By Lisa Sergent, assistant editor
SPRINGFIELD | Churches grow strong by sharing the gospel and winning souls for Christ, according to the annual sermon given by Paul Westbrook, pastor of Metro Community Church, Edwardsville, at the Illinois Baptist State Association Annual Meeting.
While in seminary Westbrook learned 80 percent of Southern Baptist churches experiencing growth are doing so as a result of new members transferring their membership in from another church. Only 20 percent of growing churches are growing as a result of winning people to Christ.
As a result he said, “It became apparent to me that we need to learn to communicate God’s word in a way that makes sense in today’s culture. We need to frame it in a way that computes with this generation.”
Westbrook cautioned churches to identify what is biblical and what is traditional before they start to make changes. “If it is a man-made tradition and not biblical, and is not working, then we need to chuck it and do something that works.”
He suggested taking a page from missionaries saying, “We need to understand we live in a culture where we speak the same language, but the people who don’t go to church are part of a different culture.”
Citing the apostle Paul’s desire to win all peoples to Christ in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, Westbrook said, “We’ve got to be willing to step outside of our comfort zones and do some things that are different. Peoples’ eternal lives are hanging in the balance.”
He suggested three ways people and churches can step out of their comfort zones to reach the lost for Christ: 1) Find common ground with people; 2) Maximize opportunities; and 3) Maintain a sense of urgency.
To find common ground, Westbrook said Christians should be like Paul, “We need to care enough about people to relate to them where they are at their point of need.”
“We’ve been time-warping the message of Christianity,” he said. To illustrate his point, Westbrook displayed a record, eight-track tape, cassette tape, CD and ipod, showing the progression of time from the recent-past to the present. “It [the past] may be comforting for some, but it doesn’t connect with young people.”
To maximize opportunities, Westbrook said Christians need to live within the boundaries of scripture and show God’s truths. “How can we present God’s message uncompromisingly, and at the same time love and relate to people? You don’t condone [their behavior], you accept them as they are. That’s what Jesus did.”
To maintain a sense of urgency, Westbrook said we should live like Paul. “We need that passion, that sense of urgency,” he said. We need that intensity. When we live with an awareness of the reality of heaven and an awareness of the reality of hell, it just changes everything doesn’t it? The urgency goes up because the stakes are sky high.
“I want to challenge you do to at least one specific tangible thing to step outside of the box, to step outside of your comfort zone,” he urged messengers. “You can’t do everything, but you can do something.”