January 28, 2003
COLUMBIA – Is there a correct way to reach people for Jesus Christ?
Does it have to be done the traditional Southern Baptist way – Sunday School, robed choir, worship and invitation by the pastor?
Or, are there other ways to introduce people to a saving knowledge of Christ?
No Sunday School, a Saturday night worship service along with the Sunday services, lots of small groups meeting at various times throughout the week and month, no choir, no altar call at the end of the message …
Ask the people of Woodcrest Chapel at Columbia and they’ll tell you it doesn’t have to be done the traditional way. Their way works, too. And there are statistics that substantiate what the Woodcrest people say.
Consider, for example, baptisms. Rev. Pieter Van Waarde’s church reported 107 baptisms to the Missouri Baptist Convention this year. This total ranks Woodcrest sixth in the state out of about 1,950 Southern Baptist churches.
So, what is the secret at Woodcrest?
Bill Todd, who oversees the church small group ministries, says it’s a matter of following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. Quoting Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, Todd said the Holy Spirit is like the wind and Woodcrest’s job is to be like the sail boat.
One component of the secret, Todd explains, is the church’s emphasis upon small groups. Using this method, Woodcrest – a church that was started in 1985 – now averages more than 1,500 each weekend in three worship services.
"I don’t know anything but small groups. That’s just the way things were done where I came from," he explains.
Todd says he came to know Christ through the ministry of a Nazarene church at Kansas City and hooked up with Woodcrest after a job transfer to Columbia in 1991.
"It was natural to get involved in small groups here. It was a match," he said during an interview session with the Pathway.
"There’s not much around Woodcrest that’s not a direct offshoot from small groups. For example, our Take 2 women’s ministry is a part of small groups. A lot of the mothers take two hours every Thursday morning to meet and break into smaller classes. And it’s the same thing with the Sidekicks program for our children."
At Woodcrest, there are not set schedules for small groups. In fact, most of the small groups do not meet prior to one of the worship services. "We try to figure out in their schedule what works best for them. Some meet once a week, some once every other week and others meet only once a month," Todd explains.
Todd’s recommendation to others thinking about the small group concept is do not scrap what you’re doing now and try to replace it with small groups. "Try bringing it alongside as an option for second shift and third shift people," he says. "Folks work such odd schedules anymore. Maybe this would be an option for some churches who would like to try the small group environment."
To get small groups going, Todd thinks any church needs a champion or a group of champions. "If you don’t have a catalyst, it just won’t happen. People will respond to other’s enthusiasm," he says.
Todd says Woodcrest sees itself as an Acts 2 church because early Christians met for the sharing of experiences, prayer, food and study," Todd explains. "It just goes back to my best understanding of God … that God is relational, that God is community. This is the whole idea of the trinity … that God chooses to have community with us.
"And I believe we are to reflect his creativity. And you can take that as far as you want to take it. The idea in my mind is to modernize and reintroduce this relational God, this community God."
Todd says Woodcrest funnels people into its small groups through the worship services. "Our people simply invite their friends, relatives and co-workers to church. They tell people, "I think you might enjoy it."
"We try to create an environment where the seeker feels comfortable," Todd says, adding "that nothing is soft peddled, nothing is watered down. We present the message in a clear and compelling manner. We want to create as many possibilities as possible to get people connected."
Should other Southern Baptist churches in Missouri change overnight and operate in a Woodcrest style?
"I don’t think any two churches need to do the same thing," Todd answers. "It would seem not to be an effective understanding of what God has called a particular church to be about."
Todd says Woodcrest has faced the reality that it is not going to reach everybody.
"But we believe God is asking us to reach 10 percent of the unchurched population of Boone County," he explains. "When and how and what it will look like eventually – we don’t know. And it is audacious to think that our vision averages out to about 8,000 people, but this is what we understand is our work.
"Even though we reach about 1,500 on a weekend, that means there are thousands and thousands we do not reach. But it’s the Holy Spirit that brings about conversion. Our job is to align ourselves where the Holy Spirit is working and be in cooperation and receptive with that work."
Todd says he hears criticism every day about Woodcrest’s small group strategy. But he takes it in stride. "It’s the enemy that works against us," he said. We just try to steal every good idea we can find and put it to work."