Going from a 200-Member Church to a 7,000-Member Church

“The most effective, consistent way to reach people for Jesus Christ is ministry-based, servant, intentional evangelism,” Charles Roesel said during Connection 2004, a recent leadership conference sponsored by the North American Mission Board (NAMB). “Because of ministry-based evangelism, we’ve been able to consistently, day by day, and week by week, reach people for Jesus Christ.”

When Roesel became pastor of First Baptist Church in Leesburg, Fla. in 1976, the church averaged less than 200 attendants and five baptisms per year. Today, the church claims more than 7,000 members and baptizes, on average, at least 200 new Christians each year for the past two decades and has consistently ranked in the top one-percent of Southern Baptist churches in evangelism and missions giving.

“We’re using God’s resources over and over,” said Roesel who leads three Sunday morning worship services each week. “Use God’s resources over, and over, and over, and you can give more to ministry and to missions.”

The church theme defines its strategy for growth and evangelism: “Meeting Needs – Sharing Christ.”

Since the church opened its first rescue mission in 1982,it has expanded its campus through 31 real estate acquisitions near the church from purchases and donations. Today, the church operates and owns a medical clinic, pregnancy center, benevolence center, as well as homes for children, teens, women, and men in crises. First Leesburg also established a church in the largest federal prison in the country.

Regardless of size or resources, churches can do more to meet the needs of people in their communities in an effort to build relational bridges to share the Gospel, said Roesel.

In addition to its local community outreaches, First Leesburg has also extended its reach beyond its borders. Over the past 10 years, church members have helped build about 70 chapels, children’s homes and medical centers in Brazil, Romania and Africa. The church is also involved in mission partnerships in Canada and Haiti.

Roesel encouraged pastors and ministry leaders to be consistent and patient when leading their churches to reach their communities through ministry evangelism.

The most important thing I can do is to model it,” he said. “I should not expect them to be evangelistic if I’m not. … It took five years of preaching, teaching, and praying before the church moved from a maintenance mentality to ministry.”

Roesel concluded, “As long as a church ministers to hurting people, it will never lack an audience. … The impact you make is unbelievable because they look on you as truly a godly, loving, caring church that cares about people more than programs, that cares about people more than buildings, that cares about people as Christ cares for people.”

Currently, Roesel still preaches in the same 1,200-seat sanctuary that was erected in 1962, while the multi-million dollar “ministry village” on the church campus stands as a testament to a town of 15,000 people what God can do when His people put the physical and spiritual needs of others before themselves.