Leading above parCE Interview, LEADERSHIP Monday, October 1st, 2012
By Rez Gopez-Sindac
At Griffin First Assembly of God, the motto is “One church can change the world.” Randy Valimont, lead pastor since 1993, believes that when a church has a big vision with eternal impact, there are people who will want to support it with big money.
“People want to make a difference – and when they see that what you’re doing is working – they will be anxious to give to your ministry,” he says.
Valimont, who was given up for adoption at three days old – only because the planned abortion didn’t work out – spoke with Church Executive about how God values each person and how churches should fight fear with faith to advance the cause of Christ around the world.
Your church’s mission statement talks (in part) about “providing a progressive Pentecostal environment of worship, fellowship, teaching and discipleship.” What do you mean by “progressive” and how is that carried out in practical ways?
We look at all the things that are available today. We look at technology and some of the modern ways of presenting the gospel of Jesus Christ. When we use the word “progressive,” it’s kind of like with a guy who is using a hammer to put on a new roof. Well, today there’s a thing called a nail gun that can really make you go a whole lot faster, sometimes more efficiently.
What we’re trying to do is use all available tools to move the kingdom of God forward. There are some things that were done 30 years ago that won’t work today, so we want to be sensitive to that, but at the same time to minister to all the cultures and generations. I believe there are too many generational silos in the church today.
How did you reach out to the diverse cultures in your area?
First of all, I think that it comes through knowing what your community looks like. You can say you want to be a multiethnic church, but if you don’t have a lot of ethnicity in your area, then that’s not going to happen. In our area there is probably 55 percent Caucasian; 35 percent is African-American; 5 percent is Hispanic; and another 5 percent Asian. We decided that we need to make our church reflect as close as possible the racial and ethnic breakdowns in our area. When we needed a music pastor, I intentionally looked for an African-American because I realized that unless people can see diversity on the platform, there will never be diversity in the church.
We have staff from India. My background is Persian. We have African-Americans, Hispanics and generations represented on our pastoral staff. In doing that it sends a message – because you can say all you want about being multiethnic and multigenerational, but unless people see it, they really won’t believe it.
What are the other developments you’ve seen at Griffin First Assembly of God since you became the pastor?
The biggest thing is we’ve seen almost 30,000 people find Jesus as their Savior. We’ve also seen eight building projects. We’ve started a Christian high school and a counseling center that’s fully accredited.
We have a Teen Challenge Center that’s closely associated with the church. We have a college on our campus, and we’re getting ready to have an assisted living center; we will be breaking ground on that.
We have a radio and TV ministry. We’ve become more than just a local church; we’re a regional church. We have two extension campuses and a Hispanic church that meets on our grounds, which we also consider an extension. We also have an Internet church.
What were some of the challenging transitions your church has faced and how did you handle those changes?
When we came here, the average Sunday morning attendance was about 400 – now its 4,500. We’ve grown almost 1,100 percent. If you include everybody who calls this church their home that’s 10,000 people.
We started creating layers of administration where people would begin to report to others. When we had grown to about 2,000 people, we kept hitting the lid. We couldn’t get beyond that because all the information was coming to one person and he was trying to give me that information. That’s very difficult because that one person who becomes the funnel of information can choose what type of information the leader gets.
I really didn’t like the way that was going. I knew if we were going to grow I had to have more information from a broader perspective. So we brought in a consultant and he walked us through and we came up with five executive pastors. One is over business administration, one is over music and media, one is over pastoral care, one is over missions and outreach, and another one is over Christian education.
What do you believe are the biggest barriers churches face today to advance their vision?
Obviously, it’s the economy – and it has produced fear in the hearts of Americans. I think one of the biggest challenges to a local pastor is how to fight fear with faith. The key is to constantly remind our people who our source is.
Another thing is money follows ministry. If you minister to people, they will be anxious to give to your ministry. Also, money follows vision. The bigger the vision, the bigger the provision. God doesn’t extend a church $1 million if they just need $20 to put a light in the socket. If there’s a vision, God sees that and he provides the needs of the church.
Speaking of money and faith, tell us about your participation in the Faith & Fundraising Summit.
We are asked to come alongside some of our friends and we’re really excited about it. We feel like we’ve got a really great group of people across denominational lines that are in the faith of fundraising. To be able to get the most out of what they’re doing is exciting; because the reality is most of the nonprofits in this country are having a very, very difficult time right now. We feel like this Summit is going to give people the tools to go the next level to meet the needs in their communities.
How would large churches benefit from attending the fundraising summit?
They’re going to learn how the culture of giving has shifted, how to ask for large gifts, how to find large gifts within their churches that they don’t know about, how to create a culture of generosity and giving, why major donors give, and the dos and don’ts of fundraising. Most of us in large churches don’t really know what’s there, but there are things that we will share in the conference that will help people find resources for their church.
Most church leaders don’t realize that they have major givers sitting in their church who have never been tapped. What we found out is that somebody who is a multimillionaire doesn’t usually tithe to their local church unless there’s been a personal visit or relationship with the pastor. So how do you know who those people are? There are tools that can help churches with that.
What compels donors to give substantially to the ministry?
A big factor is how you present your vision to them. People give because of two things: the person presenting it and the cause. So what we try to do is help the person presenting to understand some of the ways to connect with people. You can’t ask someone on your first meeting for a million dollars. The real key is this: before you fund-raise, you friend-raise. Some of that has been lost. Big gifts come through friend-raising.
How can churches remain faithful to biblical truths in their relationships with secular donors?
With our Teen Challenge Center, which is a drug and rehab center for juveniles ages 12 to 17, the people who give to this program want to know our success rate – and our success rate is 85 percent of the people who complete our program never again go back to alcohol or drugs. When people hear that and they know that they’re putting their money into something successful, the secular side is not as concerned about how you’re doing it. Occasionally, you’ll run into people who may not like that, but the fact that you’re helping change people’s lives is the message that you have to share.
What’s heavy on your heart as a pastor of a megachurch?
I am concerned about how the culture is having an impact on the church, instead of the church having an impact on the culture.
Also, one thing that we really want is to feel the power and presence of Christ when we come to church to worship together. People need to have an experience with God. Technology is a tool, buildings are a tool – and these are great tools – but if the lights went off, can we still have church and experience God? www.GriffinFirst.org
Faith & Fundraising Summit 2012
Faith & Fundraising
Oct. 2-3, 2012
First Assembly of God
Major Gifts Ramp-Up
Nov. 7-8, 2012
Columbia International University
Health Care Conference
Oct. 8-9, 2012
College of Health Sciences
For more information, go to www.faithevent.com