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Alex McFarland Show-110-Help for the Plateaued or Declining Church with guest Pastor Howard McNeill

Alex McFarland Show / Alex McFarland
The Truth Network Radio
May 16, 2024 11:00 am

Alex McFarland Show-110-Help for the Plateaued or Declining Church with guest Pastor Howard McNeill

Alex McFarland Show / Alex McFarland

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May 16, 2024 11:00 am

On this week's episode of the Alex McFarland Show, Alex visits with  special guest and long-time friend, Pastor Howard McNeill. Together, they discuss help for the plateaued or declining church, the mission of the church, insights and wisdom about the process of turning the church around to be successful, and how to reach more people for Jesus. We can all use the gifts God has given us to serve the church and evangelize in our communities.


Revelation 14

Mark 16:15

Psalm 63:1-8

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The spiritual condition of America, politics, culture, and current events, analyzed through the lens of scripture. Welcome to the Alex McFarland Show. It's been said that the Church is the only society on earth that exists solely for the benefit of its non-members.

Hi, Alex McFarland here. That was a quote from Archbishop William Temple, who lived up until 1944. He was a British clergyman, conservative Evangelical back when really there was a time that Britain was kind of the epicenter of world missions, and that mantle eventually came to the United States of America. And I love our nation, and I think part of the greatness of our nation has been the nearly half million Protestant churches that have filled the American landscape. But as I travel all over America, more and more I'm seeing churches, some of which are closed, and church properties that are up for sale. Very often I'll be on the road and I'll get up early on a Sunday morning and I'll be driving to where I'm going to be speaking. And I'll go, imagine, 9am on a Sunday morning and I'll drive past churches that don't appear to be open.

No one's there. And I'm doing a show today, and I've got with me a very special guest whom you'll meet in a moment. But I want to give some encouragement that everybody listening, number one, I hope you're a Christian, I hope you're a believer. But as a Christian, that you would be passionate about the Church. I hope you're a part of a Church, and I hope that you're a contributing, participating member, and you know your spiritual gift and that you are doing what you can do and being allowed for God to use you to contribute to the Church.

Because not only is it a key part of the health and sustenance of our nation, the Church is something for all generations until Christ comes. And with me in the studio right now is someone who I know shares that sentiment, Pastor Howard McNeil. He's a longtime friend and colleague. He is the pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina. And some years ago, he took a church — it's a beautiful property, very strategically located — but he took a church that probably would not have been the envy of someone coming out of seminary. I know even guys going into the ministry.

They want to land a really great gig. And this, he and his wife Robin took a church, and God is using them in a mighty way to win people to Christ, turn around a church that very well could have gone out of business. We're going to talk about the mission of the Church and some insights and wisdom from Howard McNeil about turning around a church that is plateaued or declining. First of all, Pastor Howard McNeil, thanks for being with us today, and thanks for what you're doing for the Great Commission. Thanks, Alex.

I'm honored to be here with you today. Like you said, I love the church. I love pastoring. It hurts me to see what's happening when I hear that 85 to 90 percent of the churches in North America have plateaued or declining, and the age of the average congregation is continuing to outpace the average age of the American culture by about five to ten years.

It's just very painful to see. And so we're trying to work and do everything that we can to try to turn south side, and we're in the midst of a revitalization. Well, all people need Jesus. The gospel is for every generation.

Revelation 14 says it is the everlasting gospel. So with Jesus being the one and only Savior for all times and all places needed by all people, how is it that, in your opinion, Howard, that the American church is declining? One of the things I believe that we've done, Alex, is I really believe that we have gotten away from evangelism. Personal evangelism has been something that's gone away. I've listened to Tom Rainer a lot in a lot of his studies, where he speaks about how that, you know, one of the things that we did used to be we had a regular program of evangelism. And one of the things that happened is there was a turn away from programming and over-programming.

And I can understand that, and I don't knock that so much. But what we did is we ran away from the programs, but we didn't replace evangelism with anything else. It's not like we left the program but didn't just pick it up on our own organically and naturally. We just canceled the program and then stopped sharing the gospel on a personal day-in, day-out basis. And so that's, in my opinion, that's one of the things that has hurt the church. Another thing that's hurt the church is that many of the churches in our area especially, we're not reaching the community around us. One of the things that was going on with Southside when I first came is, and the members admitted it, they were aware that there's a problem, which is one of the first steps. You have to realize you have a problem before you can, you know, begin trying to address it and take steps to address it. But we'd become what's referred to as a drive-in church.

Everybody's driving in 15, 20 minutes. We're not reaching the community around us. And so that would be the second thing, is the community around us changed, but we didn't change and we didn't do whatever we needed to do to try to reach the community around us with the gospel.

And so those two things, in my opinion, are two of the main things that have hurt the church in causing us to plateau or decline. Yeah, Greg Laurie said it some years ago, that he said, the problem is this, we've forgotten how to lead people to Jesus. And, you know, I appreciate all sorts of programs, and there's women's ministry and men's ministry and couples ministry and youth ministry, but we are to be evangelizing the world. We are to take the gospel to every creature, whether we think about, you know, foreign countries, but that just might be not to the ends of the world but to the ends of our streets.

I mean, every church. So that being the case, what advice do you have about how to begin to restore that forgotten art, the art of soul winning and evangelism? One of the first things that I would say is we have to work with our people to help them basically either get excited about Jesus Christ again, get excited about what he's done in our lives. Much of the time, many of the people within the church have been believers for 10, 15, 20 years, and we, oftentimes as we become believers and we're involved in the church, those lost friends that we had, those people who were away from Christ, who were our friends, our close companions, we stopped spending time with them because Christ has changed our life. And so we lose this contact, almost sometimes in an intentional way, with those who need to know Jesus the most.

And so I believe that's one of the things that drives that is we don't have those people in our lives anymore, and we're not being intentional about building bridges to those people. I love the people who are out here, and I think Rosaria Butterfield is the one who's done a great job with emphasizing, hey, look, God's given you a home. Open it up. Use it as a way to bring people in who are unbelievers just to share a meal, just to build community with and build a relationship with, and let them just see you being Christ in front of them. We're talking with Dr. Howard McNeil. He's the pastor of Southside Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, where, coincidentally, Truth for a New Generation has offices, and they don't even charge us rent. God bless you. Stay tuned. When we come back, we're going to talk about evangelism and how every Christian has the privilege and the duty.

It is a get-to and a have-to that we can share the gospel turning around the plateaued or declining church. Stay tuned. We're going to be right back after this. Fox News and CNN call Alex McFarland a religion and culture expert.

Stay tuned for more of his teaching and commentary after this. In recent years, our nation has suffered greatly, and we seem to be on a rapid moral decline. We've rejected God, morality, and we've almost completely lost our sense of patriotism. It's no wonder that many are asking the question, Is this the end of America? Hi, Alex McFarland here, and I want to make you aware of my book, The Assault on America, How to Defend Our Nation Before It's Too Late.

You know, our nation has seen politicians that are corrupted by greed, and they've got a vested interest in power, and many of our elected officials seem to care little about the country that they've been appointed to serve. Read my book, The Assault on America. We can stand up for our great nation and defend America before it's too late.

It's available everywhere. You can learn more on my own website, which is Read the book, The Assault on America, How to Defend Our Nation Before It's Too Late. He's been called trusted, truthful, and timely. Welcome back to The Alex McFarland Show. In Mark 16, 15, the Word of God says that we are to preach the gospel to every creature.

Hi, Alex McFarland here, along with Dr. Howard McNeil, longtime friend and colleague. And part of the reason I wanted to have you on is you and I share a passion for evangelism, but you took a church, great location, great facility, good remnant of people here, but you took a church that had been through some problems and without an intervention could have gone out of business, and churches do that. And so I'd like to hear what God did in your heart that led you to take a church that many career-minded ministers would have passed right by, but yet you and your family are here. How did God lead you to do that, and what are you doing now that you are here? Okay. There's not really a short answer to this question, so I'll just kind of lay back and give you the whole story.

Before... I had started in conversation with the search team here, but before we had even gone very far, the North Carolina Baptist State Convention, which is here in Greensboro, was happening. And so one day I just drove up early, and I just came over here to the parking lot of the church, and I just parked in the parking lot, and I just began praying right at the back, I can take you to the exact parking spot right now. And I just sat there in the car before the convention, and I was just praying, okay, God, you've got to show me on this. I just really don't know.

It's a great church. They've been... the search teams have been very honest with me. There are challenges here. God, I don't know exactly which way to go. And so God showed me during that time that he was going to call me here, he was going to bring me here, and he impressed upon me, and when I do, you reach this community with the gospel. That's exactly your calling.

That's exactly your goal. And so God was faithful to his word. He opened the doors, and Robin and I came, and the church was very gracious, very loving to us.

They have been all the way through. You know, we began really trying to work and trying to see, okay, God, you know, how are we supposed to go about doing this? I really appreciate the ministry of Mark Clifton, who's with the North American Mission Board, Southern Baptist. And one of the things that he did at a church that he was in the revitalization process with, and he suggests is, hey, one of the first things I did is I just took the church through experiencing God, Henry Blackaby's book, and got them excited about Jesus again, and got them, you know, looking back to God again for hope.

Because that's one of the things I find a lot of times when a church has been in an extended decline, like a south side, the church loses hope. You know, really, it becomes a mindset of, you know, can we just tread water? Can we just hold on? It almost gets in survival mode. Can we just survive?

Not thrive, not grow, can we just survive? I thought, you know, this is a bad way to say it, Alex, but in all honesty, I just thought, you know, what have I got to lose? Really. I mean, you know, I've taught experiencing God before a couple of times in previous churches, and, you know, let's just take it and let's just see. So we did that, we opened it up, and God just moved. And so the people, we started asking the question, okay, God, where are you at work and you're inviting us to join you? That's just what, you know, not what can I gin up?

What can I think up? David Oldford, one of my professors in my doctoral work, used to talk about the difference between God's plans and man's, in our pastor's, schemes. He said if God's in it and it's his plan, then this will happen.

But if you're scheming and you're trying to work, it's going to fall flat on its face. And so I really took that to heart. And so we just tried to say, okay, God, where can we get on your plans? And so as we began doing that, we began praying, I just began asking, okay, God, you're going to have to show me, show me where you're at work. And so one of the most amazing moments is I had to go out to do something. I was driving back to the church and I thought, okay, you know, we've got an apartment complex right here at the end of our street.

And what if we could do a ministry there? And so I just started praying, okay, God, you know, what should I do? What do we do? How do we do this? And so I just stopped in and I said, hey, look, you know, here's who I am.

Here's what I'm doing. You know, I pastor right up the street from you guys. Would you be okay if maybe we were to come down and do, I don't know if y'all were familiar with like a backyard Bible club and they said, oh yeah, we grew up in church. Yeah, we remember backyard Bible clubs and vacation Bible school and that type thing. I said, would it be okay with you? Would you be willing to think about us coming down here maybe once a month and doing a backyard Bible club?

We call it kids camp now and doing a backyard Bible club. And they jumped on the idea. It just, it really, it caught me completely by surprise, blew me out of the water.

I shouldn't have been surprised because God was in this thing and he had impressed upon me to stop, but it just, it was so simple that he had gone ahead of me and he had opened that door and he was just waiting for us to be faithful to walk through it. And so they agreed to it. We started that ministry and God's blessed. Now, how was it structured?

What's the implementation of this? Great idea. How did you structure it? Really, it's a very simple backyard Bible club. We go down once a month on a Saturday when we're there for two hours and we have a snack for the kids. Usually it's a heavy snack because our community, many of our communities are economically challenged.

And so some, several of the kids in our communities, they're food insecure. And so we have a very heavy snack for the kids. And then we'll take time that we'll do a craft with them and we'll play some games with them and we have a Bible story with them. And, you know, we were very upfront with management when we did this, when we were talking about this. I said, you know, look, now one thing you're going to understand is we believe the Bible and we're going to share the gospel. And they said, okay, great.

And here was the beautiful thing. They love it because then when potential renters come there, they can go, oh yeah, and we have something for the kids once a month and it helps them because it makes the apartment complex more appealing. But it's also a blessing for us because it gives us the opportunity to get in there and to share the gospel with kids and which excites the people at church because they see the kids coming, they see the kids listening and attentive to the gospel stories.

And so it's truly a blessing for everybody. And how long have you been doing the Bible clubs at the apartment complex? We've been doing the Bible clubs at the apartment complex probably for about two years now.

We have a second one that started that we've been involved with for about a year. Volunteers, people willing to help because it does take a team of people. Were your people willing to volunteer and train up and get this together?

Yes, they were. And one of the things that is so beautiful about having a congregation that's older is, you know, they see themselves as grandparents. So these kids come in and they bring them in. They take them under their wing. It's like their grandchildren. And so, yeah, they were willing to jump on it. And with that type of ministry, it doesn't take a large number.

We've got to take a break. Alex McFarland here with Dr. Howard McNeil of Southside Baptist. Folks, I don't know where you are in America. I don't know if your church is in a declining neighborhood or an urban area or a rural area, but you can be used.

The Bible says wherever two or three are gathered in Jesus's name, he is in the midst. And God can use you and God will use you. And when we come back after this break, we're going to continue to talk about creative ways to live out the Great Commission here in the 21st century and to see the great American church restored. Our nation surely needs it. Stay tuned.

We're back after this brief break. Fox News and CNN call Alex McFarland a religion and culture expert. Stay tuned for more of his teaching and commentary after this. Christian author and speaker Alex McFarland is an advocate for Christian apologetics, teaching in more than 2200 churches around the world, schools and college campuses. Alex is driven by a desire to help people grow in relationship with God. He arms his audiences with the tools they need to defend their faith, while also empowering the unchurched to find out the truth for themselves. In the midst of a culture obsessed with relativism, Alex is a sound voice who speaks timeless truths of Christianity in a timely way. With 18 published books to his name, it's no surprise that CNN, Fox, The Wall Street Journal and other media outlets have described Alex as a religion and culture expert. To learn more about Alex and to book him as a speaker at your next event, visit or you can contact us directly by emailing booking at

He's been called trusted, truthful and timely. Welcome back to The Alex McFarland Show. Welcome back to the program. I do want to remind everybody to please check out the newly redesigned, and especially if you would, go and pray over the calendar. As we record this, Angie and I are headed out to Arkansas for a worldview conference, and then we'll swing down to Texas. We've got a big conference, Truth for a New Generation in Tyler, Texas in the month of June, and the theme is Why Truth Matters. And I would love for you to be there. We have sessions for teenagers, for grown-ups on how to understand and defend the biblical worldview. And then of course we have seven summer camps. We'll have over 1,200 middle school and high schoolers in summer camps all over America, and then I'll be at the Cove. A lot going on, and God is giving fruit and the gospel is being preached. Of course we have the Truth and Liberty show that is on five nights a week.

I'm on every Tuesday night and occasionally on a Friday night. But a lot going on. You can find it all at Well, why the enthusiasm? Why are we doing what we're doing? Well, somebody who shares the vision and the heart that we have is that, like it says in Habakkuk in the Old Testament, that the knowledge of the Lord would cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. Pastor Howard McNeil, he and his wife and staff, they're doing a great work. And Howard, do you know, I think that, like you said in the previous segments, we need to get excited about Jesus again. Let's remember people really need the Lord Jesus. People either have a relationship with Christ or they need a relationship with Christ. And we've got to keep that foremost in our mind and our priorities, don't we?

Absolutely. One of the things that we continually try to emphasize in all the ministries that we do and all the ministries that we're involved in is, I just call it being gospel-centric. The gospel has to be the central heartbeat of everything that we do, and that has to be the driving force behind everything that we do.

So let me ask you if you would give some encouragement. There are churches that are thriving. Praise God for that. Let's talk about the role of prayer. Because in all of my travels, I've been an itinerant, that means traveling evangelist, for a long time. I've noticed, Howard, when I go to churches, no matter where I go, all 50 states, I always try to listen and find out if they mention, hey, Alex, we've prayed over this week. You're going to be here for a week. We're going to have services.

We're going into the inner city. Our prayer team has been on this for three months. Whenever I hear that a ministry has been prayed over, the results are totally different. And I know that's true not only for a special event like we do, or just the maintenance and ministry of a church. Let's talk about the difference between prayer or lack of prayer. That is the X factor, isn't it?

Absolutely, it's the X factor. One of the things that I frequently say is prayer is our greatest resource. It really is. It's our greatest weapon that we have because Paul reminds us we don't fight against flesh and blood. We're fighting in the spiritual realm. And trust me, when we're out and we're ministering, if anything can go wrong, it definitely will try to. One of the things that my pastor, the late Johnny Henderson, used to say growing up, I remember him saying it years and years, that nothing great for God ever happens without great opposition. So prayer has to be one of the central keys of it. Now, I wish that I could sit here and say, hey, we've got the most vibrant, powerful prayer ministry here at South Side of any church around.

If I said that, I would be lying. But we do have prayer warriors. I have people in the church who I know that are prayer warriors.

And when we've got things going up or coming on, I reach out to them. And a lot of times it's a personal phone call and I say, hey, look, I need you to be praying about this. You know, I need to be praying about these things. I need my team to be praying about these things and lifting them up. One of the things that we do is we have a prayer list.

In a lot of ways, we're still a very traditional Southern Baptist church. We have a bulletin. We have the prayer list on the back of the bulletin, right? And one of the things that we do is we keep our ministries that we're involved in on that prayer list on the back of our bulletin. And that way, as my folks, as the church is going through that prayer list and looking at it each week, they're reminded of, hey, this ministry's coming up and this ministry's coming up.

And we want to be praying for that. We want to lift up the leadership in those ministries, and we want to be praying that God will use those ministries to reach people with the gospel. You know, Ephesians 4, 11, and 12, I think about, this is such a great verse that it says God gave pastors, teachers, and evangelists for equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.

I was doing some consulting for a church in another state and just trying to figure out where they were and encourage them on where they might go. And one of the men, he said, the last three pastors we've had, they have not filled up those pews. Now, is it the pastor's job, quote unquote, to fill up those pews? Is it my responsibility to be out and inviting people and sharing the gospel?

Absolutely it is. But it's also the responsibility of every member who's a part of South Side to be out and be inviting people and to be sharing the gospel. It's not just my responsibility, it's all of our responsibilities. But I have to lead by example. You know, I think it's very hypocritical for me to be standing up in front of people and saying, hey, you need to be sharing the gospel. Hey, you need to be inviting people to church if I'm not doing it. And so, yes, it is the responsibility of the pastor, and equally it's the responsibility of everybody sitting in a pew who's sitting in front looking back at the pastor. Yeah, and that Ephesians 4, 11, and 12 says, equipping the saints for the work of the ministry. It's a team effort, isn't it?

Yes, it is. You know, we've got to visit with you some more. We've only got a couple of minutes. But I want to make an appeal for everybody listening, no matter what your age is. The men listening to this, I know this firsthand, Howard, I think you would concur, one of the most gratifying things in life, it's fulfilling beyond words, is if God has a call on your life to preach the gospel unto pastor.

There are a lot of speakers, there are a lot of aspiring writers and people like that. Praise God. But we need pastors.

And I've got to believe, you know, it says that we are to pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth laborers. Speak to the listeners, the men out there, and yes, listening, your pastorate role is male, but the men that may have a call on their life to pastor. And folks, don't worry if you think you're too old, you're not, but speak out there for those that may have a call on their life to pastor a church someday. Okay, I'll speak directly to you. Guys, before I surrendered to the call to full-time ministry, I was in a sales job.

My wife, we had three children, my youngest was under two years old, had a full-time job, she was a stay-at-home mom. God called us, I knew that call was a call to prepare, and God turned our world upside down. But, you know, God was faithful again and again and again through that entire thing as I was preparing and getting ready for the ministry. One of the things I would encourage you to do if you think that God has a call on your life is don't sit back and wait. You know, don't sit back, especially if you think that call is to the pastorate, don't sit back and wait and I'm going to do something once God calls me and gives me this pastor's position. No, be involved and be active in the church that God has you. Be that guy who is your pastor's right-hand man. You're the one that he can call on to go clean the toilets when they need to be cleaned, you know, to go sweep the floor or vacuum the floor when it needs to be vacuumed, because trust me, as pastor, I've done all of that. You know, there's no job that is too small or too insignificant that this is the role of the pastor.

And, you know, keep going. Don't worry about what you don't have. I have a handwritten note above my desk, I see it almost every day. It says, stop worrying about what you don't have and give what you have in your hand to Jesus. That's powerful. We're going to talk more about this.

We're just about out of time right now. But folks, I'm going to close with a word from Psalm 63. It says, O God, thou art my God, early will I seek thee, my soul thirsts for thee. But it goes on down there and it says, so as I have seen thee, Lord, in the sanctuary, and famously, thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee. That verse, Psalm 63, 1-8, it presupposes a personal walk with God, early worshiping and meeting with the Lord. But there's also this corporate element of meeting God in the sanctuary, praising God corporately. Folks, if you're an individual born-again believer, you are to be a part of a local assembly, a church, and we are to invest in our personal walk, invest in our family, our spouses, our families, but also in the local congregation. We'll continue this, but let me encourage you, tell somebody about Jesus, and live for Christ's great commission. You may also reach us at Alex McFarland, P.O. Box 10231, Greensboro, North Carolina, 27404, or by calling 1-877-Yes-God-1. That's 1-877-YES-GOD-1. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you again on the next edition of the Alex McFarland Show.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-05-21 00:57:20 / 2024-05-21 01:09:27 / 12

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