More Than a ‘Product’: Heritage Church

When Heritage Church in Sterling Heights, Michigan, faced a period of stagnation in growth, they didn’t get discouraged. They got to work.

“We want to have more baptisms and community engagement than last year, more small group participation and volunteer development, more church plants than last year,” Lead Pastor Jeff Forester says.

So, church staff and volunteers made growth a primary focus, and that meant not being afraid to look at the metrics throughout every area of ministry.

“Having our thumb on the pulse—knowing that we were starting to slow down—it gave us a healthy checkup,” he says. “We looked at it and said, ‘Goals are important. How can we turn this around for the next 10 years?’”

Reaching the lost for Jesus was essential, so when conversion growth started to level off, they knew some changes were in order. After a difficult 18 months of ministry and some intentional refinement of the leadership team, things started to click again.

“Once we brought people in and rebuilt teams to align with the personality of the organization, it was like throwing new fuel on the fire,” Forester says.

Suddenly, the volunteer-driven church became laser-focused on the missional work of reaching those outside the building and making sure new attendees feel welcome.

“Being positioned as an outside-in church rather than an inside-out church really defines the type of people who are going to thrive on our team,” he says. “That focus brought a lot of forward movement and energy.”

Aligning the volunteer and leadership teams was essential to the growth Heritage experienced this past year. In addition, they created a high-invite culture through evangelism training for members, deploying small groups into the community, and spending a significant amount of time and resources outside the walls of the building.

“As a highly attractional church, sometimes you wonder if people are only coming for the ‘product.’ And we know that it’s the case for some people. But we work hard to capture their attention long enough to capture their heart for Jesus.”

When Bryan and Michelle Roy began attending Heritage after an invitation from a friend, they hoped for a different experience from what they were used to at church. The welcoming environment and the family atmosphere drew them in initially, but it was the transformation they experienced through biblical teaching and church involvement that kept them coming.

“It was here that we learned how to have a relationship with Christ and how that applies to our lives. Since attending Heritage and being baptized, our life has completely changed,” Michelle says.

She says that getting plugged in right away is essential, and the staff and volunteers make every effort to get new people on a track to grow in their faith, whether through small groups, community service projects or discipleship programs.

Bryan says the church also does an excellent job of highlighting opportunities, like community outreach and events, which make it easier for people to invite others.

“As the church has grown, they’ve evolved to find new ways to help people. And they give us good teaching and create opportunities for us to reach out to new people,” he says.

In addition, Michelle believes that the humility, honesty, transparency and approachability of everyone on the leadership and volunteer teams differentiate Heritage from other churches like it.

“Heritage has always been good about bringing people the gospel. So, rather than hearing everything you’re doing wrong, the good news is preached, and people from diverse backgrounds and all walks of life feel welcome and accepted,” she says.

The leadership team is seeing the fruit of their efforts, even during a time when the landscape of church attendance looks very different due to COVID-19. Forester says they see people with a sincere desire to read the Bible and do devotions, participate in small groups, pray together and have community—all online. Even when all the “product” is stripped away, they see a genuine desire for spiritual engagement. He refers to it as their “proof of concept”—that the things they’re trying to do really are working.

“That’s what we’ve aspired to—to build balance—not a bunch of baby Christians, but to really be discipling them. So that’s been pretty cool to see,” he says.

—Meredee Berg

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Sterling Heights, Michigan
Lead Pastor: Jeff Forester
Twitter: @JeffForester71
Founded: 2000
Affiliation: Nondenominational
Locations: 2
Attendance: 2,037
Growth: +289 (17%)
Fastest-Growing: 51