Reaching the Lost
“An atmosphere of revival is the single most important key to church growth,” explains Pastor D.E. Keller of Abundant Life Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana.Taking specific steps to reach the lost and minister to the needs of the hurting, equip new believers and send them back out into the harvest field, and continually train leaders has helped Abundant Life Church stay in a state of perpetual revival. Pastor Keller teaches the church that all members should have an area of ministry where they can serve. And he emphasizes that every church that experiences healthy growth must have these two factors: praying people and powerful worship. Without these two ingredients all of the planning and all of the activity comes to naught, he said. One important ministry at ALC is in-home weekly gatherings called Connect Points. The goal of this evangelism-focused ministry is to have a Connect Point in every neighborhood in the city.
Over the years Pastor Keller has been an example, mentor and friend to younger men in ministry inside and outside the local church. He has developed a very capable and qualified staff that focuses on training leaders. According to Pastor Keller, church growth and revival are both a philosophy and a strategy, each of which take several years to implement. It is a philosophy from the standpoint that a pastor must understand where he is going and a strategy from the standpoint that he must have a plan to get there, he said.”My philosophy of ministry is recognizing and developing leadership qualities in other people and building an organization that will outlast me,” Pastor Keller said. To help equip leaders, one Saturday a month the entire leadership team comes together for fellowship and training. This Point of Influence (POI) gathering lasts about five hours and includes lunch.
The Philosophy and Strategy of Revival
When the Kellers arrived in Ft. Wayne, the church had an average Sunday attendance of 125 people. After two years of no growth, Pastor Keller invited Bro. Tim Massengale to conduct a church retreat that involved goal setting and strategic planning. “From that point, revival began to happen, and in the next few years we were reaching our goals and seeing revival take place. The growth has been steady since that time,” the pastor said.Pastor Keller has observed that often churches seek to develop a framework of revival by bringing in an evangelist for special meetings when the church reaches a low point and needs to be revived. “However, revival [meetings] alone will not bring church growth,” he said. “There must be a structure in place for spiritual development and retention.” He further explained that the concept of revival, then, is not just about numbers added to the church but about fostering spiritual maturity, making disciples, and developing leaders. “Revival-minded men such as Evangelist Greg Godwin have helped us understand that revival is not sporadic but perpetual, therefore allowing us to have revival consistently throughout the year,” Pastor Keller said. The structure he has adopted for spiritual development and retention has been highly effective and has encouraged other pastors to use a similar approach.
Organizational Structure and Ministries
The church has developed a strong organizational structure for church growth based on “The Purpose Driven Church” concept. Several years ago Pastor Keller felt strongly this was the method for growth the church needed to follow. “It has worked very well for us,” he said. “Every church is different and must decide what works best for that church, but every growing church must have a structure in place for retention and training.”Every member of Abundant Life is encouraged to become involved in a ministry, and each ministry comes under one of five “purpose pastors.” These are: a fellowship pastor, a discipleship pastor, a worship pastor, an evangelism pastor and a ministry pastor.
The church ministers according to five levels of involvement: 1. The community (those from the city and local area); 2. The crowd (those ministered to weekly); 3. The congregation (those who have been born again); 4. The committed (those who have reached a higher level of Christian maturity); 5. The core (the leadership of the church).”This helps us to implement the biblical mandate of helping people mature in Christ.
It is my opinion that we have lost too many people over the years by trying to make people ‘core’ members as soon as they come into the church,” Pastor Keller said. “They must have time and teaching in order for them to mature. By dealing with maturity issues in a classroom setting and on Wednesday evenings during our mid-week service, it frees us up to focus strictly on evangelism in our Sunday service.”As a part of the Life Development Institute (ALC’s Christian education program), the church has Christian Life And Service Seminars (C.L.A.S.S.) designed for every new member to complete. These seminars 101-Discovering Church Membership, 201-Discovering Spiritual Maturity, 301-Discovering My Ministry, and 401-Discovering My Life Missionare designed to help move the crowd to the congregation, the congregation to the committed, and the committed to the core.The goal of these seminars is to help each member commit the rest of his life to God and to using his time, talent and treasure for the Kingdom of God.
A Ministry Expo with over 40 active ministries represented also is offered to help new people find their place of ministry in the church. The church has a full-time K-12 Christian school, a full-time day care ministry, and a total staff of 40. “I believe hiring staff and finding the right people for the right job is a must for church growth,” the pastor said.Projected activities for any given year include Block Parties, an Easter production with a cast of over 200, various citywide events capitalizing on the use of church facilities, and several scheduled revivals. These serve as bridge events to the city.
The church also seeks to build bridges to the community by co-sponsoring events each year along with area social service organizations.On Friday evenings, “The Alternative,” a cutting-edge, dynamic youth program, ministers to church kids and reaches into the inner city.Job training classes are offered at the church to help people from the city develop computer skills and, in addition, give them exposure to the church. Abundant Life Church ministers to people every week through Connect Points and Spanish, Burmese and Sunday worship services. The average attendance for the Sunday afternoon service is approximately 470 with a total weekend attendance average of about 650. About 35 percent of adult members are actively involved in some form of ministry at the church.A Sunday afternoon worship service is held at 2:15 p.m., and the afternoon begins with corporate prayer at noon. Under the Life Development Institute program, break-out sessions run from 1-2 p.m. and are designed for members and non-members alike. Classes cover religious instruction and practical topics such as parenting, health and nutrition, finance, anger management and relationships. During this time, the children are in a very exciting children’s church atmosphere. “We discovered the Sunday afternoon service was one of the biggest selling points to the community,” Pastor Keller said.
A Miracle Unfolds
“God has orchestrated some specific events within our city that have given us city-wide exposure that we could not have done ourselves,” Pastor Keller said. Almost 10 years ago the church was averaging about 250 and needed to build. Shortly thereafter, ALC constructed a new 500-seat sanctuary. “But like most churches, we have suffered our share of setbacks. One of them occurred just after we moved into our new facilities, but as I was praying late into the night one night, the Lord showed me that before long we would see our new sanctuary full. In time we saw that take place as God miraculously opened more doors for the Fort Wayne church,” Pastor Keller said.The University of Saint Francis across the street from the church made an offer to purchase the church property. “They were land locked, and we needed to sell and relocate, so we accepted their offer of $3.5 million, which was a blessing for us,” Bro. Keller said. While that was in the making, the pastor of First Assembly of God on Coliseum Boulevard called and asked Pastor Keller if Abundant Life would be interested in purchasing their facility. ALC eventually bought the facility for $3.8 million. (The property was appraised for approximately $6 million given the land value and prime location.) “All of this was done without paying a commission to a realtor,” Pastor Keller said.Abundant Life moved into the new facilities on Oct. 1, 2007, and with the move doubled the size of its property from 7 1/2 acres to 16+ acres. The church also doubled its building space from 48,000 to 98,000 sq. ft. The new location sits on the busiest square mile in the city with the highest retail value per square mile. “God has given us tremendous favor in our city. We have always reached out to the down and out, but recently God is giving us people of influence,” Bro. Keller said.A busy church is a happy church, Pastor Keller says, and a church that is healthy stays focused on the needs of others and will not be preoccupied with its own needs. “The church was never intended to be a reminiscence but a prophecy, not living in the past but always reaching to the future,” Pastor Keller said.
The Back Story
Bro. and Sis. D.E. Keller came to Fort Wayne in 1986 at the invitation of then pastor Charles Stovall. Bro. and Sis. Stovall were answering the call to the mission field in Germany at that time, and invited the Kellers to visit the church and consider assuming the pastorate. The congregation, located at 2702 Spring St., readily welcomed the Kellers and their two children, Tamara and David.Bro. Keller was born and grew up in McAllister, Oklahoma, and lived in Oklahoma until the age of 19 when he left to attend Texas Bible College in Houston. After graduation, he evangelized for eight years. He married Marta Kurtz in 1974, and they served as assistant pastor in San Bernardino, California, and pastor in Prescott, Arizona, before coming to Fort Wayne.Two men who have influenced Bro. Keller’s life the most are Bro. Howard Davis, from San Bernardino and Bro. Keller’s father, Bro. Jimmy Keller. “My father started preaching this Oneness message at age 16 and has been an example of ministry in conduct and character,” he said.Pastor Keller currently serves as chairman of a recently introduced program in the Indiana District called A New Day, a district committee organized to work in conjunction with the Indiana District board to revamp the structural, spiritual and financial aspects of the district organization. Their daughter, Tamara, is married to Bro. Rich Brown. They and their two daughters live in Pasadena, California, where Bro. Brown is the pastor of LifeChurch.
Vision for the Future
“The awareness of ALC in the city of Ft. Wayne and the possibilities for revival have never been greater. We firmly believe, as a church, we are at the ‘tipping point’ where growth in the future is going to be exponential,” Pastor Keller said. “We are excited about the future and what God is doing, not only in our city but around the world. “I give credit for a great church to a great God and a great commission, a great staff that just ‘makes it happen,’ and a great congregation who loves God and the work of God.” To reach the church, call 260-432-0014 or visit www.abundantlifecares.com.
Volume 20, Number 1