God's Mathematics

Moving from addition to multiplication

by Tommy Barnett

I recently have celebrated 51 years of preaching the gospel. I’ve been in awe and humbled by what I have seen God do in those years. But here’s an amazing fact. In the last four years of my life, I have seen more people saved than I did in the 47 years before that. I’ve seen God supply more funding in the last four years than in all the 47 years before that put together. I’ve witnessed more signs, wonders and miracles in the last four years than in the previous 47. And this is what I attribute it to: It is God’s multiplication factor.

In the Bible days, they started with addition. But, in the Book of Acts a transition took place. They went from addition to multiplication. The Early Church exploded in growth, and I believe that explosive growth is God’s will in the last day.

But like any math you will study in school, God’s math rests on God’s axioms. I’d like to share some of those truths with you.

Axiom 1: Start with one

When people come to our pastors’ school and they see 230 ministries in operation at First Assembly, sometimes they get discouraged. “Oh man,” they think, “I can’t do all that. I haven’t got the know-how. I haven’t got the money. I’m not a motivational guy.”

I say to them, “Choose one thing.” One is the simplest number. In Davenport, Iowa, that simple number pointed to bus ministry, and I became an authority. I learned, I traveled, I listened to all the speakers, and I became Mr. Bus Guy.

Today, I understand a struggling pastor’s heartbreak, because I was there. I know what they’re dealing with. I know the problems they face. While bus ministry is not as big a part of our church today as it was years ago, it was a spark that got things going.

One is also the number of people God needs to start a ministry, and in the church the pastor needs to take the lead in the beginning. Later on, God will raise up other members of the congregation to start more ministries along with him. But if the pastor doesn’t take the lead, the others aren’t going to learn how to begin that multiplication process.

When setting up our home meetings, I took the lead by writing the curriculum, then going out and teaching it. Today, practically everything in my church is done by other congregation members. I’ve been here 25 years, and I’ve got the most loyal and dedicated staff. I spend my time now on very focused projects, such as the Dream Center in Los Angeles. People who look at First Assembly believe I’ve got a great big monster here. They can’t imagine where I find time to take on anything else. But it’s easier for me to pastor today than it was in the early years. Why? Because I learned to start with addition and let God transform it into multiplication. You learn to add before you begin memorizing multiplication tables. The same is true in ministry.

Axiom 2: God’s addition is daily addition

You don’t have a New Testament church unless you’re adding to the church daily. I have always been committed to doing whatever was necessary to serve God in bringing about that kind of growth. And I don’t distinguish growth based on the type of people who come into our church.

I took a lot of heat in the beginning. When I was in Davenport, people used to say of our bus ministry, “Well, it’s just a bunch of kids.” They said we were promoting “surface evangelism” and that it was really just a numbers game. But, I saw that God was adding to His church those who were being saved.

When you are partnering with God to add to His church, you don’t do it based on money or any other tangible factor. A lot of people got into the bus ministry, and then they got right out when gas prices went up. When I came to Phoenix, gas was at an all-time high. But when God spoke to my heart about all the inner-city kids and families that weren’t being reached, we bought the buses and began bringing them in. We didn’t continue our bus ministry because it was cheap; we did it because it was winning souls. Bus ministry will fail if you look at it merely as transportation. You have to go into it as soul winning, and you have to value the souls, expecting that God will add to His church.

When you understand that God is the One who adds to His church, you don’t feel compelled to direct every sermon to the lost hoping you can pull them in. [I hardly ever preach a message to unsaved people.???] My sermon is almost always strictly to believers, but I always have a time at the end when I give a salvation invitation to the lost. You cannot build a great church just preaching hellfire and brimstone. You have to build the people. If I can develop good fruit trees by speaking life into our people, they will go out and win souls during the week. They will bring hurting people to church. If you preach strictly to the lost every service, you are going to lose your congregation.

Axiom 3: Moving to multiplication means getting God’s attention

As I have looked for ways to multiply our effectiveness in this city, I have prayed this prayer: “Lord, how can I get Your attention? If I can get Your attention, I will get Your blessing.” When you study Scripture, ask yourself how people in the Bible got the attention of God. When a sparrow fell from heaven, it got the attention of God. When a lady made the sacrifice of giving put her offering in the plate, she got the attention of God. A suckling baby, when it cries, gets the attention of God. Even the raven—the scroungiest, dirtiest, filthiest bird of them all—got the attention of God.

It dawned on me that if I could bring all the hurting people in this city to my church, I could get the attention of God.

And I found out something that I didn’t know—if I will take care of what God says is a need, then God will take care of my need. Money follows ministry. You don’t get the money and then do the ministry. You do the ministry and God sends the money.

Axiom 4: Fill needs, heal hurts, experience growth

As I drove through Phoenix during my early years, God began to speak to my heart. I looked around and noticed that nobody was reaching the inner city. I have always built my church on “find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it.” So I began to reach out with the buses again. We bought four. Then we went to 10 buses then 40, and the number kept growing.

When people come to First Assembly, we always present the gospel. But people come with hungry stomachs as well as hungry souls. We have four buses painted black with flames that we call our SWAT buses. They go out every week and pick up people that normally wouldn’t attend church. About 250-300 people come back on those buses, and they come early. We provide a full sit-down meal for all of them, and then they attend church that night.

On a recent Thanksgiving, we gave out 3,000 frozen turkeys. The church didn’t buy them; our people bring them. That morning, we had more than 2,000 people come to the altar to accept Christ publicly. We sent another 1,000 turkeys to the L.A. Dream Center, where they were able to give out 2,000 turkeys.

Today our buses allow us to bring in 10,000 children during our annual Christmas Sunday morning outreach. They all get to march to the front of the building (platform?) and receive a gift brought in by the people from our church. To fill needs and heal hurts in a community, everyone in the church needs to be involved.

One man in our church alone has given us 20,000 brand new bicycles to give out to the children. One lady looks for sales all year long and buys $20 presents to store in her garage until we hold our Christmas outreach. Another man in our church has a chain of exercise facilities called Pure Fitness. He advertised on FOX Network, our local station, that people could bring canned goods in to Pure Fitness and get a free training session. He has collected 150,000 cans of food to give to hurting people.

On our Christmas Sunday morning outreach, all the kids will get bicycles, and all the parents will get a huge bag of food. [The first service will be full with our regular people. In our second service, there’ll probably be 4,000 of these people who are illegal immigrants. I’ll preach through an interpreter to people from Mexico. (The mission field has come to America)] We will have thousands of people who will hear the gospel and be saved because we live on the principle, ‘find a need and fill it, find a hurt and heal it.’

It’s not just a principle we practice at Thanksgiving or Christmas. It’s not something we promote only at Easter or some other holiday. It’s a principle we live by year-round.

Axiom 5: Your service is a multiplication engine

Meeting needs means adapting to new needs. This is especially true in the changing spiritual dynamics of what people will receive in a church service. It would be easy for me to say that the type of music and ministry I am used to and that has fueled years of growth at our church should continue to be the norm. If they worked so powerfully then, shouldn’t they continue to be effective today? But people change, and so do their needs.

I was a little bit slow to change, but I realized the folly of my way when I went to L.A. As I have seen God move dramatically at the Dream Center, I have realized He wants to move the same way in Phoenix. If we want to reach the younger generation, we are going to have to reach them with the latest tools God has given to us.

Our music has changed, and our music and our church now are relevant to our age. It’s more like Hillsong with a huge choir of about 200. At our early service, we have 250 Masters Commission kids who do the music, and it’s more like Brooklyn Tabernacle. The second service features our church choir, with Hillsong-style music mixed with the old songs.

[And the energy doesn’t evaporate in the morning. Our Sunday night crowds are bigger than our Sunday morning now. We’ve had a Sunday night explosion. And the community is taking notice. The Phoenix Magazine, which is one of our biggest magazines in town, came out with a front-page article entitled, “Phoenix After Dark.” They listed the TOP 20 HOT SPOTS in Phoenix after dark. They listed all the nightclubs, all the hot spots, and then they had a picture of our church and our worship, and they wrote about what was going on here every Sunday night.

The crowds come because we invite them. Sunday afternoon at 4:30, our people gather in the parking lot. We load our buses and go out in the streets to find people in need. Our people hand flyers to complete strangers and say, “Hey, come to church tonight. We’ve got this happening.” We always have something planned for that night to excite the people. And when we hand out the flyers we tell people, “We’ll be back to pick you up in an hour.”

Every bus comes back to the church full. We run the buses all over town. The principle is this: A crowd attracts a crowd. Our people don’t feel threatened by this large mass of hurting people who come; they’re not overwhelmed. They have a heart for the hurting. So when I give the altar call Sunday night—this is no exaggeration—sometimes we have 300-400 people accept Christ.

Axiom 6: The Holy Spirit is the great Multiplier

I have always been Pentecostal. The Holy Spirit provides the power that brings about multiplication.

On Sunday nights when I give an altar call and crowds come forward to get saved, I don’t stop with an invitation to accept Christ as Savior. Why stop there when God has so much more? I also say, “If you haven’t received the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, you are missing something. I want everybody who wants to be filled with the Holy Spirit to walk through these doors, and meet with one of the men in our church who will explain to you how to receive the Holy Spirit and pray with you.”

Some people come from nominal churches and say, “We hear that on Sunday night you have a service for people who would like to be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Every week, we never have less than 75 who come forward to receive the Holy Spirit baptism, and 95 percent of them receive. Our people are constantly being filled with the Holy Spirit. That is the way God designed His church to function.

I go to the side of the mountain (???) every Monday morning, praying and seeking God. I believe that the Holy Spirit is given to us for our personal prayer life. If you want to be an intercessor, you have to speak in tongues. We constantly present the power of the Holy Spirit to people to energize and transform their lives.

If your church is in a plateau of growth, or experiencing no growth at all, find your Pentecostal power source. Invite the Holy Spirit into your services, altar times, prayer meetings and Sunday school classes. Let Him begin to multiply your ministry.

Axiom 7: God’s multiplication demands a holy dissatisfaction

God moves in congregations of every size. But as soon as you reach the point where you look at your church and say, “We’ve arrived, we don’t need any more people,” you are on the road to spiritual death. If 50,000 people start coming to Phoenix First Assembly every Sunday morning, I’ll still reach out to bring in more souls.

During the finale of our Christmas pageant, I stand up and speak about four minutes, and then I ask people to pray with me the sinner’s prayer.

We track those decisions. We hand out comment cards to be filled out during the program. Written in the corner in big, bold letters it states: TODAY I’VE ACCEPTED CHRIST AS MY SAVIOR. If they have received Christ, they put a check in the box and tear it off. At the end of the service I ask everyone who has checked the box to walk to the platform with their comment card, and we lead them out the sanctuary door and to a table where we hand them a Bible that includes a study for new Christians. Then we follow up with a phone call within 48 hours. That’s how we use our Christmas pageant to reach people for Jesus Christ.

These people don’t all stay at Phoenix First Assembly. That’s not the point. Not all people will attend a big church or a Pentecostal church. But they will come to a Christmas pageant, and churches will bring their unsaved because they know we’re winning people to the Lord. Soul winning is the heartthrob of this church.

Axiom 8: Multiplication demands focus as well as a wide net

Our ministries reach very specific groups. Ministries can be homogeneous, but the church ought to be heterogeneous.

Here is the principle in action as I see it from the pulpit. You preach to a certain target crowd — middle class, upper middle class, whatever. You do not just preach sermons that you think are going to appeal only to poor people. But in preaching to the middle and upper classes, you constantly present the needs of the poor. You give the people of means in your congregation a cause. Our cause is reaching the city; our people are committed to really reaching out to the hurting people around them. That’s why we put all the wheelchairs on the front row in our services. It demonstrates that this is a church with a heart.

Every church needs a cause. Our cause is to take God’s message of holiness and reconciliation to reach the hurting people of the world. Anyone can be saved, that’s the beauty of the gospel.

Axiom 9: Multiplication means always branching out

Before we started the Dream Center I said to myself, “I am going to take some of the money we give to missions and use it to start the Dream Center.” But God checked me and directed me not to take away from anything that we were giving to missions.

So we have not given one penny from this church to build the Dream Center except for one offering a year—Pastors School. Last year the offering was more than $200,000 in cash and $3.5 million in pledges. By being obedient to the Lord, God has sent money from all over the world. Assemblies of God churches have been wonderful, but most of the money has come from independent churches that don’t have a missions program.

We have almost a $50 million property now. It is debt-free and belongs to the Assemblies of God.

From axioms to action

I’ve offered some thoughts on growth. God will reward your search for His plan in your church by pointing you to many other avenues for experiencing His multiplication. It’s a thrilling journey. Start it today. Take a simple number like 1. Start one more ministry in your community, reach out to one more hurting person, and find one other church you can partner with in some form of outreach. One by one, you will discover that—with God—there really is no end in sight.