This past weekend, two young church leaders and I engaged in a classic college pastime: the road trip. We drove 11 hours in two days for the sake of experiencing a typical weekend at Harvest Church; which is the fastest growing United Methodist Church in America and is located in Warner Robins, GA. Opting for the backwoods country of Georgia, rather than the always unpredictable Atlanta interstate route, the three of us laughed, discussed church, and even picked on each other as we took in the beautiful scenery and wildlife. The ride did not feel nearly as long as you may think and the company was very enjoyable.
Upon arriving at Harvest Church, we were greeted by Jessi; our weekend host and assistant to Jim Cowart (Lead Pastor). Jessi is a ball of contagious energy and she exuded passion for the ministries of Harvest Church; which has grown from a total of four people (the Cowart family) in 2002 to over 2,500 people in attendance currently. We received a behind the scenes look at the ministries and structure of this incredible disciple-making factory. From the spiritual growth classes, to the passionate worship, to the ridonkulous (like ridiculous, but even a step further) children’s ministry; Harvest Church has got it going on in a big way.
Although the weekend was incredibly overwhelming and eye-opening for the two church leaders in tow, there are two main principles that I carried away from the Harvest campus. The first principle is just a three letter word: F-U-N. Fun is the name of the game for the people and ministries of Harvest Church. Every single staff member and person serving in the ministries is so full of the joy of Christ! I can’t remember the last time I saw so many smiles and heard so much laughter in one place. The energy was absolutely infectious. Every ministry leader was begging us as visitors to sit in and observe their area of ministry (although we did more dancing and singing with the 3 year old group than we did observing). These servants radiated more excitement and ownership for the ministries in which they served than I can convey to you in this short article. They all believe in the transforming power of the Gospel and they take incredible pride in the methods they use to apply this message to every person who walks through the doors of Harvest Church.
The second principle is that everything they do at Harvest Church is so incredibly SIMPLE. Complexity is the enemy of reproducing ministries and, unfortunately, many churches suddenly find themselves in a structure more complex than our federal government in less time than it takes to recite the Apostles Creed. The systems that Harvest Church has created are so simple that they basically reproduce themselves and, therefore, are incredibly effective at disciples making disciples…who make disciples…who make disciples…who make disciples…(I think you get the point). Speaking of “the point,” making disciples of Jesus is the whole point of church anyway.
And then there were the Krispy Kreme donuts–piles and piles of Krispy Kreme donuts. Even the donuts are a tool used to extend hospitality so that unchurched people are made to feel welcome at Harvest Church (although the donuts were more of a tool to extend our waistlines as we had our fill as well). The three of us exited the winding drive that leads to Harvest’s beautiful facilities full of inspiration and vision for what can happen when God’s Spirit moves in a mighty way and a group of committed Christ-followers join in his mission to “seek out and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). My hope is to lead and help equip the people here at Christ United to do the same to the best of our ability–leaving what is beyond our ability to the One who has saved many of us.
Sounds like a great trip Stephen! I resonate deeply with your connection to simplicity. It seems to me that there is a lot of complexity in the world, relationships, and theology, and that one of the ways the church can best foster great conversations and relationships, is to keep the organizational side of things simple to create and sustain spaces for relationships to happen. When everything else is simple, it allows us all to have space and time to enter into the complexities of relationships that are what being/doing church is actually about.
Great post, and glad to see you writing!
Thanks, Josh. You hit the nail on the head. Life is very complicated for the majority of people in our society so we must continually fight the natural trend toward complexity so that relationships can drive the ministries.
It is so easy to let the administrative details of church life keep us from actually pastoring. Not that administration isn’t pastoring as well, but it can make us think that the main thing is the events, not the relationships that are cultivated through worship, events, etc.