Hill Country Bible Church has a rich history of evangelism and disciple making. In its early days, leaders were regularly sharing their faith and making disciples. Many nonbelievers came to faith, and the church grew in both size and influence. However, over time, we drifted from a personal approach to making disciples. More and more time was invested in running programs, implementing processes, and the various tasks that can seem all-consuming. As the church grew, we naturally become more sophisticated and complicated. We began relying more on programs which triggered a diminished focus on people. Several years ago, our elder board felt like we were veering away from our roots as an evangelistic and disciple-making church. They wanted to return to our primary calling as a church. We needed to get back to owning the lostness of our city by catalyzing a movement of changed lives through personal disciple making.
Joining A CEI Cohort
As we looked for a new and fresh ways to infuse evangelistic practices into our leadership first, and then into our congregation, we learned about the Church Evangelism Institute (CEI) at the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center. Their two-year cohort process focuses on the lead or senior pastor first modeling evangelism that others in the congregation can imitate. It then urges that pastor to recruit a missional influence leader who can be a partner in changing a church culture. Together they work with leaders of the various ministries so they too can begin modeling evangelism in their personal lives that their teammates and church members can imitate. They meet regularly with their ministry leaders, share stories, and find ways to remove obstacles they are facing. They also help ministries change in ways that enable them to begin reaching out to the unchurched.
In that process I became the missional influence leader who worked with our lead pastor, Tim Hawks, and all of our various ministries. We believe everything rises and falls with leadership. If we are not reaching out and sharing our faith with unchurched friends, relatives, acquaintances, neighbors and colleagues, we will not expect and ask others to do it.
A Formula For Change
It was helpful having a formula for changing the culture of the church. We found CEI’s formula for becoming a conversion community to be extremely useful.
Learning that there was a process we could implement with our leaders was very motivating. It really put us on a good path. Over time we began seeing our leadership become reenergized for evangelism and disciple making. Over the last two years the top staff leaders and the elders at Hill Country Bible Church have personally seen over 80 people come to faith through our own personal witness. Now they are energized and equipping their teams. This puts us on the path to become a conversion culture where it’s normal and natural to see many people come to faith, be discipled by us, and be integrated into the life of the church.
Slowing Down For Greater Impact
It’s common when leading a major change initiative to want to speed things up. We can be tempted to teach a sermon series about what we are learning before we begin living out what we are learning. Through CEI we grew in our understanding of a variety of tools. However, just because we understood the tools and agreed with them did not mean we were using them in our daily lives regularly and effectively. As a result, we intentionally slowed down our process. We did some retraining, and we focused on the things people were finding harder to implement. We are ensuring that our leaders are truly living these principles as we roll it out to the rest of the congregation. This is making a significant impact in changing the culture of our church.
Serving as a CEI Coach
Now that we have implemented the curriculum and are seeing change, we have credibility with other pastors. We recently began coaching other churches in the Christ Together network. I see the impact of that coaching in two ways. Serving as a CEI coach infuses energy, knowledge and insight into my role at Hill Country. In some ways it serves as my personal development plan for my role there. I get to see what other pastors are doing and come back with fresh ideas. The training I receive as a coach in my work with CEI helps me to be more effective in my conversations with ministry leaders here. So, there are significant benefits for Hill Country Bible Church as I step into this new role with CEI.
The other area is watching how these pastors are implementing the curriculum in their churches. Each does it differently. We have been together now in this new cohort for over a year, and they are really taking it and using it in their congregations. I’m a practitioner. Ideas are nice, but you need more than an idea. You have to do something with it. In my work with these other churches, I see that happening. I have a deep satisfaction that God can use my life in a way now that has a much broader impact because of coaching in CEI. It’s very encouraging and rewarding.
Focus On Forward Movement—Not Perfection
Over time we have been focusing more attention on evaluation and feedback. The goal is not to be perfect. The focus is on growing and getting better. As we seek to transition ministries so they are more outward-oriented, each staff now sets SMART goals. By being specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound, their plans are actionable rather than vague. Each ministry, whether it is with children, students, women, men, etc. is now becoming more evangelistic, and unchurched are coming to faith in Christ and becoming disciples. It is deeply encouraging to see how God is making it possible to live out our original calling in a new era.