Speaker 1: You’re listening to evangelism with Johnny Hunt, a podcast from the North American Mission Board that equips you and your church to share the gospel. Now, here are your hosts.
Kevin Ezell: Welcome, Pastor, to evangelism with Johnny Hunt. Thanks so much for listening. Today we have Johnny Hunt and a very special guest.
Johnny Hunt: Hey Pastor, we believe that we can so much learn from hearing what pastors are doing to lead their churches in evangelism. So today we’ve asked a great friend of ours, Alex Himaya, to join us. Alex pastors Battle Creek Church in Oklahoma and is doing an incredible job. So Alex, thanks for joining us, friend.
Alex Himaya: Happy to be with you guys today.
Johnny Hunt: Alex, in 2002 you had a vision for a new church in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Tell us about your vision, and how the church began.
Alex Himaya: Well, we got a call … I was doing student ministry with with Ronnie Floyd in Springdale and got a call from a dying church called Gracemont Baptist Church to come be their pastor. They had about 120 people and several million dollars in debt, and a dilapidated shopping mall. And that was kind of the invitation to come and be their pastor. It felt like an invitation to get on the Titanic, ya know, after it hit the iceberg, not before. Like we just hit an iceberg, we’ve taken on more water than we can bare and do you want to come be our pastor?
And we said no for about six months. But we, God was privately dealing with us about going, and this was before church planting was vogue, and it was certainly before the restart movement. But we ended up coming over and meeting with them. They were a little bit sneaky group and they said, “Hey, we understand you’re not going to come, but we just feel led to talk to you. Will you help us find a pastor?” So I started coming over on Saturday mornings once a month and meeting with the whole church, and just coaching them on how to find a pastor and how to be ready when a pastor does come. And started asking them all kinds of questions like, well, you know, “What if, what if?” and hard questions, pushing them.
And they kept saying, “We’re good with all of that. We’re good with all of that.” And I was trying to get at what are the sacred cows? And they kept saying, “There are none.” I knew they were lying because the church didn’t end up in a mess like that, you know, without them. But truth be told, all of the sacred and the people with any semblance of leadership gifts had all left.
And so it was a group of very devoted followers to Jesus who didn’t have permission to leave yet, God wouldn’t let him leave. And so halfway through that journey we just felt like God was basically saying, “We want you to come here,” you know, “I want you to come here.” I felt tricked by them and the Lord, but came.
And so technically it wasn’t a church plant, technically it was a restart. And as much of a church birth, it was a church death. But because we agreed to plant it in the ground and see what comes up, and see what Jesus birthed out of it. And you know, Jesus said “If a seed falls, and it’s not planted, it dies a needless death.” But when you plant it, He can do what He wants to do with it. So that’s what we did.
So we came in March of 2003, and by June we had buried the church, the first church I pastored, in the ground. And by August – That’s great resume material, by the way. We went from 120 to zero. And in August we launched the church, 2003.
Kevin Ezell: Well Alex, you’ve been incredible. You’re known to be very creative, and you have a multi-site strategy. And obviously we’re focusing on evangelism with this podcast as well. And so how would you say multi-site strategies helped in your evangelism efforts?
Alex Himaya: First of all, multi site is very complicated. And it brings with it a whole set of problems that you don’t see coming, or I didn’t see coming. But the real advantage, I think, is it gives you the opportunity, every once in a while, to be new and improved. It gives you the opportunity to go out and be on the front lines of something, which forces your people off of the sidelines and onto the line of scrimmage.
When you send a few hundred people out to start another campus, people who were just watching church and watching evangelism and watching discipleship now have to be the leaders of it. And so it creates all kinds of excitement. But it gets people who thought they could never really be a part out front doing it. And so it’s always exciting.
When you think of a growth curve of an organization, and the goal is always to catch the next curve before you begin to come down, multisite has helped us with that over and over and over again. You do another campus and you catch another curve on the upswing. It makes room for people. The relationships are stronger because the bigger you get, the harder it is for people to know one another. And so when you send out a core group, they end up knowing one another. And they know people in the community, and they know people in the neighborhood. And so it’s highly relational.
The need for growth all of a sudden is obvious where when you’re saying, “Hey, bring your friends and bring your neighbors and bring your employees,” and there’s no seats, there’s not a whole lot of motivation for that. But when you empty out a bunch of seats or go to a building that’s too big, all of a sudden, the need for growth is obvious.
But for us it’s always new and improved. Every year or two when we do another campus, it just gives you that new thing that is exciting, and people are praying about it, and it’s out front. And so multisite has been a big part of what God has blessed here. And when you realize you have to go out and lead your neighbor to Christ, and bring them to church because you know the church may not make it, then it’s out front every day in everybody’s heart and mind.
Johnny Hunt: You know, you think about keeping evangelism on the forefront. That’s our challenge, the local church’s challenge. But what are specific things, Alex, you would say you do to keep evangelism at the forefront of everything you do at Battle Creek?
Alex Himaya: Well, initially, I think sometimes we give lip service to this, but I think it’s really a big deal is prayer, that we have to pray about it. You have to realize this is a real battle and a real war. And even in a very evangelistic church like ours, if you take your hands off the wheel towards being outward and towards being evangelistic, the church will turn inwards. It’s just natural, and it will come back.
And so sometimes you feel like you’re holding a car out of alignment, against the wheel, to keep it focused outwards. But Jesus is the one that said, “Hey, the harvest is ripe. There’s no limit on the harvest.” But he told us, “Pray. Pray for workers because they are few.” And so it’s something that we have to pray about all of the time. But I’ve found the more we fall in love with God, the more we fall in love with Jesus, we love what He loves and, and He loves people. And so I think that’s beginning chapter. You can’t skip that part of the chapter because you’ll never be motivated to even share your own faith with somebody.
But then, as a pastor, you have to be an evangelist. You have to do it yourself. People won’t follow if you’re not doing it. So you demonstrate it. That’s one of the reasons that we give a public invitation where I lead and a quote, unquote “sinner’s prayer” on a regular basis. I want people to hear it out loud over and over. It’s one of the reasons I have people pray out loud. That prayer along with those who are praying it for the first time. Not that they need it, but I want them rehearsing it. That if they’re given the opportunity to pray that with someone at a coffee shop or on a plane, that they’ve been doing it.
My encouragement to pastors all the time is “talk about the people that you are sharing Jesus with in your sermons.” Talk about the people that you are inviting to church. Talk about the bridges that you are building to people because they’ll follow you. They’ll do what you do, and so you got to do that. And I happen to have, I think I have the gift of the evangelist. God has gifted me a draw in the net, and it is a gift. I didn’t earn it. I didn’t deserve it, but it is something that I have. But if you don’t have that gift as a pastor, I would encourage you to have that person in. Have somebody who does have that gift in periodically. So that your church watches it happen in front of the whole church.
But there’s kind of two roads. It’s railroad tracks, your personal life and people’s personal lives and what they’re doing out there, and then the corporate body of the church. And they intertwine. What you’re doing in your own life, what you talk about in your own life in your sermons, etc., makes its way into the body.
But I’ll tell you one of the things that we started doing about two or three years ago, it has been one of the greatest impetus towards seeing people come to Christ in our church, is what we call Gospel Sundays. And so three times a year, on Palm Sunday, actually, the week before Easter, we do it on the birthday of the church, which is in August. And then we do it on Halloween Sunday. It doesn’t matter when you do it, but for us it’s those three times.
I used to preach a message that was highly evangelistic and people would come up afterwards and say, “Pastor, that was awesome. If I had known you were going to preach that I would’ve brought people from my office, I would have brought my neighbors, I would have brought the kids in, all my kids’ soccer team, et cetera.” I’m like, “Why don’t you just bring them every Sunday?” And they’re like, “Well, you know, you may teach on giving,” or whatever. And so we just learned from that to telecast those Sundays, and tell people for four or five, six weeks leading into that Sunday, “Hey, on this Sunday, it’s going to be pure gospel.” The whole point of the service is to lead people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus to Jesus on that day. That’s what it’s about.
And so who are you investing in? Who are you inviting? Who are you going to bring? And I get as bold as to say, “Hey Church, I need you to invest in people’s lives to the degree that you have somebody with you on that Sunday.” So you may have to invest in 10 people’s lives or 20 people’s lives to get one here with you. But then when we give the invitation, people come. In fact, I’ll just, while we’re recording this podcast, in the last 10 days, we’ve had 176 people saved in our church.
Johnny Hunt: Wow. Incredible.
Alex Himaya: And because we had a gospel Sunday a few weeks ago, and then we had a Wednesday night the week before we started this ministry. This has been very helpful to us, and man, God is all over it. And you guys know that when God puts a vision in your heart, and you’re sure of it, God gave me a vision in 1994 when I was a student pastor of blessing other student ministries that couldn’t pull off what we were doing. You know, back in ‘94 we were the first youth ministry in America with a burner to make videos. You only spent 25 grand on it back then. Now you can do it on a phone.
So we started inviting churches of five or six or eight students to our Wednesday night service. And we just assured them “We are not trying to steal sheep. We are trying to help you.” And in the counseling room, you come into the counseling, one of those kids accepts Christ, you come in. And we built discipleship tools for them to disciple that kid that came to Christ and to go after their family. So in 1994 God gave him that vision. But last January, not this past one but the one before, in a fast, which we begin every January and every August, and fasting and praying as a church, God just announced the time for you to re-energize that.
And so we started an event called “TUL,” that’s the airport code for Tulsa. And so three or four times a year we do a student event, and I preach at it. And we invite all churches. The big churches want to be involved, but we’ve told them, “Hey, this is not for you. You can come, but only if you’re going to help us minister to the smaller churches.” And we’ll see a youth group come, and one kid come to Christ and take life back to that church. And it’s just exciting to watch. And so it’s helping and growing every church in our city.
We had one pastor, the senior pastor drive from Stillwater, which is about an hour away. The last TUL he brought 19 kids from his church, and 18 of them got saved.
Johnny Hunt: Wow,
Alex Himaya: It’s exciting.
Kevin Ezell: It is exciting. Yeah.
Alex Himaya: I would say this: The poor and the young and internationals, orphans. You and I both know you’re not seeing a lot of rich, old people getting saved. And if you want to lead people to Jesus, you got to go to people who have needs. And you got to go to people who are young. And by the way, I’ve found as a byproduct of that, that the rich and the old want to make a difference. And so when your church is doing that, they want to be involved, and they inadvertently come to Christ as well.
Johnny Hunt: Yeah. Well, I’ll tell you, you’ve given us a lot to think about and I really desire to have people like you that can talk about what God’s doing in your midst. It’s inspiring, encouraging. So Alex, thanks for talking with us today on the podcast and I look forward to all of those that’ll be helped by it.
Kevin Ezell: Yeah. And Alex, appreciate your creativity, and man you push everyone to think more and be more strategic. And Pastor, thank you for listening. If you have any questions about leading your church in evangelism, email us email@example.com, and we’ll try to answer them in a future podcast. So on behalf of Alex and Brother Johnny, we’re so grateful for you listening today and thankful for your partnership.