By Christina Li
“If we will have Apostolic priorities, Apostolic culture, and an Apostolic atmosphere, we will have Apostolic results,” said Pastor Aaron Soto of Apostolic Truth Church, a multi-campus church in Appleton, Wisconsin. “The culture is our responsibility; the results are God’s responsibility.”
The attendance of Apostolic Truth Church (ATC) has increased 30% in the last four years and is on track to increase an additional 11% in 2015. “While every church appreciates increase we recognize that some of our increase was from transfers; we do not consider transfer increase as church growth,” Pastor Soto said.
Apostolic Truth Church currently averages 550 attenders, with 87 new births so far this year. Pastor Soto reports that 67% of their members are committed to active ministry. Currently, 53 Bible studies are underway in their community. ATC has a very strong student ministry program with 12 P7 Bible studies being taught in their area schools and two Campus Ministry Bible studies.
The Harvest Mentality
“We have a foundational understanding that God is sending the harvest through our church,” explained Pastor Soto. “The key is rightly relating to the harvest that God is sending to our services. Our church services are our greatest outreach tool. We want to be careful that our services are engaging and guest-centric. Experience has taught us that if we haven’t made a meaningful connection with guests before they leave the church service, visitor follow-up strategies are very ineffective. We understand that there are relation-minded guests, and guests who want to keep a low profile and not be targeted or give out their personal information. We have two distinct plans to reach both kinds of guests.”
He adds, “Our church family is very much invested in the invitational approach of evangelism. The woman at the well said, ‘Come see a man.’ She didn’t know a lot of theology, but she invited someone.
“Much of our outreach involves highlighting a new sermon series that we’re launching or special services that we’re having. We market and brand our sermon series and special events. For instance, I am currently preaching a series called, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction.’ We have teams hanging door hangers with the sermon series branding and series topics on them. We also print business cards with the same branding for our members to use for personal invites.”
ATC and its staff work really hard at having a spirit of excellence in church services, according to Pastor Soto. “We have a first impression pastor who oversees all the departments which impact the five senses of the guest,” he explained. “Our ushers and greeters are highly trained, our nursery is safe with a check-in program, and our facilities and campus are well cared for. Our announcements, media and handouts are carefully crafted with the guest in mind. In fact, many Apostolic churches love ‘in your face’ volume and blaring monitors, but we do not run our audio for our sub-cultural preferences; we train our technicians to run sound for guests. Frankly, there are no small things in first impressions. I could preach a home run message, but if there’s no toilet paper in the bathroom stall, you tell me what kind of an experience the guest had!”
Pastor Soto has a unique perspective on church growth. “Our primary focus is not on numerical growth but on church health. Not all growth is healthy; cancer is an example of unhealthy growth. Some churches have experienced numerical growth that overwhelmed their Apostolic culture. We want to make quality decisions that will bring about health in the body. Numerical growth will be a bi-product of a spiritually healthy congregation.
“A key to growing a church is knowing how to consolidate your ‘Kingdom wins’ through assimilation. It’s one thing to have 30 people receive the Holy Ghost on a weekend. It’s another thing to set those people on a clear path of seamless assimilation into the body of Christ.
“At ATC, our core objective is that people will come to KNOW Jesus Christ, GROW in Jesus Christ, and ultimately SHOW the love of Jesus Christ to their world. KNOW, GROW, SHOW is our assimilation plan. For a guest, the KNOW step is having them say yes to a home Bible study. My wife, Heather, and I personally meet guests in the hospitality suite after services; we get a lot of Bible studies from that encounter.
“The GROW step is attending our Firm Foundations class. I personally teach this class every Sunday morning after we serve them a continental breakfast. This class begins with the disciplines of being a Christian and concludes with doctrine.
“The SHOW step is our Ministry Training class. We help attenders understand the servant leadership model, soul winning, Bible study teaching and our core ministry values. We help them discover their ministry SHAPE from Rick Warren’s program. The student’s training culminates with a personal meeting with me where he or she will say, ‘Pastor, these are my spiritual gifts; this is my heart, my passion, my personality, my education, and my life experiences.’ We collaborate to pair them in a ministry within our local congregation.
“Revival is not just having good services and people receiving the Holy Ghost. Revival is also knowing how to retain the harvest that God is sending through our churches and then investing them in the harvest field.”
Pastor Soto believes a revival pastor needs to make a priority of investing himself in prayer and having a ‘right now’ Word for the church. “He needs to spend most of his time with his highest level of leaders,” explained Bro. Soto. “If a pastor is going to have a sustainable plan, he needs to be intentional about his life. Healthy leaders are very intentional about high productivity, normal productivity, and then no productivity: vacation! We are very intentional about this with our entire church.” High productivity seasons are during the start of school, the mid-fall, and the first quarter of the year. “We also spend times revisiting our goals and realigning ourselves to them. In addition to departmental goals, we encourage our leaders to make individual goals for their families and personal relationship with God.”
Pastor Soto has a very strong pastoral team. “I believe in sharing real-world authority and responsibility with others,” he said. “We have an outreach pastor, a youth pastor, an education pastor, a family pastor, a first impressions pastor, and a church ministries pastor. All of these pastors are over various departments; they develop leaders and train within their departments.
“We have Grow Group leaders or under-shepherds who minister to and schedule monthly fellowship groups for five different age demographics in our church family. We also have weekly Grow Groups that happen in many different settings for women, men, teens and hyphen age members.”
Pastor Soto also promotes servant leadership strongly. “In Mathew 10, Jesus differentiates between secular leadership and servant leadership. He said, ‘The greatest among you shall be the servant.’ Our flow chart is inverted; I am on the bottom of our church structure. It is my responsibility to provide support and stability to the church. I directly serve our pastoral staff. Our pastoral staff serves our department heads. Our department heads serve our ministries. Our ministries serve our congregation. Our congregation is reaching the lost, the harvest. If our church can be servant leaders with a spirit of excellence, we will accomplish the ministry of reconciliation that God has called the church to.”
Pastor Soto holds a staff meeting every weekday except Friday. “We discuss every guest and what our follow-up strategy is going to be with them,” he said. “We go six weeks out in our calendar and discuss all events. We share our daily targets and goals for the day. We go over our whiteboard with logistical needs, people in the hospital and people we need to make connections with. We also do a tremendous amount of event planning in our meetings, although most of our project managing happens on a project management website called Basecamp.
“After we’ve had our staff meetings, we finish with prayer. We take time to call out the name of every staff member and their wives and children. We have a list of special needs written on the whiteboard. Together we pray over all of those needs. Yes, we need to take care of business and deal with logistical challenges, but we also need to pray and be spiritually minded about the work we are doing. We call this Apostolic Administration.
“I believe a team responds to a culture of expectation. I hold six-month staff reviews with our team members. The first part of that meeting is my review of that staff member, the second half of the meeting is the staff member review of me as their leader. The meeting allows me to encourage a culture of expectation, to appreciate them, to encourage them and to give meaningful insights and direction to advance their ministry. This time also gives me feedback about how I can better serve them.”
The Multi-Campus Church
“One of the ATC highlights in recent history is planting the Life Point Campus on the west side of the Fox Valley area,” said Pastor Soto. “We identified approximately 30 ATC attenders who lived in the area and asked for their buy-in to start a new campus. We started as a group Bible study that was informal and relational. In the beginning we taught basic Christians disciplines and built a trusting relationship that would eventually be strong enough to carry the load of a doctrinal conversation. After several months, we transitioned into a worship service. Three and a half years later we have 130 attenders. The first waves of attenders are now the core leaders of the church. I preach the 2:00 service on Sundays and the Tuesday mid-week service.
“We are currently planting a Hispanic church in our community as well. We spent this summer holding celebrations in the community designed for our Hispanic population.”
When asked for any final thoughts, Pastor Soto said, “Don’t be afraid to be an original. I think that God wants our churches to be innovative and creative. We don’t always have to preach the newest book on the market or jump into the latest church growth fad. Utilize the Apostolic genius that God has placed in you to be an original in your community. Present God’s Word in such a way that people are able to understand it, embrace it and make right choices with it.
Finally, treasure the harvest that God is sending through your church. Learn to rightly relate with that harvest. Build a bridge that takes a person all the way to maturity in God and be intentional about that. I think that’s the kind of church that God will bless.”