By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent and Gary Willett, Pastor of Potomac Heights Church
POTOMAC HEIGHTS, Md.—Potomac Heights Church (PHBC) members have been rejoicing in the baptism of almost 200 new believers in the past seven years. That’s quite a feat in an era when the number of Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) baptisms is declining. Gary A. Willett, PHBC pastor, said the church is growing because God is blessing an intentional emphasis on “connections.”
The church’s motto for 2010 is “building a community for this community” and they’re really doing that through a strong missions emphasis, healthy small groups, intentional acts of kindness and relevant “in your face” studies.
Willett shared that when he came to the church 13 years ago, members were very clear in their desire to change in an effort to appeal to a younger generation. They wanted to intentionally reach the unchurched and “dechurched” to show the love of God to them. Willett said they were truly prepared to transition, even though it meant radical change for all.
“Thinking back, the thing that has brought us the most change is when we went to Bolivia to share the love of Christ,” Willett said. Doing door-to-door evangelism in a part of the world that is so hungry for the Gospel opened the eyes of the congregation. Sixty people from the church have travelled to the country since 2001 doing evangelism, discipleship and providing support through the unique work of e3-Partners (www.e3Partners.org). As team members returned, they were invigorated and wanted to continue evangelizing and discipling at home. The enthusiasm was contagious and PHBC has since been immersing itself in outreach, naturally evolving into an Acts 1:8 church as they sought other ways to do missions.
Some of that outreach has been in the form of intentional acts of kindness. Willett said the church has discovered that as Mother Theresa said, “Small deeds done with great love do change the world,” and the church is very quick to elevate and celebrate those small but powerful efforts. Such recent endeavors include the purchase of copy paper and dry erase markers for local middle school teachers, offering free coffee and donuts for players and families during the opening day of the local little league, and providing free steak and potato dinners for the local Volunteer Fire Department and Rescue Squad members. Recently, 55 PHBC members worked on four homes in the community as part of an annual Christmas in April project. Later this summer, they’ll host free movies in a local park. These kinds of activities, done with no strings attached, allow us to gain credibility with so many in our community who simply think of Christians as being out to get, not those willing to give,” said Willett.
Small group ministry, called Growth Groups at PHBC, is another component that’s effective at PHBC. Through the intentional decision to move out of their buildings and into the homes of members in the community, people are learning what it means to do life together as His followers. Willet said those groups are now small communities of faith where ongoing ministry takes place throughout the week. Additionally, PHBC has not been afraid to look at controversial issues. Recently the church participated in the book study of “They like Jesus But Not the Church,” by Dan Kimball. This study shares reasons why so many in this nation do not trust church people and the things they have to share or say. Willett said that although the study was quite disturbing for most at PHBC to admit, the hope to breakfree from “the Christian bubble” and actually engage many throughout the community with the authentic love of Christ will be worth it.
“One of the great things about how God is working through so many at PHBC is the way this affects those who accept Christ. Almost instantly, those who were once unchurched and without personal relationships with Christ eagerly participate in the mission and work of His church once they begin their journeys of faith.” They have no preconceived ideas about the way a church should be. They just want to serve as they have been served. “It’s awesome to see people growing in the Lord, becoming developing followers of Christ throughout the week in the real world,” Willett exclaimed.