A Simple Plan for Church Growth
“Growing a church is very simple,” says Bishop Devon D. Dawson of All Nations Apostolic Tabernacle in Jamaica—Queens (a suburb of New York City), New York. “It takes faithfulness, sticking to the Scriptures, the Word of God, and having a plan. It takes a little work, but if you work the plan, the plan will work.”
Pastor Dawson continues, “It’s the way you treat people; people are the key. If we can love people and minister to people’s felt needs, you will get extremely positive results. Nobody will run away from that.”
In the early days, “we went to the subway and handed out tracts. It was just basically one-on-one. Now, we do a number of things, such as Home Bible Studies. We reach out to institutions, prison, nursing homes. We do meetings on the steps of our church. We get out on the streets. We do prayer walks. We get permission and do park meetings, set up music, have our choir sing and our Puppet Ministry tell a story.
“We also do a lot of funerals and baby dedications. If you dedicate one child in a service, you can get up to 50 people coming to see that service. We get cards for all of them. When you dedicate a baby, you get to keep them for life. We try to make sure that they get that child back to church.”
Another way Pastor Dawson works to increase attendance is through dividing up his area of impact into zones. “We look at our city and as much as we are not able to evangelize the entire city with just one church, we still feel like we have a divine mandate to do our part,” he says. “We have what we call a maximum target and a minimum target. What we do is identify several areas around our church that we call maximum impact. We call these zones. We have one leader in charge of the program. We also have leaders in charge of each individual zone, at least two ministers. They help to expand the church into other areas of our city. Over time, each zone will become a church by itself. If we have someone come to our church, we can identify what zone they come from. We can get them into a Home Meeting or a Bible study or something in that zone. That becomes a real point of contact.”
Planning the Work
Pastor Dawson believes that the organization and structure of any growing church is key. “I have a board of trustees specifically charged with the responsibility of finance and administration,” he explains. “I also have a board of elders with 16 ministers. They are the ones who see to the spiritual element of the church. We have nine ministries: Evangelism, Christian Education, Music and Family Life Ministry, with five other ministries under that focused on building up families, i.e. marriage, conflict resolution, children, etc. Our goal is to help people to excel and endure and to minister to the felt needs of people.
“We have what we call a Pastoral Staff Meeting every six weeks. We have prayer, we serve breakfast to the entire staff, and then we have a strategic planning meeting. We discuss our goals for the quarter and major events. Then, at the end of each year, we have a three-day leadership retreat. We bring everybody. The first day our goals are discussed, the second day we break up into our different departments and have discussions, and the third day we all get together. We major in job descriptions. Job description is key for any ministry.”
To encourage involvement, Pastor Dawson plans a Missions Service every first Sunday of the month. “We use that to target people for their various ministries and create opportunities for them. Every new member that comes into the church fills out a membership application. On that there is a section that they fill out to say what ministry they would be interested in.”
Philosophy of Ministry
“Your call of God is kind of your main stay,” says Pastor Dawson. “Bro. Tenney said, ‘If God ordered it, He will pay for it!’ My dad was a minister before I was born. I was born in Jamaica, and I grew up with all these missionaries. I went to Bible School at 19. The day after I finished Bible School, I didn’t know what to do. So I started praying and asking the Lord. God did something for me at that point that has been my guiding principle. He simply said to me, ‘When I open the door, you go in.’ I have operated on that principle all my life. Any time I have to make a major decision in my life, I seek the Lord. When I was called to be a missionary, I said, ‘Give me two weeks to pray.’ I didn’t get anything new from the Lord, just a good impression saying, ‘Did I not open the door? You go in.’ So I went, and a church was established. Many wonderful miracles happened. We were also in Barbados and Trinidad and Guyana. When it was time to leave the mission field after 17 years, again the Lord opened the door. If God wants you to do it, He knows how to talk to you about it, and He gives you a way to do it.”
Working the Plan
“As a missionary, you do everything,” says Pastor Dawson. “These days, I specialize in Altar Ministry and then I do much of my teaching and preaching around the Old Testament and the Tabernacle and other areas. Your church development sort of dictates what you preach.
“We do a lot of work with young people. We have to reach the youth. To be honest, even from our work in Guyana, a major part of that was born and bred in our church. We raised and trained our own church musicians. That’s why we established our own Bible School at a local level. We created a drama group at our own local level, musicians, etc.”
Church History and Growth
Pastor Dawson and his wife and children started the All Nations Apostolic Tabernacle in December 1993 at the YMCA in Jamaica—Queens. “We spent four years at the Y,” he says. “Our first service we had 32 people, including adults and children. The Lord opened up one of the original churches here in Jamaica—Queens, built in 1869, right across the street from the YMCA. We were able to buy it. We asked God to do things for us, and He gave things to us. We bought this building which seats 650 comfortably, and we’ve been here for 18 years. We’ve filled it up quickly. We now have a new facility we’re working on that will seat 2,500.”
Currently, “we’re running about 600 to 650. That’s why we have to move to another facility. It’s a good problem, but it’s still a problem. We average about 85 to 100 receiving the Holy Ghost and getting baptized every year.”
“We need to get back to the core values of ministry,” says Pastor Dawson. “Within our Apostolic circles we have lost some of our core values, doctrinally. We’ve kind of moved away from the thing that made for real, good, anointed preaching. It seems that because we live in the information age, where information is so accessible, people can go and download information. I see a need for what I would call an inductive approach to the Word of God, where you go into the Word and discover the revelation that is there. We’ve gotten into the deductive approach, where we just pick up information and package it and deliver it. That can be done without any real prayer.
“That’s why we need to get back to our core values where people seek God and take an inductive approach to the Word. To really challenge our generation, we need more than just presentation. There was a time when we had sinners. Today, everybody is now going to heaven. It’s time to get back to how we study and present the Word of God. People need to be saved. That is my challenge. We need more than just presentation. We need real, anointed preaching.”
Written by: Christina Li