that helps people make a decision for Christ, is evangelism. Furthermore, it is understood that evangelism is not truly complete until someone has been discipled into spiritual maturity and begins to function in the body as part of God’s royal priesthood. Therefore, whenever evangelism is referenced in this document it should be understood by the more broad definition which includes discipleship towards spiritual maturity rather than by the narrower one that is common within Adventism and emphasizes public proclamations and ends at baptism.
The process used to attempt congregational transformation focused on six areas of intervention. First, there was an attempt to objectively evaluate the current evangelistic involvement of members and ministries. This was accomplished through two self-administered surveys. One was completed by ministry leaders and the other by the church members at-large. The survey was taken at the beginning of the project and again at the end. In addition to the surveys, accessions (new members joining the church through baptism or profession-of-faith) were evaluated during the project time period to determine whether there was an increase in lay-lead accessions as a result of the project interventions. The second was an attempt to develop a church wide vision for lay-led evangelism. This was to be accomplished through sermons, training events, devotional thoughts, ministry retreats, testimonies and the church newsletter. Included in this step was the creation of a new mission statement that sought to identify lay-led evangelism as a primary goal of the church. Third, was an attempt to develop a process for discipleship that would help members grow spiritually and connect with Christ’s mission with the intention that this would result in an increase in lay-led evangelism. Fourth, an intentional re-purposing of the administrative structures of the church designed to free ministry leaders from administrative responsibilities and give them freedom to develop their ministries without unnecessary oversight. Fifth, was an attempt to re-purpose existing ministries to help them emphasize evangelism and to unite current leaders with the vision for lay-led evangelism. Sixth, an attempt to start new ministries led by new leaders who had a vision for lay-led evangelism. These ministries were to be directly evangelistic in orientation and were to place members in ministries where evangelism was the primary goal. In addition to these six areas of focus, it was necessary to consistently observe how lay leaders were responding to the interventions. In some cases when it appeared that specific interventions were causing significant distress among those leaders it was necessary to adjust, postpone, or even set them aside.
The attempt to transform the congregation from maintenance to mission has had mixed results. Setting aside those areas that were strictly evaluative, only one of the six interventions was fully implemented. The other interventions all struggled for various reasons, ranging from pastoral inexperience in some areas (especially in the areas of discipleship and in knowing how to help ministries become evangelistic) to strong resistance from key leaders in others (most specifically as a result of a perceived loss of power after the administrative restructuring). Ultimately, the attempt to unite the church around lay-led evangelism was not successful and there was not an observed increase in accessions due to lay-led efforts.
The attempt to bring about radical transformation in an institutionalized congregation has proved to be far more difficult than originally anticipated. Furthermore, such a drastic change in mindset appears to take far longer than one would like with hardly any observable change in congregational behavior towards being more mission focused by the end of the three-year project time frame. In the end, while some valuable changes have been observed, they have not yet amounted to a shift in culture or a new paradigm of lay-led evangelism.
Church work; Church management; Mission of the church; Forth Worth First Seventh-day Adventist Church (Forth Worth, Tex.)
Bowler, Tyler, "An Introduction to the Process of Re-purposing the Fort Worth First Seventh-day Adventist Church From Maintenance to Mission" (2014). Project Documents. 495.