By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent
INWOOD, W.Va.–-Jim Goforth, senior pastor of New Life Community Church, read about Elevation Church in North Carolina and Pastor Steve Furtick’s simple challenge to do spontaneous baptisms. Goforth began wondering if it would work at New Life. Stepping out in faith, he and his staff dreamed big and made plans for 75 people to come forward.
“I preached a nine-minute message about following in obedience and that delayed obedience is disobedience. We had no clue…it was unbelievable. That day 97 people came forward to be baptized. We’re now up to 160. That’s double the number of baptisms the church had last year.
“We’ve just been awestruck. Honestly some of that fruit had always been there but we hadn’t made it easy for people. Now we take away the excuses,” Goforth said.
Goforth planted New Life 15 years ago with him and his wife, Lori. They moved into a new building eight years ago with attendance at 165 and now they average 800 with four services.
The laid back humble pastor said the church emphasis is making people feel welcome.
‘I very much believe that people outside the church don’t feel welcome in most churches. I tell my greeters that people want to be welcomed and wanted, not watched and worn out. I don’t believe any church sets out to do that,” he emphasizes. They just don’t put welcome initiatives in place.
At New Life, members go out of their way to make guests feel welcome and there are strategies in place to do that. One of the church’s core values is that the unchurched person is more important than anyone in the church.
Goforth said that response cards usually note that visitors can’t believe how many people shook their hands. That starts with parking lot attendants.
“I remember hearing Rick Warren say that the most important people are the people in the parking lot. That’s their first impression of the church. We had a parking team when we had 40 people,” Goforth said. “The only time people are directed to park is when they go to a big event, or something special. It sets the tone. They think, ‘wow!” something important is happening.
Several tents are set up outside in the parking lot, based on what’s being emphasized in announcements. For example, if Celebrate Recovery is going to be mentioned in the announcements, there is a Celebrate Recovery tent where people can stop at to ask questions and get more information.
There are refreshments––Fruit for the health conscious and danishes for those who prefer the sweets.
Greeters shake hands and take them to their classes. Ushers show people where to sit for worship service.
Every ministry in the church has an entry level position so that anyone who comes to the church, even one time, and wants to serve, can jump right in. Leadership positions require much more, but there are places for everyone to get involved.
Another way the church is welcoming is by offering their building to the neighborhood. Situated in a 22,000 multipurpose facility with a junior high size gymnasium, the church is available to the community seven days a week for no charge if possible. There are men’s basketball teams, kickball teams, Zumba classes and Karate.
“Yes, stuff gets dirty and broken, but we’re here to serve our community and that opens doors,” Goforth said.
Goforth said that prior to his ministry at New Life, he ministered in a small church that grew 300%, but the church was not welcoming, they were actually unwelcoming
“I felt like we pushed people away” Goforth was dejected and struggling. “I was about to walk away from ministry. I was hurt, frustrated…this church (New Life) saved me as much as the Gospel I am able to bring to people’s lives,” he said.
“At New Life we go out of our way to make folks feel outrageously loved. That prepares people’s hearts.” go out of our way to make them feel outrageously loved.