Phil White: A Vision of Growth
“Don’t come to church next Sunday night,” Pastor Philip White said to his church’s shock. Every eye in the auditorium stared at him, every mind strained to understand, every ear questioned its hearing. Had they heard their pastor right? Had he just told them all not to come to church? Then he finished his statement, “…unless you bring someone with -you.” Now, at some churches, this may have lessened the impact of his remark. But not at Victory Tabernacle. The congregation knew Brother White well enough to know that this was not just a trite phrase. They knew it was a pastoral command. They were well aware of Brother White’s passion for evangelism and vision for growth. Thus, they knew they had to bring a guest lest they not be allowed to attend.
As a result of this challenge to bring a friend, four first-time visitors received the Holy Ghost that Sunday night. By the next Sunday evening, three of the four had been baptized and several more newcomers had received the Holy Ghost. All because one church had caught their pastor’s vision for growth and revival.
And the result of this vision? Currently Victory Tabernacle United Pentecostal Church of Burbank, California, runs about 160 in average attendance. This represents nearly a 300 percent gain over the 4045 that Brother White started with.
Pastor White has always kept his eyes focused on church growth and revival. From the time he received the Holy Ghost at age nine, to his calling to preach at 19, Brother White has maintained a burden for souls. Now, at age 37, that burden has grown deeper than ever.
It was in the latter half of 1981 that a message came that would change the course of Brother White’s ministry. Brother White and his wife, Debbie, were in revival in Mesquite, Texas, looking forward to starting a church in Glendale, California, where their application to begin a home missions work had already been approved. Then a phone call from Brother Larry Aired interrupted their plans.
“Brother White, would you consider pastoring the church in Burbank?”
Somewhat reluctantly, the Whites found themselves on a plane to Los Angeles to consider the offer. Two days later, after returning to Texas, they were still unsure. That night, brother White was unable to sleep, so instead, he began preparing a sermon for the next evangelistic service.
“While writing notes for that sermon,” Brother White recalled, “I began to pray. The Lord informed me that the sermon I was preparing wasn’t for the church in Mesquite, but was the first sermon that I was to preach to that little church in Burbank.”
After the Texas revival, the Whites headed for Glendale. But almost without making a conscious decision, then they found themselves bypassing Glendale and continuing north to Burbank. God had clearly changed their destination.
The Burbank church first met in a small chapel, 19 feet wide by 22 feet long, with a half basement which was used for Sunday school classes. The small size of the building prohibited any significant growth. Yet, at the time, buying a larger property was not possible since Burbank had been land-locked since the end of World War II. To build something, you had to tear something down.
“The only way to go,” Brother White said. “was up. So we began raising funds for a new building that we could build vertically rather than horizontally. Our plan was to go three stories up. By incorporating and enlarging our existing basement and tearing down the old building, we could then build a three-story church facility.”
Several miracles helped confirm the hand of God in their construction plans. The first came when, contrary to what they had anticipated, city officials approved a 7,500 square foot building to be built on just an 11,000 square foot lot. The second miracle occurred while tearing the old building down.
“A lady who did not even attend our church,” Brother White recalled, “drove up and handed me a cashier’s check for ten thousand dollars. All together, that family donated eighteen thousand dollars to our building program.” Then, other members began donating money and supplies. Five years later, Brother White’s vision of new facilities became a reality.
But Victory Tabernacle’s vision did not stop there. The pastor and saints set their eyes on reaching as broad a cross section of their community as possible. The feeling in the church was that, in a city as diverse as Burbank, several outreach methods would be necessary.
“It’s important to develop various means of evangelism,” Bro. White cautioned. “All people don’t fit into one or two categories. That goes for both your outreach workers and the people you’re ministering to. Everybody benefits from a variety of outreach programs.
“It’s also important to have variety for another reason,” Brother While continued. “People around here move a lot. They move in and out of the Los Angeles area in large numbers. Unfortunately, this trend is also reflected in the church. And when people go, they leave a gap in the congregation. So we have to keep our outreach programs active.”
As an example of the need for diversity, a large percentage of Burbank residents speak non-English languages. In fact, the Los Angeles schools teach children from 68 linguistic backgrounds. As a result, “the Spanish speaking part of the Victory Tabernacle church family have their own Sunday school class and meet for evangelistic services on Friday night,” Pastor White pointed out.” Brother White currently leads the Spanish ministry himself, using an interpreter when necessary.
Another method of outreach has been their day care center. Brother White explained that the day care was conceived not just to raise money, but also as an avenue to reach younger families.
“Our present thirty-six day care students come from the church and the community,” Brother White said. “We are licensed for forty-five children, and we are looking forward to reaching that point.”
Other outreach methods include bus ministry and Enroll-To-Grow. Also, frequent Sunday school contests have been a successful evangelism method. They often engage in friendly competition with neighboring U.P.C. churches.
“But,” Brother White said emphatically, “the very best method for winning souls has been home Bible studies. I present home Bible study certificates during our Sunday night service. And I often call on people in the congregation to make comments as to their involvement and success with this ministry.
“My favorite sermon subject is soul winning. I want this church to live and practice the degree of prayer and evangelistic zeal that was found in the hook of Acts.”
Last year, Victory Tabernacle began a program called “HELPS Ministry.” This program involved a number of saints working to call every home in Burbank.
Each Tuesday night, saints would gather at the church and conduct a telephone opinion poll. At the conclusion of the survey, each person was then invited to an informal Bible study held in the church sanctuary. After a year, Brother White said, the HELPS ministry had contacted almost every home in Burbank.
“Now callers will be reaching out to the neighboring communities with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Pastor White feels that one of his major challenges is keeping saints motivated for evangelism for more than just a short time.
“Evangelism is a life-style,” Brother White said. “I pray daily that the saints will maintain their vision of reaching souls. I would advise a pastor to never stop teaching and preaching evangelism, regardless of the saints’ response.
“Don’t expect a high percentage of participation at first,” White continued. “But be excited to work with those that will work with you. Most importantly, always personally lead the participants in evangelism.”
In order to further spur his vision of growth, Brother White began early to organize the ministries of the church,
“We have six main departments,” he said. “These are Sunday school, youth, outreach, music, men’s ministry, and ladies’ ministry. We used Bro. Massengale’s Total Church Growth material to help get us going. I meet weekly with the department leaders as a group. I also have private meetings with each of them as often as needed. And then, once a year, I take all the department leaders on a planning retreat, where responsibilities are assessed and defined and training is emphasized.”
Brother White said a crucial ingredient for revival is the pastor’s own prayer life. “The pastor needs time alone with God. Prayer must be a priority. He also needs to allow time for creative thinking. This creative thinking can be triggered by exposure to church growth materials within and without the United Pentecostal Church.” And, he continued, “A pastor needs to maintain his own personal evangelism. Furthermore, if he is to have growth and revival, he must prepare sermons and Bible studies that deal with revival and evangelism.”
“Most of all,” Brother White said, remember to preach prayer and faith. Those are two things I make top priorities.”
Doubtless, with those two ingredients, Victory Tabernacle’s vision of growth will continue to become a reality.