By Dr. Bob Gray Sr.
Several years after Dr. Hyles had gone to Heaven I attended national pastors conference. At that conference the host pastor was touting to the gathered delegates the large number of new ministries they had started over the past year. Eventually the plea went out to those of us who were pastors that we should commit to start many of these ministries in our church when we returned home.
While pastors were being encouraged (pressured) to stand and commit to specific ministries I remained seated the entire time. I was not trying to be difficult nor did I wish to be conspicuous but I was appalled to see such a distortion of how my mentor had built his church. This entire process violated his real principles.
A while later I was confronted by another pastor who questioned me as to why I did not stand to commit to start any new ministries. I answered him as kindly and as carefully as I could without sounding critical. What I wanted to say was, “How did you guys miss it? This is not the way Dr. Hyles built First Baptist Church nor is it the way you should build your churches.” I refrained but my heart was heavy as I saw these pastor commit to back and try to build a church the wrong way instead of following the tried and true principles of Dr. Hyles.
This “ministry in a box” mentality is an attempt to bypass our first
responsibility and take short cuts to increasing our numbers. I am not after more ministries because my mission is not merely bigger numbers. I am after more souls. This chapter is to explain Dr. Hyles true philosophy of starting and building ministries.
The Church With a Heart
I will never forget the first time I sat in Pastors School on a Monday
night and watched the parade of people walk across the platform
singing Oh, How I Love Jesus.” Each group representing a different
ministry of the First Baptist Church. My eyes filled with tears and my heart was overwhelmed with compassion as these different ministries were represented in that program. I wanted to pastor a church that had all of these as a part of my work. There were people
Rescue Mission men
Inner city ghetto kids
Former jail inmates
Each and every group represented a ministry of the great First Baptist
Church but none really started AS a ministry. How did such an amazing church exist with this vast outreach of ministries? They were all the result of a very simple formula. It is:
SUNDAY SCHOOL CLASSES
There you have it. That was the formula Dr. Hyles used to build a
great church. I fear that too many pastors are looking for the short
cut to church growth and up replacing soul winning with ministries. They go to conferences and hear more about ministries than they do about soul winning, get fired up about the ministries and go home to start more ministries. They end up putting pressure on their people to
start ministries and one of two things happens.
They overuse their people because the same people are trying to
operate multiple ministries.
They distract the people from the main thing which is soul winning.
Another mistake they make is trying to hire more staff to come in and start or run these multiple ministries which now makes them a church of hired hands rather than volunteers. Many pastors have made the mistake of hiring staff members prematurely in order to help them start ministries that are not ready to be started. The fact is that great church ministries are not really started. They are birthed.
Long before there was a deaf ministry in Hammond there was soulwinning and Sunday schools. Long before there was a bus ministry in Hammond there was soul winning and Sunday School. Long before there was the Spanish ministry in Hammond there was soul winning and Sunday
School. So how did these ministries get started?
Lets take a look.
Soul winning created a need. God raised up a laymen to teach a class to meet that need. Sometimes that class started with only one or two but with soul winning as the foundation there would be others with the same needs to fill the class. Dr. Hyles did not start these classes to
grow but because of the need created by personal soul winning. Do you not think that when the need was filled that the Holy Spirit led the soul winners to homes where there was another who now would be the same. Let me give you an example.
Pastor Jeff Smale and his wife, Molly, had a daughter named Hanna who was born with Downe Syndrome. The Smales started a special Sunday School in their church in Elyria, Ohio for one child, theirs. Do you not think there were many others in the area who had children with Downe Syndrome? How about in every city in America? Do you also not
think that the Holy Spirit knew where those families were and could lead spirit filled soul winners to their doors? Of course, and that is exactly what happened. Dozens of families were won to Christ all
because there was a Sunday School class to meet a need and soulwinning created the need and kept bringing in others. Eventually the Sunday School class led to a full blown ministry to families with
these special children.
That is exactly what happened in Hammond, Indiana under Dr. Hyles
leadership. Lets look at examples. Soul winners started winning
Spanish people to Christ. Knowing they needed to grow in their faith,
Dr. Hyles knew he needed to start a Sunday School class, not a
ministry. He discovered that a lady in the church named Rose O’Brien
spoke fluent Spanish. He approached her about teaching a Sunday school class in the Spanish language. She agreed to do so. There was no paid staff member to start a ministry. No it was merely a volunteer already
in the church who stepped up and began to teach the lesson so Spanish converts to grow.
A family with a special needs daughter was reached. They began to grow in the Lord. One day they approached Pastor Hyles with a concern. Their mentally handicapped daughter was finding it more and more difficult to fit in the regular Sunday school. She could not comprehend the things the other children could and they were concerned as to what to do. In his wisdom he asked them to pray about possible starting a special needs Sunday school class for children with the
same handicap as their daughter. The Houstons agreed and the Sunbeam Sunday School class was born. Eventually and entire Sunday School Department would grown from the simple beginning as through soulwinning more and more families were reached who had special needs children. Soul winning created the need and Sunday School classes
filled the need.
That scenario happened over and over again at FBC. Why? Personal soulwinning created the need to teach new Christians the Word of God and the Sunday School was the toll designed to do so.
People with deaf family members were being won to Christ. Dr. Hyles
was faced with a dilemma. He had no one who was trained to teach in
sign language. He shared this concern with Dr. Bill Rice who because of his own deaf daughter, Betty, had founded the Bill Rice Ranch with a vision of reaching the deaf and training others to do the same. Dr. Bill told Brother Hyles that he had just the lady who could fill the need, Maxine Jeffries. He spoke to her about coming to Hammond, Indiana to be on staff, not to start of deaf ministry. Actually Miss Jeffries was hired to be in charge of benevolence. However, one of her
duties would be to start a Sunday School class for…you guessed
Soul winning so consumed the church that many of the women would go door to door soul winning in the nursing homes. Precious souls were being saved which led Dr. Hyles to send people there to teach the Sunday school lesson each week. Although these were not counted in the attendance of the church many people were able to hear the Bible
taught who otherwise could not have attended the services at the
If you study the incredible growth of the First Baptist Church you
will discover that it was not the result of starting new ministries
but rather the result of a soul winning emphasis and a great Bible teaching Sunday School program. The more people who went soul winning the greater the need for more Sunday School classes. Eventually many
of these Sunday School classes became department which eventually grew into ministries. He did not hire a Spanish pastor to start a Spanish ministry. As the soul winning increased and the Sunday school grew he eventually realized the need to hire a pastor to lead the ministry. The converts were already there before the ministry ever began.
Why do so many pastors hire assistants to start ministries for people they do not yet have? I fear it is because they are looking for a
shortcut to getting people. They saw the byproduct of soul winning and copied that instead of copying the soul winning and Sunday School. Dr. Hyles did not have a full time Youth Director until the church was averaging over 8,000 in Sunday School. The Sunday school was the youth program. Eventually he had Cal Streeter and then CW Fisk to help organize activities but the Sunday School was still the main thrust. Both of those men had other duties that were their main responsibility.
So, lets review. Soul winning led to more baptisms which led to a need for more Sunday school classes. Sunday School classes led to the need for a ministry. Please, do not preach to me about starting more ministries and expect me to fall for that fallacy. Preach to be about winning more souls. That was the method Dr. Hyles used.
Far too many pastors are over staffing their churches and or
overworking their laymen in order to get them to start ministries for
the people we have not yet reached. We end up distracting our key people from doing the main thing of soul winning while we are leading them to build a church backwards. If you want to start more ministries, go soul winning and you will find all the people you need to eventually have a ministry be born. I challenge you to find more opportunities to get people soul winning and you will end up reaching people you never imagined reaching.
The Bus Ministry
Perhaps the most misunderstood ministry of all is the one Dr. Hyles
was known for the most. Several years before he went to Heaven I
listened in on a conversation Dr. Hyles had with a young pastor who had come to him for advice. His question was in regard to starting a bus ministry in the church he had recently begun to pastor. Dr. Hyles kindly but firmly reprimanded the young pastor and told him that he should not even consider starting a bus ministry at that time. I am certain that is a shock to some who think the bus ministry is the “sacred cow” of our Independent Baptist churches.
Many pastors have misused much money and man power trying to increase their attendance quickly by means of a bus ministry. That is not the purpose of the bus ministry.
When Dr. Hyles started “running buses” as they called it he never
really thought of it as as ministry. It was more of a means to an end.
In a metro area like Hammond there were many people getting saved who had no means of coming to Sunday School. The solution was running buses and thus the bus ministry was started.
To Dr. Hyles the bus ministry was an extension of soul winning and the Sunday School not just a means of getting a crowd. Soul winning created the need for running buses and it provided another means of service for growing Christians. Some, though certainly not all, were not yet ready or even qualified to teach Sunday School. This gave them a place to serve in the Sunday School ministry.
Unfortunately some pastors have taken the bus ministry to be something it was never intended to be. They take the manpower of a small church and use it up in an effort to have a Bus Ministry before they really have a soul winning church. Dr. Hyles actually discouraged new pastors
from starting bus routes too soon. He advised them to put their
energies into training soul winners and reaching families, then, as
the need arose they could start running buses.
Another destructive trend in the mid 1970’s that hurt the movement of strong Independent Baptist churches were churches that became predominantly bus churches. There were churches that began to grow through strong soul winning and vibrant Sunday schools. The bus ministry was a part of that growth so it seemed like a logical way to grow the church faster was to increase the size of the bus ministry. As a result they experienced a disproportionate growth. In some cases their attendance was in the thousands but 60% or more of their people were coming from the buses. With that many people working on bus routes there was a shortage of people for Sunday School. In order to accomplish this there were many people who were expected to work on buses, teach Sunday School and hopefully find time to go soul winning. Many in these churches experienced severe burnout and eventually the
crowds fell off. Sadly the church often changed direction entirely
rather than making some adjustments and then blamed Dr. Hyles because “his” methods did not work for them. Well, they did not use his methods in the first place.
Dr. Hyles was always concerned about the health of his church and he knew that balance was a key factor of good health. To be healthy he knew that he could not make Sunday School growth his main purpose but rather a byproduct of the growth of his people. As we will discuss in
the chapter, The Principle of Personal Growth, he knew the ultimate sign of growth is bearing fruit or winning souls. If he emphasized that more and more bus routes would be needed.
He also tried to keep the ratio of the attendance to a healthy level
by keeping those families who drove in to church at least at 60% and bus attendance at 40%. There are so many pastors who have ignored that and the result has been to hurt the health of their church and their people.
In 1972 HAC was founded and Dr. Hyles was faced with a decision
concerning the ministries of the church. He feared these young zealous students could easily come in and take over ministries that had previously been led by faithful laymen in the church. He knew of other places where that had taken place and that those churches eventually became little more than college churches. He could not allow that to happen to FBC.
The solution was once again centered around soul winning and Sunday School. He had always had a burden for the greater Chicagoland area. He decided to channel the college students to reach out further and reach more people for Christ. He organized new soul winning programs
that would send them out to new areas further away including the inner city of Chicago. Other pastors who have tried the same thing have not had much success because they built their outreach merely on the buses. They bused in large numbers of people, conduct large church or large Sunday school classes and then bus them back. Many used a
concept that Dr. Hyles hated called a modifies service. It was a
combination Sunday school church service. Rather than having small classes where they could be discipled they were thrown into giant services where they got preaching with little teaching.
The first thing Dr. Hyles did was to organize a small classroom Sunday school program for these new people being reached. Did they deserve less just because they came from the ghettos or the inner city? Not in Dr. Hyles mind. To him this was not about just increasing numbers. It was about reaching more people for Christ. With him it was not even a
With several hundred students he would have the manpower to reach more people as well as giving these students a first hand look at how to build a church using the soul winning Sunday school philosophy. Obviously because of the distance buses would be a vital part in transporting these converts to Sunday school and church, but make no mistake, “B” Sunday school was soul winning and Sunday School centered
not just bus centered.
Tragically some men went out and copied the methodology without
understanding the principles. They started inner city bus ministries
without the church being healthy or equipped enough to absorb them properly into the Sunday school. What resulted was big crowds without real growth. Often this led to big crowds but no real growth. It also led to overextending our people in an attempt to create rapid growth.
Several years ago I had the opportunity to eat dinner in a restaurant with Pastor Dave Baker and his dear family. Pastor Baker and his wife have eleven children ranging 11 years in ages. Being with his family and watching them was like a lesson in church growth. They were amazing. The older children helped the younger children and it quickly became apparent that there was less confusion and better discipline than there is in most small families. How could that be?
First of all they did not have all eleven children at once. They had them over a period of 18 years. Secondly they took time to build a relationship and personally train each child. Eighteen month to two years later they would have another child who fit right into the already established structure of the family. Every time they had another child that child fit right in and they found a place for that one.
As the first children grew older they became mature enough to begin helping with the younger ones. So, as the responsibility of the family grew so did the helpers who could help with those responsibilities. In fact the older children were assigned to actually mentor on of the younger ones, so the responsibilities were spread out to more members of the family.
Finally the health of each member of the family including “momma,” Mrs. Baker , did not suffer from having that many children. The structure and balance of the family created good health instead of destroying it. The relationship between the parents also did not suffer because it was a healthy growth.
With that as an example let me introduce a phrase I heard Dr. Hyles use often, “healthy growth.” Obviously if there is healthy growth then there must also be unhealthy growth. To Dr. Hyles unhealthy growth was when the numeric growth came at the expense of the health of his people. Healthy growth was when the numeric growth was a byproduct of the spiritual growth of the people.
Dr. Hyles became increasingly concerned with the type of growth our churches were experiencing. He saw churches publishing large numbers but were obviously very unhealthy. If you are in bad health you will eventually break down or die. The same is true of a church. We became so competitive to build big churches in the 80’s and 90’s that we sacrificed the health of our churches for size. Compromise did not stall the growth as much as competing did. Men were competing to get bigger rather than patiently building a healthy work that eventually could and would grow. Far too many pastors were poor stewards of their people’s time and drained them. The people were so busy in “ministry” that they had no time for their own spiritual walk. The work replaced their walk rather than their walk replenishing their work.
Another sign of unhealthy growth is a financial one. In an effort to stimulate growth many pastors started multiple ministries and started throwing money at growth. Dr. Hyles recognized tre fact that soulwinning takes man hours but ministries take money power. Did everoccur to you that personal soul winning is the least expensive way to get out the Gospel? Dr. Hyles work was so healthy that he left FBC debt free. He started many new ministries but did so without creating debt. Healthy churches do not need to borrow a lot of money to start or support ministries. The soul winning and Sunday School that birthed them should for the most part be able to support them.
Many men who obviously did not learn much from Dr. Hyles have tried to build churches by leading their people into massive debt while starting more and more new ministries. They are left paying only the interest on massive loans because they are trying to manufacture numbers they can brag about at their national conferences. They downplay the accomplishments of Dr. Hyles while never really giving credence to the fact that he left FBC healthy and debt free. It is also interesting to note that they forget to add that debt into the list of their accomplishments. It is a shame to see this being done.
They are throwing money at growth. If these men spent more time emphasizing soul winning they would not spend so much money on new and improved ministries.
The great and growing churches of the 60’s and 70’s were not built by ministries. They were built by aggressive soul winning and vibrant Sunday schools. They were built by the principle that soul winning empowers growth – Sunday School enables growth – while ministries merely enhance growth. We must not emulate the ministry oriented churches of today. We must look to those whose foundations are firmly rooted on the principles of healthy growth taught and practiced by Dr. Hyles.
Chapter from the book When Principle Was King by Dr. Bob Gray Sr.
GREAT insights. Thank you for sharing!!!
I hate to be the wet blanket here but this is a crock. Jack Hyles was my pastor for 13 years and I don’t recall there ever being a ministry because of all the people being saved and joining the church. It was all about starting ministries and the 3 x 5 cards to add up numbers. This is just wishful thinking in my opinion.
Thank you for your insightful article! I was a member of First Baptist Church in Hammond for 5 years and you are correct, soul winning was always number one with Brother Hyles. I too remember the testimonies of how the Deaf, Spanish, Sunshine, and even the Youth Ministry were started. There is that proper balance between soul winning and ministries. In the church I pastor, we started a Filipino Ministry because of Filipinos that were won to Christ but needed a ministry in the Tagalog dialect. It is blessed and fruitful. Soul winning is about individuals while ministries are often about crowds. While there is nothing wrong with a big crowd, if the individual is not reached the crowd will not last.