Ripple Effect

Impacting the Body of Christ and the community


What happens when you throw a rock into a tranquil pond? A splash occurs, followed by concentric ripples emanating from the point of impact and spreading far across the body of water. Cause and effect—God’s laws of physics at work.

God’s spiritual laws follow a similar pattern. Jesus said, “‘You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 1:8). The Church has been commissioned to impact the world with the gospel message through a spiritual ripple effect.

Members of Fairhaven Church near Dayton, Ohio, are taking that commission seriously. When I learned they had surpassed their goal of reaching 500 people for Christ in 2006 by seeing 592 make first-time decisions for Christ, I met with their leadership team to find out how they are effectively reaching others.

Authentic Culture

Pastor David Smith is quick to admit the importance of the church staff. The pastors and administrative staff meet regularly to pray, fellowship and discuss church matters. Fostering relationships includes a weekly break time with snacks and coffee, a monthly meal in various staff members’ homes and an annual pastoral staff retreat.

“It’s not enough for a staff to simply work together,” said Smith. “Playing together and genuinely enjoying and relating to one another is important in building a strong leadership team.” When people are stirred by godly passion and are free to exercise their spiritual gifts, Kingdom work is performed with energy and enthusiasm. And God will work miracles when people don’t worry about getting the credit.

Smith sees the big picture and has a vision for the church. Standing on the shoulders of two groundbreaking predecessors, Pete Schwalm and Ron Julian Sr., who are still active in the church, Smith said their mission is “to encourage a church culture that is relational, conversational, real and authentic.”

The staff believes in and supports one another. Although job descriptions define the scope of their work, staff members willingly go beyond boundaries to enhance one another’s ministries. “It’s not simply about me doing my job and watching other staff members do theirs,” said Kirk Lithander, executive pastor of International Ministries and Adult Education. “It’s about sharing in ministry. And sometimes that means crossing into one another’s area of ministry in order to support and accomplish goals.”

The world is desperate for genuine faith that makes a difference. The Church holds the answer but it must live out the truth it claims. In a day when “seeker friendly” is popular language, Smith remarked that Fairhaven Church is also “believer friendly,” since “believers are seekers too.”

On the Journey

Transformation begins in an individual’s heart when salvation takes root. Each person embarks on a spiritual journey with a unique story to share. Fairhaven Church has embraced that idea by adopting a theme called Living the Journey, Sharing the Story. It captures the congregation’s two pervading values: transforma-tion and outreach.

The Journey consists of five key purposes: worship (loving God); community (experiencing life together); equipping (enabling transformation); serving (caring for others); and out-reach (calling others to Jesus). Sermons, custom-designed small-group video and age-related curricula have created a common message, unifying the congregation in scriptural truth that is culturally sensitive to the community.

For example, during the church’s Fall Campaign, an annual series emphasizing transformation and spiritual growth, the sermon message and small-group curriculum focused on “Publicly Identifying with the Journey: Baptism.” As a result, 89 people were baptized in a special two-hour service.

Riding the Wave

The church is growing through creative approaches that capture the imagination and excite the congregation to action. One idea that has taken hold is Reaching Two. Church members are asked to think of two nonbelievers and begin praying for them for several months.

Members are then encouraged to develop an authentic relation-ship with those nonbelievers through nonchurch-related activities. After six months, members begin inviting their new friends to church outreach events, designed as nonthreatening ways to build and strengthen the bridge between the community and Fairhaven Church.

In addition, Fairhaven facilities have been used for school proms, Red Cross training, concerts and even a plumber’s convention. If people in the community feel comfortable in the building, they are more likely to attend a worship service.

Worship services are designed to reflect Fairhaven’s unique intergenerational congregation. “We use the word intergenerational to describe our worship service rather than contemporary, blended or traditional,” said Glenn Priest, executive pastor of Worship and Fine Arts. “It integrates elements familiar to the different generations, creating an environment where everyone can worship.”

An ongoing message throughout Fairhaven’s ministries is that the church should engage the world. Evangelism is a by-product of transformation. Their philosophy is not “come be part of us,” but rather, “we want to be part of you!” So as Fairhaven Church throws the Rock of Ages into its local pond, the impact is having a sweeping effect across the entire community. A ripple? It appears to be more like a wave!

Shared Through Empowerment

It’s impossible for Smith to single-handedly lead a con-gregation of 4,000 and a pastoral staff of 14. Instead, he seeks to empower staff members and encourage them to empower the leaders within their ministries. But there are still challenges. Smith offers four suggestions for reinventing yourself as a leader:

• Maintain a sense of humor
• Keep your faith and communication real and fresh
• Maintain short accounts with everyone while also encouraging and affirming them
• Pray regularly—for humility, to bless others and to revisit your calling

Lithander’s message for other missions pastors is, “Equip your missions team and personally involve all your people in missions. This will take you from sponsoring a missions program to developing a contagious passion for missions.”

Several other Fairhaven staff members added a few thoughts.

• Shelley Dulaney, director for Women’s Ministry, said: “Put as much effort as you can into getting women into God’s Word. That’s what transforms lives and leads toward achieving core values.”
• Jim Weir, pastor of Children’s Ministry, has 18 years of service at Fairhaven. He said: “Build a relationship with the parents of the children you minister to. Strive for longevity and be generous with love and patience!”
• Paul Clark, executive pastor of Administration, said: “Find your fulfillment in the success of everyone else, knowing that you play a large part of it.”
• Jim Futrell, executive pastor of Pastoral Care, has 20 years of service at Fairhaven. He commented “Be intentional and proactive. Think beyond the status quo. Set your bar high and know the vision.”
• Glenn Priest, executive pastor of Worship and Fine Arts, said: “Know your people and your demographics. Then design your worship to reflect your own congregation. But strive to make it attractive and authentic.”

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