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The First Thing You Do at a New Church
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By Pablo Gaitan

"What do I do first at my new church?"

The conference letter came to confirm what on the phone was a shock and an instant-prayer request. “Dear Pastor Gaitan, you are being assigned to a new district...” My heart was beating faster than usual because it was going to be my first experience as a Lead Pastor.

Then the question popped in my mind, "On what should I spend my energies the first year in my new assignment?" Since I had a lot of good and experienced pastors around me, I asked that question to them. Even though I received excellent and precise answers, it would be highly unlikely for me to visit more than 500 members in one year, to hold meetings with every ministry in both churches, to prepare a master calendar, to program some community outreach so I can become known in the community, and to attend every church activity organized by its ministries. 
 
So, "What do I do first?" Unfortunately, in my first three months, I did not discover the answer, so I tried to do what I described above: to visit as many as possible, to calendarize everything, to organize events, and in the process I drove my family crazy as we tried to attend every and all church programs. The results? Churches remained stagnant. One church which had lost 50% of its membership and tithe in the past 3 years remained apathetic. The other church moved closer to the reality of being closed forever.
 
That all changed when I did a series on Jonah. During the last sermon of the series, I came across the ultimate purpose for this story: EVANGELISM. God asked his church, Jonah, to EVANGELIZE Nineveh. Jonah did not have the love, enthusiasm or willingness to do it. But the missionary God of the Bible was exceedingly concerned with the salvation of the City: "Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left" (Jonah 4:11)  This is where I found the answer to my question: focus first on EVANGELISM.
 
There were three things I did from that point forward.
 
1.  Plan primarily for evangelism. I set a date for a board meeting for both churches. I told them that things were not working out as they should in our congregation. Maintaining the “status quo” or becoming a “social club” is not what God intended for the church. Then I explained to them that I will focus primarily and almost exclusively on EVANGELISM for the rest of the year. I disclosed to them how I will spend my time from now on and that I trusted them with the rest. They accepted. Now we had a sense of direction.
 
2. Preaching for Conversions. Both churches accommodated churches worship services so I can be available for preaching as much as possible. I decided to produce evangelistic sermons. I asked the whole church to invite visitors or family members who did not know Jesus. This was their only evangelistic mission. Every sermon was a call for sinners to come to Christ and give their lives to Jesus through baptism. Many did.
 
3. Visit the undecided, instead of members. Every week I visited, with members, the people they had invited to church. Since at our worship services we had given them a great welcome, it was easier to call on them to let them know we were praying for them. The visitors gladly accepted a visit from their friend and from the preacher they heard at church. It was a change of focus: instead of visiting old church members, the pastor visits those who need Christ the most.
 
I am almost reluctant to tell you what happened as a result of this approach, because a lot is happening. But you should know that the churches aren't dying; in fact, they are growing in an exponential way - not because they have a super-pastor, an innovative service, or fantastic facilities; rather because of our FOCUS ON EVANGELISM FIRST.
 
So if, you are asking, "What do I do first in my new church?" I humbly suggest you to try to do EVANGELISM.

Pastor Pablo Gaitan is the Senior Pastor at South Gate Spanish SDA Church in Los Angeles, CA, and the Hispanic Youth Ministry Director for the Southern California Conference.  He is crazy about church growth, serving the unserved, and Jesus' second coming.  He loves to preach, baptize and play soccer and tennis.