Arcadia First Baptist had been through many stages in the life of a church. From its humble beginnings in the 1940s as a small church start meeting in a member’s barbershop to a budding one-room church, all the way up to the multiple-room building that houses the congregation today, Arcadia First Baptist knew what it was like to grow, change and adapt to better meet their community’s needs.
Yet, like so many other churches, Arcadia First Baptist had a hard year, and that year brought changes the church could not have anticipated. First, the area was devastated by Hurricane Harvey in 2017, then in May 2018, there was a school shooting at the local high school. Not only were several of the church’s teenagers injured in the shooting, but the shooter’s family also attended the church. These things, coupled with the retirement of the previous pastor, led the church into a season of challenge.
“This was a generally healthy church, but when I came here, there were several events that happened to cause the church to decline,” Joshua McDonald, who became the new pastor of Arcadia First Baptist in 2018, explained. “God sustained the church through it all, but there were, naturally, hardships and decline.”
When McDonald first arrived at the church, he organized his process of connecting with the church into an acronym, “PHASE.” This five-prong approach stands for People, History, Aspirations, Sermons and Everyone needs the gospel.
With these ideas in mind, McDonald set out to work, getting to know the congregation and the church’s history, sharing his aspirations for the church and hearing others’ aspirations, and preaching sermons that were deliberately centered around sharing the gospel.
“Every single chance I get, I share the gospel and I talk about its importance. I share it every Sunday from the pulpit with extreme clarity, whether it’s from Scripture or through an illustration. Not only do non-believers need the gospel, not only do our guests in our church need the gospel, but it’s for every member, including the pastors, including myself. It’s for everyone. And since we’ve become gospel-focused, it has opened up this crazy stream of everyone wanting to share the gospel,” McDonald said.
This passion for the gospel has led to more members bringing guests and more people visiting the church. Since 2018, the church has grown from 250 weekly attendees to 350, though McDonald explained that the pandemic has made those numbers differ drastically on a week-by-week basis.
In the midst of this growth, McDonald reached out to Jonathan Smith, director of Church Health Strategy. The two had become friends during Smith’s time as a pastor in the area, and now McDonald hoped that Smith could help Arcadia First Baptist continue to grow. Smith came to Arcadia Baptist Church and observed the church’s process on a regular Sunday, then met with McDonald and other church staff and walked them through some ideas to better improve their guest process.
Smith was able to give that ‘guest’ perspective, and he helped Arcadia First Baptist work through an assimilation plan to get guests connected to a small group and also multiplied the number of small groups. He suggested small groups choose one or two people to be trained as new small group leaders. Then, when a new member class happens, those people act as table hosts at the event. They can walk the people at their table through the process and invite them to join their newly launched small group so that the new members are drawn into a community and feel that they have a place to belong.
“There are two things that keep people at a church – when people find a meaningful community and when people find a place to serve in their community. And the assimilation process really addresses both of those to help new church members get to know the church well, understand the basics of the church, get plugged into a community and find a place to serve in that community, where they are contributing,” Smith explained.
Arcadia First Baptist was already a growing, vibrant church. Smith was able to come alongside them and make sure that they continued growing and give them the tools they need to succeed for years to come.
“Oftentimes I’m not working with an unhealthy church; it’s a healthy church that needs to think about just one aspect of improvement,” Smith said. “I’m here to help a church think all the way from their website to what happens to a guest on a given Sunday.”
For more information about Church Health Strategy and to learn how your church can benefit from their resources, go to txb.org/healthychurch or contact Jonathan Smith at Jonathan.Smith[at]txb.org.
Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.
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