Aaron Burke: Close the ‘Back Door’


No one would argue with the assertion that this has been a year of unprecedented challenge for the church. Outreach magazine wanted to learn directly from leaders on the front lines about how their churches have been innovating, meeting people’s needs and serving as a force for healing.

Here, Aaron Burke, lead pastor of Radiant Church (Fastest-Growing 5, Largest 88) in Tampa, Florida, relates his thoughts on the global pandemic, the recent and ongoing racial tensions and how leading the church is changing.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we made personal phone calls to every member of our church at least twice. We also created a COVID-19 fund and raised over $300,000 to help provide care and benevolence to people in financial need.

We launched a new semester of all-virtual small groups. They had a much higher retention rate than our previous in-person small groups. We ended up having over 50% of our church in a virtual small group during the pandemic.

COVID-19 surprised us all, and as a leader, I felt very unprepared. But I experienced God’s grace to lead during the crisis that followed in a way I haven’t experienced in my 15 years of ministry. We also had record months of giving during the pandemic, and I attribute that to the spiritual maturity of our church.

When the racial tensions started, we immediately began onstage dialogs with Black leaders in our church to help educate our congregation on the issues at hand. We also put out a written statement to address racism and provide steps for our church to be part of the solution. Additionally, our board approved a $50,000 endowment into our current leadership college to help minorities attend and study for ministry. This was a tangible way for us to be part of the change that needs to happen, as well as a way for us to cultivate diversity within the church.

One factor leading to our growth is our hard work closing the back door with effective onboarding of new attendees and healthy small groups. We also have been strategic about having series that build on each other to help create momentum. The invite culture has also grown at our church and people feel comfortable bringing their friends.

We have to keep our reliance on the Lord. Our systems, strategies and even facilities were thrown out the window in 2020, so it kept us relying on the Lord for guidance. I hope we do not lose the dependence on him we found during this season.

Read more Lessons From 2020 »

Lora Schrock
Lora Schrock

Lora Schrock is editor of Outreach magazine.