The word “Christian” is listed only three times in the New Testament while the word “disciple” is mentioned over 300 times. Clearly, discipleship is a big deal, which is why members at First Baptist Raytown (FBR) in Raytown, Mo., work daily to be a church of disciples, making disciples.
And they do so by offering three separate services, the most unique being the informal Saturday afternoon coffee house service. A popular option for those who have to work on Sunday mornings, the service offers acoustic guitar, violin and free treats.
FBR also has online worship, complete with a chat room facilitator, which enables people to interact with one another throughout the service. It’s a great way for business travelers or vacationers to remain participatory at church.
To encourage attendance, the congregation distributes invite cards, utilizes social media and regularly extends personal invitations. “I say during services, ‘Look at the empty seat beside you and try to fill it next week,’” says Senior Pastor Brandon Park.
Park describes FBR as a large church made up of hundreds of little churches in their five small-group discipleships: Life Studies, Life Groups, Life Lines, Life Share and Life Coach.
Teacher-based Life Studies are run much like traditional Sunday school classes. Facilitator-based Life Groups walk students through a discussion as it pertains to Sunday’s message. Life Lines ministers to those who are navigating the hurts, habits and hang-ups of life. Life Share involves 30 separate interest groups that encompass everything from motorcycle riding and cake decorating to fly fishing and scrapbooking.
“These groups are a great front door for anyone who may be reluctant to attend church but are eager to engage in a shared hobby with others,” says Park.
Finally, Life Coach discipleship is a mobile and Web-based app the church will launch this fall that links people together so they can grow through interactive relationships.
“It’s how our church fulfills its mission of disciples making disciples,” explains Park, who notes that the benefit of utilizing these five different groups is that everyone can see that discipleship is not only for the spiritually elite.
“Even if you’re uncomfortable speaking in front of a crowd, you can make disciples with your hobby,” says Park.
Community ministries are another way FBR members connect outside the sanctuary. Their Recreation Outreach Center (ROC) is a giant facility that sponsors over 30 group fitness classes. Besides offering Zumba, kickboxing and strength training, they also incorporate the gospel, a devotional and a sneak peek of upcoming events at FBR.
Three thousand people come to the ROC weekly, and although 90 percent do not attend FBR, Park is quick to add, “They don’t attend yet. The Holy Spirit is always at work.”
FBR also started a community outreach called Hope Network. It offers a mini-market, a clothes closet and a job skills class where the unemployed can learn about personal budgeting, goal setting and even wardrobe selection for interviews. In the past several years, FBR members have helped over 400 people find jobs.
In addition, two years ago, the church opened a clinic that caters to the medical and dental needs of those who are uninsured.
FBR is expanding steadily, but Park says that expansive size is not without its challenges. “When you’re a small church, you can turn quickly to make changes,” notes Park. “With us, it’s like turning the Titanic.”
Not that anyone is about to jump ship at FBR. Through trial-and-error, leaders have learned the best way to elicit change. “Think of pulling a wagon with a rubber band,” explains Park. “If you don’t put enough tension on it, the wagon will never move. But if you pull too hard, too quick or too soon, you’ll sever the relationship.”
The lesson here? To grow disciples, just keep tugging gently.
FIRST BAPTIST RAYTOWN
Senior Pastor: Brandon Park
Affiliation: Southern Baptist
A 2015 OUTREACH 100 CHURCH
Growth in 2014: +373 (20%)