During its heyday during the Jesus movement in the late 1970s, Creekside Church—known then as Christ Church of Northgate—was afire with 2,000 members.
But the Seattle church declined precipitously in the ensuing years, dropping to 350 members by 1995.
“By the time Pastor Don Ross came, we were a pretty hurting church,” says church elder Rick Hertzog, 60, a Seattle resident and travel agency owner. “We had undergone a church split. So we were definitely not reaching out to other people.”
In his first decade at the church, Ross worked to address many of the issues behind the decline. Nonetheless, attendance continued to fall, reaching 175 in 2004.
“We were like a leper colony for Jesus,” Ross says. “Nobody wanted to be with us, but at least we had each other.”
In 2005, the church sold its four-acre, 80,000-square-foot campus and relocated to a 10-acre elementary school campus in nearby Mountlake Terrace, Wash.
Then, during a leadership meeting, Hertzog made a poignant remark: “Nothing is going to change in our church just because we’ve had a change of address. Our hearts have to change.”
Inspired by the comment, Ross asked God to transform his heart. Not long afterward, Ross realized the change he needed to make was to “just love the people.”
While praying one day, Ross says the Lord asked him, “If this church never grows by one more person, will you love the 175 that are here and lead them to heaven?”
“At that point, we had not had a new visitor in over two years,” Ross says. “After that conversation, when I started promising to love people just the way they are, visitors just started showing up.”
As Ross loved his flock, a “genuine change of heart” spread throughout the congregation. As the church grew, Ross says his congregation started praying and caring for others at a deeper level.
In 2009, shortly before the church finished remodeling the new campus, Ross asked everyone to write on an unpainted wall the name of a friend, neighbor or co-worker they wanted to come to Jesus.
On Easter, Christmas and other major holidays, Ross also encouraged his flock—in what became known as “3-1-1”—to write down the names of three people they wanted to receive Jesus, and to pray for them each day at 1 p.m. for a minute.
In short order, more and more people came to the church, and many received Christ and got baptized.
“It created a ripple effect as more people began to bring their friends to church,” Ross says. “Now, we have three or four generations that have come to our church, meaning three years ago they brought a friend and that friend brought a friend and so on. You can track back three or four spiritual generations of people who have brought their friends to church.”
Today, Creekside Church has about 1,500 people who call it their “church home,” with about 600 attending on any given Sunday.
Ross, founder and coach of the Turnaround Church Coaching Network, works with pastors to teach them the principles, both internal and external, to help them lead a turnaround in their church too.
Read about more churches that experienced a turnaround thanks to a renewed commitment to outreach:
New Vision Fuels a Church’s Movement
Being Christ’s Hands and Feet
A Culture of Invitation