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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

James Merritt's Leap of Faith

Pastor James Merritt has a massive vision that is quickly becoming a reality. Merritt, who is the former head of the Southern Baptist Convention recently left a huge traditional Southern Baptist church to start a new, contemporary church. Here's the text of an article about his vision that appeared recently in the Atlanta Journal Constitution (written by Bill Osinski)

The message is still old-time religion, but the medium is new millennium.

On a recent Sunday at the new Cross Pointe Church in Duluth, the preacher wore a lime-green knit shirt. The music was Christian rock, heavy on drums and guitars. The young people were off in another building, listening to the Word in a coffeehouse-style room that could double as a "Friends" set.

Worshippers watch Dr. James Merritt conduct a Sunday morning service on a big TV screen at Cross Pointe Church in Duluth.

In his sermon, the preacher quoted the same Bible he's always used. But now as he spoke, the text of the passage popped up on a large screen.

"It's not your mother's Oldsmobile," the Rev. James Merritt said to a visitor.

What Cross Pointe is, though, is the successful first-stage landing of Merritt's multimillion-dollar leap of faith.

The first Sunday he preached in the new church, Merritt told the congregation, "You're looking at a dream come true."

The dream began about a year-and-a-half ago, when Merritt, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, left a large and thriving church, Snellville First Baptist, to create the new church from an abandoned collection of warehouses and office buildings.

Next Sunday, Cross Pointe will celebrate its official grand opening. The external face of the services will be in keeping with Merritt's desire to reach out to "unchurched" people, who are not comfortable in a traditional church setting. For example, the choir won't be in traditional long robes; instead, they'll wear non-uniform casual dress. The ushers are more likely to wear knit shirts with a Cross Pointe logo than suits.

The grand opening will be the culmination of a process Merritt has called "the Lazarus deal."

The 71-acre tract not far from the Gwinnett Center complex was, Merritt thought, ideal for the expanded ministry he envisioned. His dream, he said, was to build a church where the faithful would be energized and the "unchurched" would be attracted and made to feel welcome.

However, the original $23 million asking price for the property was well out of his reach. Even when the price came down to $9 million, it was still too high.

Merritt said he was left with two options: give up, or pray. He chose the latter, he said, asking God to broker the deal, if that was his will. Then a group of businessmen, including some friends of Merritt's, bought the land and donated it anonymously to the new church.

The congregation for the new church has been meeting in the gyms of two Duluth-area high schools. About 500 people attended in those first weeks, and about 200 of those were people who had attended the Snellville church, Merritt said. Attendance has grown steadily, and the "soft opening" on Sundays at the new church has averaged about 1,600, he said.

The new worship center can seat 1,600. It was formerly a warehouse, but the open, high-ceiling space was relatively easily converted into a sanctuary, Merritt said. State-of-the-art sound and lighting systems were installed.

"God and God's people deserve the very best," Merritt said.

However, Merritt added, it is the unmeasurable qualities that make the new church truly special.

"Cross Pointe has the greatest spirit of any church I've ever pastored," he said.

The people who attended last Sunday's service were a reflection of that sentiment.

"You can just feel the spirit here," said Karlee Myers, who recently started attending church at Cross Pointe. "Everybody's so friendly."

Formerly a member of a small church in her hometown of Jefferson, Myers said this was her first experience at a larger congregation.

Steve and Debby Guelda, of Suwanee, said they have moved with Merritt from the Snellville church to Cross Pointe.

"This is not just a place where you come on Sunday and put in your hour, it's a place where you want to be active," Steve Guelda said, referring in particular to the small groups that meet before and after the regular services.

Steve Barton, of Lawrenceville, said he enjoys the relaxed, welcoming atmosphere at the new church. He and his wife, Beth, also made the transition from Snellville to Cross Pointe.

"This is not a stuffy church," he said. "This is a church where you can come as you are, where God welcomes you as you are."

Merritt said he wants Cross Pointe to become a regional church. A brief survey of license plates of cars in one section of the Cross Pointe parking lot showed that people had come from eight counties: Gwinnett, Hall, Forsyth, Walton, Barrow, Jackson, Cobb and DeKalb.

Within a few years, Merritt said, construction will begin on a permanent worship center for Cross Pointe. It will have space for 6,000 worshippers, and it will feature a 125-foot-high steeple with cross that will be visible from nearby I-85.

Cross Pointe is and will remain a Southern Baptist church, but Merritt said he decided to leave the denominational affiliation out of the church's name, in order to broaden the church's appeal.

"We're not trying to hide anything," he said. "We just want to bring as many people to Christ as possible."

So far, Merritt said, Cross Pointe has more than fulfilled the vision that the Lord resurrected for him.

"I've never been more excited," he said.

Obviously, James Merritt has more resources than the average church planter... ok, he has more resources than any church planter I have ever heard of. But, often times more resources just mean even more risk. How can Merritt's vision and stepping out on faith apply to you in your ministry? Can it at all? I'd love to hear your comments (just click on the comment's link below).

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September 22, 2004 in Visioncasting | Permalink

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I applaud Dr Merritt for being courageous enough to step way outside his comfort zone to reach people. I've personally been in the presence of people who are "inside" the "who's who" of the SBC and Dr Merritt's decision is ridiculed. I know that he's had to explain his decision to do church for the unchurched to more preachers than you could ever imagine. But I believe that James Merritt made an important decision - he is unwilling to do man-pleasing things for the sake of keeping Christians happy. Dr James Merritt has decided to reach the lost at any cost, even if it means losing the coveted position of denominational leadership. May more of our pastors make similar positions!

Posted by: mike p | Sep 23, 2004 4:24:32 PM

I, too applaud Dr. Merrit's vision. It has been amazing to sense the jealousy and animosity that is aimed at people like Dr. Merrit and Rick Warren, even from those who claim to have the same goals in ministry and commitment to Christ! One thing I might warn of, however: we must be sure that those who are BEING criticized don't become, over time, those who are doing the criticizing. Case in point: twenty-five years ago, the praise and worship movement began to take off in more traditional churches. At the time, those who wanted the freedom to be more expressive in their worship asked that they not be judged by more traditional worshippers simply because they raise their hands and like to move with the music. Years later, those same people are often critical of those who express themselves more inwardly as they worship, often accusing them of not understanding what true worship is all about, as if outward expression is an accurate indicator of the condition of the heart. Let's be sure we ALL remain committed to true worship and the propigation of the Gospel through all appropriate means. Let's encourage each other! It's not either/or; it's both/and!

Posted by: mark smith | Sep 27, 2004 4:30:16 PM

Here is my "worth very little comment" because I am just a very small-dog in the SBC:

~~ Way to go James! You stepped out in FAITH, followed God, and now God has blessed you in a mighty way. I will say a prayer for James and his new chuch today. Why don't others pray for him, too, instead of offering up doubt, criticism, and hate-filled remarks. It is just like the "SBC Controversy" that has brewed since 1979... there is a certain group of 'BIG-DOGS' who want to tell everyone what to do, how to do it, where to do it, and now "what to call it!" We all know, or are still finding out, that you will be crucified by the Big-Dogs if:
1) You dare buck the good-ole boy SBC system,
2) You go against the big-dogs (we know who the BIG-DOGS are, don't we?!?),
3) Do something off their little "Do it this way or else" chart,

or anything else they have deemed not correct in their own minds.

Well, 'ole James deciced to follow God instead of the SBC Big-Dogs, and now some of them are crucifying him for it. Shame on them! Remember -- it takes all kinds of churches to reach all kinds of people... and there is more than one way to skin a SBC cat.

So, you go boy, you go James, and keep up the great work. After all, how many other pastors can say they pastor a church that runs almost 2,000 people and is about to build a worship cetner that seats 6000??!! Man'O'Man, they must be doing something right!

God Bless, and watch out for the SBC Big-Dogs... they are coming to get 'ya!


Posted by: Pastor Bobby | Sep 27, 2004 4:48:07 PM

I remember when I first heard of James. I was a Senior in college and preparing for seminary. I was reading "Too Great A Temptation" from Joel Gregory. A must read for all "big church" pastors. James was brought in to meet with WA Crisswell about taking over at FBC Dallas. It became clear to WA and Mrs. C that James would "kill" the church, ie focus on reaching the unchurched rather then circulating the saints. Therefore he was not extended a call. Good for James and God bless him in this new ministry.

Posted by: geoff | Sep 27, 2004 11:53:26 PM

Faith is worth the risks! Pastor Merritt could have stayed satisfied and comfy at his large SBC but he answered God's call like Abraham and took the leap of faith.

I'm a church planter stating a church in Corona,CA. We are a house church with a small core group and are getting ready to have our first preview service in November.

Our resources are little to nothing, but we have a big faith in a big God who has shown that He can do big miracles!

When your heart or passion is the same as God's heart or passion, i.e. reaching those who are lost; you will also have God's power and blessings.

Pray for The Bridge in Corona as we step out in faith!

Posted by: Dr. Mark Jackson | Sep 28, 2004 6:12:24 PM

I have a lot of questions - Why did he leave to start another Church, could he not have done the same thing where he was? What about the Church he is leaving? I assume they must have "sent" those people who left with him, if not, then I am not impressed at what is going on! I don't think it was much of a lea p of faith to start with some 200 people, most Churches in America today only average 65-100, so he had a large group to begin with, I am again not impressed with folks who are in a denomination, and then not let people be aware of what type Church they are attending. True, Mr. Churchseeker,(unchurched) for the most part is not concerned about what the Church name is, however, doctrine(which is impossible not to teach) will have to unfold in preaching, teaching, or else it will be just a Church where people meet and fellowship, but no growth. If that was his vision, did it have to be so close to his former pastorate? Why not go to another city? Being a Pastor who has had to "put up" with neighboring Pastors "visions" that have hurt the local Church and divided the body, I have to say, I am NOT impressed!

Posted by: James | Sep 28, 2004 6:23:38 PM

Do you or I really have to be impressed? If we do, we make it about us and not about the people who are going to hell. And why not start a church even within the same town as the church he left? Aren't there people who don't know Christ still in that town that will never step a foot inside the church he left? I understand that your comments have most likely come out of a traumatizing cycle of events, church people or otherwise non-Christlike circumstances, but don't let what God is doing in another place cause us to be cynical because it may not be going so well in our place of service.

Posted by: Jeff | Oct 5, 2004 7:35:32 PM

Sounds like another worldly church to me. We bring the world in, to bring the people in instead of being seperate from the world. Rock music is the devils music and Christian Rock ain't Christian. I am a fundimental, indedendent Baptist planting a church in a small coal town. People are welcome to come as they are and I don't wear a suit and tie there unless there is a special occasion. I find it easy to bring the people into a church if you bring the world in. Worldly churchs do grow fast but strong bible believing chruchs don't. The bible teaches we are to go into the world and spread the gospel, not bring the world into the church and water down the gospel.

Posted by: Rev Herb Miller | Oct 7, 2004 9:15:32 AM

I believe that's the same criticism the Pharisees used when Jesus went into their temples and tried to get them to see God as he intended them to. Didn't they murder Jesus because he was bringing into the temple things that they thought were "of the devil"?

The word says that "the word" would not return unto him void. Does that mean the more "conservative" (seen as more biblical)church gets more of the word back to God than the more liberal or "worldly" church? Please don't pretend to be that pious. It's only by the grace of God that any of us even have life so let's not squander it on saying how much better we are than someone else just because they're not like us but are accomplishing more.

Posted by: Jeff | Oct 8, 2004 5:15:38 PM

Many of us need to step back on the attacks of Dr. Merritt. I know him and his ministry, in fact he just came to our seminary. I am a Southern Baptist, I am more traditional, and I am not as craazy about the style they are using. All of the above are personal preferences.

One thing I can assure you of is this man is not liberal nor worldly. He does not "water down" the gospel. He preaches the blood and he preaches it hard.

Also, he is not being ousted nor harrassed by the SBC "big dogs". He recently did our revival at a SBC seminary. He is given the freedom to follow God's will for his ministry.

Finally, "why didn't he start in a new town"? If you don't know Atlanta or big cities in general you probably don't have a good perspective to ask that question. In that area of Atlanta the population, especially the unchurched population, could fill this and 100 others its size and still not make a dent in the population. His old church had maxed on growth due to the size of the facility and the lack of available land. He made this transition w/ integrity and was upfront all along.

As I said this is not my preference in style, but that doesn't keep it from being a work of God.

I am not going to resort to name calling with the ones so harsh and against this man. I would encourage you to pray honestly and openly before God as to why you feel the way you do. Is it jealousy, Is it exalting preferences . . . Whatever it is make sure there is not something you need to deal with in your own life before God.

Lord Bless You- Grace and Peace

Posted by: Chris Fowler | Oct 8, 2004 5:40:04 PM

Great! James Merritt probably left his old church on good terms. That is the kind of person he is. He also knows that he had access to resources that a small church pastor does not. He is well connected. He knows enough people with connections and resources. He also knows the culture he is seeking to engage. This was a solid missionary endeavor. It was intentional.

My uncle is a deacon of a large independent Baptist church. He tells me the story of a family that moved from that church to Montana. There was no evangelical church in the area. The couple started a Bible study and contacted their old pastor. He stood up in pulpit the next Sunday and asked which of his preacher boys felt called to pastor in Montana. One came forward. They voted to send $200,000 to the group - part designated as salary and part as downpayment on new facility construction. Within six weeks 35 families voluntarily moved to Montana, transferring their membership, to help the workd. The sending church was blessed with a replacement of the money sent ($600K) and added 70 families.

I serve a small church in a county that has seen little in the way of church planting. We have 3 SBC churches. Two are large - the one I serve is small. Yet no new SBC churches have been started in this county in over 25 years. Hmmmm. Seems like we could use a leap of faith here.

Posted by: Dan Moore | Oct 12, 2004 8:43:17 AM

Being a member of the church that provided the new Pastor for First Baptist Snellville, and having been a former member of First Snellville under Dr. Merritt, I believe God is in this whole transition.

Furthermore, it is not my place to judge what God is doing in each Pastor's life. They will each be responsible to God for their own actions. I can see good things coming from both of their ministries now (things that could not have happened without the transition), and I am excited to see them open to God's call. Each of them have left a comfortable, growing church, and taken on new challenges. If they have stepped out on their own ability, and not sought God's will, they will answer for it, not me.

I pray that more people will begin to look at what they can personally do to encourage the body and spread the gospel, as opposed to looking for fallacy in others' ministries.

God bless Pastor Merritt and Pastor Shinpoch, and grow their ministries in accordance with His will!

Posted by: Todd Hanlin | Oct 20, 2004 9:02:14 AM

I thank God for Pastor Merritt, I am happy that he obeyed God and God has honored his obedience.
When God orders a thing He pays for it.

Posted by: Adetokunbo Emmanuel | Jan 22, 2005 4:55:41 AM

I am bible believing baptist,and believe Dr. Merritt is the same. I have not had the honor to see him in person, but I listen to him on tv. I heard quite a few speakers and sermons, but none compare to Dr. James Merritt and Dr. Adrain Rodgers. It's not a good thing to mess with God's elect. So where ever he went it was inspired by God. When God gives you something He adds no sorrow with it.

Posted by: Barbra Cason-Washington | Apr 4, 2005 2:39:37 AM

Dr. Jim, I want to challenge your thinking and what you say on this site. You say "we're not trying to hide anything..." when talking about leaving S. Baptist affiliation out of name. But you are. This is an admission that denominationalism other than "In Jesus' Name" is wrong. I grew up in S. Baptist, Methodist and "Non-denominational" Christian churches. They all are separated by something, and proud of it. That is the very root of this sin. Early churches were called by city name as we know from the NT authors. Jesus never named a church in his Biblical words. He never mentioned one that I know of. His whole life, death and ministry over and over was to the Salvation of individuals. He counted Heaven's Hosts one at at time. If that is true, why become "EX-CLUSIONARY" or in common language, exclusive, instead of inclusive? Isn't it time to follow through and become independent of so-called "brotherhoods" that keep the fences up, then build walls then build barriers, then put up signs, then enforce "policies" then make "doctrine" and then make laws that oppress, exclude and divide. STOP

Posted by: Bob V | Apr 24, 2005 9:06:41 AM

Good morning :
This morning Sunday , may 1st my husband watched your sermon. He enjoyed your sermon very much. Could you please e-mail me your sermon.I was not able to hear your sermon.
Thank you so much !
Barbi Carroll
Destin , Florida

Posted by: Barbi Carroll | May 1, 2005 10:36:51 AM

What does Jerry Vines have to say about this change. I noticed Merritt was not on the schedule at the last 2 pastors conferences in Jacksonville, Florida.
Is he still in contact with Adrian Rogers, Johnny Hunt, and Jerry Farwell?
Are the supporting him with this new church?

Posted by: lynn | May 2, 2005 12:06:42 PM

Sounds Like One More Southern Baptist Pastor Has Left The Old Fashion Way Of Preaching And Teaching The Bible Truths. Also Sounds A Lot Like What A Lot Of Southern Baptist Churches Has Fell For The Power Driven Church By Rick Warren. We Need To Focus On Soulwinning And NOT Church Growth Programs.

Posted by: Marie | Jul 18, 2005 7:58:09 PM

dr. merritt,
i used to pastor a church. i knew who you were and always made sure to listen to you preach at the conventions and such. i heard you on tv the other week. i was surely blessed. i just wanted to give you a sermon title:

"what is the only army that kills its wounded???????"..."GODS"...you can surely relate...you see..you are doing God's work and His army is trying to kill you. so sad

keep up the good work you are doing...i for one do surely support what you do..and appreiciate you...

praying always for you


Posted by: mike | Feb 27, 2006 5:20:17 PM

WOW! I saw Pasor Merritt on tv for the first time this morning, the message spoke directly to my heart which I know to be from the Lord. I decided to look for his ministry online in hopes of ordering a CD of this mornings message. Instead I am appauled at the myriad of many negative judgemental comments regarding this pastor. The first thing that comes to my mind is that GOD IS THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN SEE AND KNOW DR. MERRITT'S HEART, not you nor I. And to "Jeff", I'm sorry to inform you that God didn't appoint you GMM (General Music Manager). To say that "Christian rock ain't Christian" is so wrong. As long as the lyrics speak the Word of God and don't attempt to alter them, I believe God will use them to speak to the receiver regardless of what musical notes surround the message. The Lord uses many different avenues to reach the lost and broken for we are not all in the same place nor do we all have the same tastes. We are all where we are by God's Great Design, whether right or wrong, to learn what He wants us to learn and to do what He wants us to do. I don't know Dr. Merritt but I know God does, better than any of you, and I trust that He will oversee and direct the pastors actions. I suggest we all put down our stones and walk away as Jesus says to do.
God Bless You, Dr. Merritt, my prayers are with you and your family in your attempts to do His will.

Posted by: Lori Rader | Mar 19, 2006 12:20:11 PM

Before posting my above comment, I thought that the writer's name was directly above each comment. After my comment was posted, I realized that the writer's name is instead below and separated by the dotted line. Therefore, I was wrong about who was not appointed GMM (General Music Manager), I should have directed that to "Rev. Miller" instead. Maybe "Jeff" should apply for the position.
My apology.

Posted by: Lori Rader | Mar 19, 2006 12:41:36 PM

I applaud James Merritt too. This is not because of his amazing decision, but because of his inspiring follow-through. I have been attending Cross Pointe Church since it began. I started as a new Christian in 8th grade. Not being raised in the Church, i had no idea of who God is and what God could do in my life. Cross Pointe has not only showed me these things but so much more!

Posted by: Matt | Nov 1, 2006 12:31:35 PM

PRAYER REQUEST: Please pray for my husband Dana and his friend Gerhard they fly on wednesday to Johannesburg for business opportunity for guidance, wisdom, work/contract opportunities and God's Will and Blessing for them work together. God's richest blessing!

Posted by: Tienie | Jan 20, 2007 11:47:31 PM

I have long been inspired of James Merritt's sermons. He's one of my favorite preachers. He has the gift of word art. He's a word artist. Biblical. Baptistic. Let me share some observations: 1) Before, his sermons lasted longer; and could fill several pages. Now, he has cut it short. Is this part of his new strategy to reach the unchurched? Does "shorter" mean more effectiveness? Biblically, even the long sermons of Paul, which caused the falling down of a young man from a high seat, was still used of the Lord. 2) His use of "Christian rock" is bothersome. It's still rock music brought in from the world. MOST PROBABLY, THE REASON WHY SO MANY ARE ATTRACTED TO PRAISE AND WORSHIP CONTEMPORARY SONGS IS THAT THEY'VE GROWN UP HEARING ALL THOSE WORLDLY SONGS WITH THE SAME BEAT OF THE CONTEMPORARY SONGS. One wonders if they worship the song and the beat more than they worship the Son.

Posted by: henry trocino jr. | Feb 12, 2007 10:11:15 AM

Dear Pastor James,
My wife Jean and I see you every sunday morning. I would like to say that the message the Lord gives us thru your ministry has ben a light in our lives. We see you hear in Chesapeake Va. We would like to say thanks to you and all that bring Our Lords word to us each week, it makes a difference.
Your Brother in the Lord Tom and Jean Cole

Posted by: thomas cole | Jul 8, 2007 12:41:34 PM

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