New vision leads church in Mich. to 'Eternal Impact'
FLUSHING, Mich. (BP)--By most standards, Westside Baptist Church in Flushing, Mich., was a church that didn't need a lot of help. They were running about 250 in worship and baptizing two dozen people a year -- mostly adults. Their receipts totaled around $300,000 and they were investing more than 11 percent in missions.
"Our church doesn't fall under the old 80/20 rule. We have more than 20 percent of the people carrying the load here," said pastor Ed Emmerling, who grew up in Westside and has served as its pastor since 2002. "But we still need to expand our vision."
Located about 10 miles outside Flint, Westside's community has been hard hit by the country's contracting economy, Emmerling said.
"The whole country is struggling now, but our area has been struggling for two or three years, in financial ways at least," the pastor said. "So it is an area where a lot of people really don't have much hope, other than getting out of here."
With so many challenges in the community, Westside needed a fresh vision of God doing something through the congregation even beyond what He already was doing. They found that vision, Emmerling said, in "Eternal Impact," the newest component of the Empowering Kingdom Growth emphasis in the Southern Baptist Convention. The church worked through the study this past fall, beginning in September and wrapping it up in mid-December.
"Eternal Impact has caused our people to begin to look outside themselves and bigger than themselves for what God may want to do with them or involve them in, bigger than they ever dreamed," Emmerling said.
A surge in evangelism has been one result of the study, Emmerling reported. Two women came to Christ, and new believers have brought other family members to church. One man, who was about to lose his job because of alcohol abuse, was saved and the change was so dramatic that some people hardly recognized him. Other families have joined as well, and the congregation has baptized 11 people since Jan. 1.
Church members also are making personal commitments to God's mission in the world. One family decided the money they were saving for a new summer home should be used in missions, Emmerling said. Another told their small group they feel God may be calling them to career missionary service.
The congregation as a whole also has raised its sights on missions involvement, Emmerling noted. They are working with other congregations in the Genesee Baptist Association to start a church in Flint and are exploring the prospect of becoming a strategy coordinator church for an International Mission Board outreach in the Dominican Republic. They also have moved to purchase three acres of land adjoining the church property -- and seen the owner drop the asking price to 40 percent of its appraised value.
"These three things are way too big for us, but not for the God we serve," Emmerling said.
"Back in November, I shared with our church a vision for a ministry to unwed and low-income mothers," the pastor added. "The response to that has been overwhelming. One woman said to me, 'I felt like you were reading my mind.' Another said, 'I've been praying for this for over a year.' A man came to me and said, 'I think God wants me to be involved in setting up the computers and network.' I've just been overwhelmed at how, for me personally, God has shown me things during this study that other people were waiting to hear."
Eternal Impact takes a congregation a step beyond the first Empowering Kingdom Growth component, "EKG: The Heartbeat of God," Ken Hemphill, the SBC's national EKG strategist, explained.
"While EKG: The Heartbeat of God changes the heart or the passion of the church, Eternal Impact changes forever how we think about the church," Hemphill said. "If we think the church is designed only for the comfort of the saved, we neglect the needs of the lost. The church is God's primary instrument for advancing His Kingdom on earth, and that means our service to the King through the church enables us to live with eternal impact."
Plateaued and declining churches aren't the only ones that can benefit from the EKG/Eternal Impact strategy, Hemphill said.
"Ed's church has been a healthy church for years," Hemphill reflected. "The EKG/Eternal Impact strategy is not simply designed to assist the declining or plateaued church. It's also designed to help the healthy church become even healthier. In fact, many of our premier churches for Eternal Impact are healthy and growing churches. I think every church needs to come together around God's Word to refocus its work and renew its commitment to be a Kingdom-focused church."
God is able to do far more than anything His people can ask or imagine, even in the healthiest of congregations, Emmerling said, and Eternal Impact can help any congregation capture the Lord's vision for a greater future.
"I've got to believe every pastor wants that," Emmerling said. "I think every pastor would want their church to look for something bigger than what they have and what they are doing."
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press. For information about EKG: The Heartbeat of God and Eternal Impact, visit empoweringkingdomgrowth.net.