Make Room For More!

by Derek Gentle

Pastor's State of the Church Message
Delivered January 7, 2001
Edited April 24, 2001

Isaiah 54:1-3 1 "Sing, O barren, You who have not borne! Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, You who have not labored with child! For more are the children of the desolate Than the children of the married woman," says the LORD.
2 "Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes.
3 For you shall expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants will inherit the nations, And make the desolate cities inhabited.
Isaiah 54:1-3 (New King James Version)

We at First Baptist have...

1. Much to Rejoice Over
As it says in verse one of our text, "Burst into song, shout for joy" (NIV). Why? Because we have experienced:

1.1 Continued Growth "More are the children" says verse 1. Look at what has happened in Sunday School attendance. Our Sunday School year begins in September. Last year we averaged 190. This year we averaged 213.

To understand this in perspective, it helps to know that only 25% of all Southern Baptist Churches in Alabama experience even a 3% gain over three years.

In December (2000) we averaged 236; so the growth has continued.

2001-YTD....241..(as of 4-22-01, 34 Sundays, +13%)

Every one of those numbers represents a boy or girl or a mom or dad... someone for whom Christ died... someone whom Jesus loves... and hopefully someone we are loving on.

We can rejoice because we have experienced...

1.2 Growth without Labor
"You who were never in labor" vs 1 (NIV)
Or "travail," to use the word in the King James. There have times, as we have seen people move their membership to this church, as we have broken missions offering records, that felt like a spectator, seeing the blessing of God. As the Psalmist said, "This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes." The fact of the matter is, we haven't "busted a gut" in reaching lost folks, in visiting; we have not exerted ourselves to some travailing, extreme level. Yet, the growth has come anyway. It is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

We can rejoice because we have had a...

1.3 Disproportionate Impact
"More are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband," says the LORD" Vs. 1 (NIV)

Normally, you would think of a woman with no husband as having fewer children than a woman with a husband (until the last couple of decades, anyway). But what the prophet is really picturing is the fact that Gentiles, who had not been married to the Lord God Jehovah would all of a sudden become God's people. And those who had not had a relationship with the one true God would all of a sudden explode with growth as the Gospel spread. And yet, I think we could say that we have had an impact that is disproportionate to our true size. Last year, we ran 190 in Sunday School, this year we ran 213 in Sunday School, and right now we are running 236 in Sunday School. This is still not a super church. But let me show you some ways that we are having an impact that is disproportionate to our size church.

On our web site, the Baptist Start Page (, in the month of December we had 14,500 page views. That means of all the different pages, 14,500 times, someone went to view a page. We had 5,365 unique visitors; that's not the same person coming back twice, but entirely different people. From around the globe, over 5000 different people looking at our web site. We had 173 unique visitors per day- 262 total visitors per day - that's more than we average weekly in Sunday School - but per day. That is disproportionate impact.

Take Upward Basketball: we have 251 people involved as a player or cheerleader each week. Add just one parent per child coming to see them play and that's over 500 people. Every one of them hears a devotional - the players and cheerleaders at practice and the parents at half time of the games. That's a conservative number. It doesn't include the seventy-two volunteers who coach cheerleaders and basketball. And yet, it's twice what we run in Sunday School.

Take Trunk or Treat: Last year we had 273 children come through. This year we had 301 children come through. With everyone of those children who come through goes a sack of Christian tracts, literature and tapes. It's not just candy we are passing out. That is a disproportionate impact.

It's not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it's the size of the fight in the dog.

That ought to describe our church in terms of what we are ambitious to accomplish in service to Christ... that we want to be aggressive... to attempt great things for God and to expect great things from God.

Let me say that we will have...

2. More to Make Room For

2.1 More Growth is Coming If we don't mess up... if we don't get ourselves in sin... if we don't fracture our fellowship... if we will behave ourselves... if we will obey God and do the things He calls us to do... if we will heed and obey... and behave and love each other... more growth is coming. It is ours to have, if we will have it. It is ours to blow. Let's not blow it; let's be ready for it.

Verse 2 says, "You shall expand to the right and to the left, And your descendants will inherit the nations"

We should aspire to send out ministers and missionaries to "inherit the nations" I hope that we have, as one of our ambitions, that ministers and missionaries will come out of our congregation... that the sun would never set on the ministry of First Baptist... that there would be people from our church serving Christ in every time zone. That should be the prayer and dream of our church. And that shouldn't just be the preacher's dream, that should be our dream, collectively, as a church. That our descendants would, truly, for Christ's sake, by spreading the Gospel, inherit the nations.

We should not assume that growth will be automatic. We cannot sit here and say they are going to come. We cannot rest on our laurels.

We must also understand that in the life of a church that there are seasons of growth and seasons of solidifying. Like a tree has seasons of growth and seasons of solidifying, so the Lord will allow churches to have periods where they experience large numerical growth and then seasons where they solidify in spiritual growth. Then, they can go to the next level. Some time, we might bump into one of those solidifying seasons. If so, let's not let it mess with our morale. Let's us say that it is time to dig deeper with God, to solidify, to train and get ready for the next level. Because more growth come will again if we will behave ourselves and not allow anything to ruin our unity. Growth will come.


2.2 More Growth Calls for More Structure

Verse 2 says, "Enlarge the place of your tent, And let them stretch out the curtains of your dwellings; Do not spare; Lengthen your cords, And strengthen your stakes" We used to do a lot of tent camping. We had what I called the "Metropolitan Tent Area;" our two room tent, the dining tent, and the 20 by 40 foot tarp over it all. It took both of our two small cars to carry everything we needed to go camping. With that big tarp, on rainy nights, we stayed dry with our tent windows open, when others were going to their cars. But I learned that I had to pick my camp site carefully in order to be sure I had enough room for all that we carried and put up. That's what it means when he says, "Enlarge the place of your tent."

With the purchase of our new property, we have more options than we have ever had before. Together as a church, we will have to decide how to pursue those options. Together as a church, we will have to study and do our homework. Together as a church, we will make the decision. Together as a church, we will, decide one way or the other, how to enlarge the place of our tent.

In order to enlarge the place of our tent:

We Must Provide Space.
It is not optional. Jim Swedenburg told us two years ago, "You have managed to reach an average attendance of 185 people in a space designed for only 150." We purchased the Rutland house since then, but we are still running out of room.

I know some people in our church are not feeling the pinch like others. One reason is because we have really tried to give priority space to our senior adults; they've earned it. But if you were to go over to the Rutland House, you will find around thirty adults per Sunday. They have to walk across the street and the parking lot to or from worship, sometimes in the weather. We have some people who are feeling the pinch so that others won't have to. Praise the Lord! That's good. That's the way it ought to work in a Baptist church.

We are having babies cry in the adult section of the education building now because we don't have anywhere else to put them. But it's not just babies. Those babies will grow older and then they will be preschoolers - they will still require 35 square feet per child. Then they will be children and they will require 25 square feet each. Then they will be youth and they will require 12 to 15 square feet per person. They will still have to be somewhere. And I hope we have more babies coming along behind them. (You just keep up the good work, young couples.)

We must provide space. We must find a way to do this. We may not have the first brick laid, but we had better, by the end of this year - this year, 2001, have the plans made. We must do so.

But it is more than just space we need. There are a lot of big church buildings that are empty. And there are a lot of big churches full of empty people. Let us not mistake a building for the church. And let us not make another mistake: Let us not let a building program become the tail that wags the dog. No building is a church. The New Testament church met in homes because they didn't have buildings. They managed to prosper and thrive and spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth without buildings. Let us recognize that God's people are the building, the church. There has to be an spiritual infrastructure that is big enough to see to it that evangelism is carried out, that ministry and caring is carried out, that people's needs are met, and the Word of God is taught.

There has to be spiritual structure as well as a physical structure - and that structure is more important than the physical structure.

Therefore, this year will be the...

Year of Equipping
Your staff will be bringing your way, in the year 2001 and into 2002, more training events than you have ever seen before. We are going to train to be more efficient in ministry. What does it say in Ephesians 4? That the work of the minsters, whom we call the clergy, is to equip the church to do the work of ministry. That's what the Bible says. We are going to equip ourselves, as a church, to serve God, like we have never equipped ourselves before.

And I want to ask you to do something: if we tell you "this is good," we are asking you to try it and see if you can't learn something. It is my policy not recommend any training event unless I really believe that it will be good. I won't support it if I have doubts or if it is only three quarters good; because they won't believe me the next time (and go to the next one that really is good). There is not a single one of us here, pastor included, who doesn't have something yet that he can learn about serving God. We want the axe to be as sharp as we can make it.

This year, I want us to move toward...

Ministry Teams
A committee is a group of people who decide what other people are going to do. You have to have some committees. For example, you have to have a personnel committee and a stewardship committee. Someone has to make final decisions about money matters. So I am not saying that committees are evil. But mostly what a church needs, instead of committees, is ministries.

Ministry teams are groups of people with diverse abilities, sharing one mission, all doing the work of ministry, with one clearly defined and responsible leader.

One of the things I have noticed in Baptist churches is that, many times, committee chairmen think they are the committee. Sometimes, the chairman makes the decisions and does the work and the rest of the members just have their name on a list. It is more important to get ten men to do the work than to do the work of ten men - or women.

We need to continue...

Creating New Units
You dance with the one what brung 'ya. That's an official football saying. It means that when you get to the big game, you do what has been working earlier in the season. We have experienced growth because we have created new teaching units in Sunday School. New classes grow faster than existing classes. Growth momentum continues for eighteen months in a new Sunday School class. Then you have to start a new unit to gain new momentum.

That means you have to have people who are willing to come out of their classes and help create new units.

We will be needing...

More Movement from Farming to Ranching
The farmer does it all; he feeds the chickens, he drives the tractor, everything. A rancher has hired hands - like on Bonanza with the bunk house and all the hired hands. This enables the rancher to have a larger operation. We are going to have to realize, as the church gets bigger and bigger, that the pastor cannot do all the hands on ministry. He can be at only one place at a time. As the church gets bigger, there is more administration. We have to delegate some ministry out. Don't hear me saying my heart is in getting out of doing ministry. Hear me saying that it is going to take more people to get done all that we need to get done. As we go through the next two or three years, we are going to have to add more staff members and mobilize more volunteers from our membership. That's just how a church grows. We are going to have to be anticipating that.

We need to get...

Mobilized to Evangelize
We have done really well with transfer growth. That is when people move their membership from another church to your church. That's good; it means you are doing something right when folks feel, "This is the church home for me." That means they have picked your church out of all the others. That's a good thing to have happen.

But the main work of the whole church until Christ returns is to win lost people to Christ. And we need to learn how to do that. Our problem is that we keep running into all these "confrontational" methods of evangelism that have you talking to people on the assumption that they are strangers. Well, it isn't that way in Tallassee. Someone has called this, The Intimacy Factor. You went to High School with them, you know who they dated before they got married, you know where they live, you know where they work, you know their children's names. It's harder to talk to people like that about their relationship with Christ. This year, we are going to have a major training event to learn how to talk to people we already know. We need to know how to tell them how to know Jesus, how to call them to commitment, and how to reach out to them. That is where we need the most help.

This year we had fewer baptisms than the year before. I want us to have more next year. Only because it will be a symptom of the fact that we led people to saving faith in Jesus Christ. I want you to share that dream with me.

There is one other goal I want to mention about enlarging the place of our tent.

And that is an...

Improved Benevolence Ministry
Benevolence ministry is hard to do. People come in who should be at the Academy Awards. Some of the best lying and some of the best acting takes place in a church office from someone wanting help. But some of them are really in need. We did some good things in this area this year. We had some money come in designated for this purpose and we were able to do some good things. Sometimes, people come wanting a room for the night and enough gas to get to the next town. That's not the kind of benevolence ministry I'm talking about. I want to do more than throw money at a problem. I'm talking about helping people become responsible. Because most - not all - who get in this spot got there because of some form of irresponsibility. We need to teach them how to be responsible in these areas of life. It's the old thing about you can give a person a fish and help him for a day or teach him how to fish and help him for the rest of his life.

This is the vision for First Baptist Church, Tallassee that I am asking you to share. It is what I am asking you to work toward.

However, I want you to remember that...

3. Satan Also has a Plan for First Baptist Church:
(I got these from one of David Dykes' State of the Church addresses)

Satan wants to...

3.1 To Disunify our Fellowship
You can just mark that down. Any time the Lord is busy at work in a place, you will find that the devil gets busy in that place, too. And when there is love and unity in a fellowship, don't you know that the devil is going to do his best to mess that up. Let us be alert to that fact. And when we see the first signs of it - listen! - let's not proliferate it or escalate it, let's eliminate it!

3.2 To Divert Our Energies
The Lord has called us to do certain things. We have, from God, the resources to do those things God has called us to do. We have enough people power and the talents and the skills and everything we need to do the things that God has called us to do. But the devil would like us to do something other than what God has called us to do. We cannot allow our energies to be diverted to something else.

3.3 To Dilute our Message
I don't see any problems looming on the horizon on this. But I know that, if he has the opportunity, the devil would like to do that. Let us stick with the Book, founded and grounded in the Book, so that this Word is the Final Word on what we believe and teach and think and say at First Baptist.

3.4 To Destroy Our Love
That's like the issue of fellowship and unity, but it also goes to our families and our homes... we can get to the point of going through the motions - and fail to love Jesus, and fail to love our families, and fail to love people, like we ought to do.

A great church is more than a great performance in the services by the church staff. The staff is not the ultimate measure of a church; the membership is. A great church is a people involved in a great work exalting a great Savior. Do you see where God is moving among us? Are you sharing God's vision? Have you accepted His invitation to join Him in what He is doing? Or do you need to get on board? God is at work; let's make room for more!