Lillian Gaines, a retired schoolteacher in a South Carolina community of 400 people, knew the neighboring farmer was serious with his warning, and it scared her.
“I am going to shoot those church people who come to my farm to pick up workers and take them to English classes,” he said. “I don’t want these Mexicans learning English. They will try to become citizens. I am sending them back soon.”
An African American woman who had lived in this same county all her life, Gaines saw the opportunity for a major ministry of her church family of 35 to 45 faithful members.
She responded to God’s leading and launched the ministry to help people with inadequate reading and writing skills.
The congregation came alive as it saw missional engagement in the community as its God-given focus.
Soon, it was not only thriving; it was soaring with faith.
The rest of the story
Next, God inspired the idea of broadening its ministry to immigrant farm workers. The workers wanted to learn English and become U.S. citizens.
Among the farm workers were many non-Christians. As members of the church tutored them, they learned about Jesus. Some became Christians or renewed a Christian commitment. Later, a church was launched filled with people from Central America.
These missional engagements transformed the church family where Gaines worked tirelessly to maintain the ministry. The church was indeed soaring and the transformation was sustained for many years.
Would you have pictured the community church as one typically modeled as a “soaring church”?
You may have thought it would be a large, flagship church in an urban area and growing exponentially, with big facilities and multiple staff.
Yes, some soaring churches are like this.
Being a soaring church is an elusive identity. Far fewer churches are truly soaring with faith than the number that claim to be. It takes sustaining missional engagement to be a soaring church.
A soaring church is exceptional in its understanding of its mission, purpose and core values. It is captured by God’s empowering vision for its full Kingdom potential. Clearly present are vitality and vibrancy, leadership competency and trust, an external local and global missions focus, effective disciple-making and ministry innovation.
First, it is clear about its identity as a Christ-centered faith community. The people understand their historic purpose and their God-given mantle of leadership. They are committed to spiritual core values.
The church may not have a short motto that expresses these, but hardwired into its culture is a deeply held commitment to the mission of God.
Second, it is captured by God’s empowering vision for its journey. While a vision statement may exist, vision is more a movement of God that is memorable rather than a statement of humankind that is memorized.
The fulfillment of its vision is seen in the vitality and vibrancy of the congregation.
Third, God-called leadership is expressed not only in the ministry of the staff but also through the visionary lay leadership in the congregation. Leaders are competent and learning, and they are trustworthy and committed to fulfilling God’s vision for their churches.
Fourth, the church is missions-focused. The people never tire of seeking to reach their full Kingdom potential through fulfilling Great Commission ministry.
Fifth, disciple-making is the hallmark of its culture. The congregation strives to mature as disciples and grow deeper as Christians. They help each person respond to God’s call on their lives.
Sixth, the calendars of soaring churches are not about how many programs they can schedule. They are about the gatherings that help people grow as disciples and send people out to offer compassion and share the good news.
Soaring churches are best served by gathering with other soaring churches where they can learn from one another about innovative ministry that takes them further toward their full Kingdom potential.
They are always served by connecting them as mentors or coaches to other churches that need what they have learned.
Some soaring churches may become teaching churches that invite leaders from other churches to learn the principles of soaring.
EDITOR’S NOTE — This is second in a series of columns about a typology of five types of churches. The other four will be highlighted in future columns. See the overview column HERE.