COLUMBIA, Mo.––From his first student appointment at the age of 18, every church the Rev. Bob Farr has served has increased attendance by at least 50 percent.
During his last two church appointments, he started a new church that grew to an attendance of 450, and he took a church in decline that was averaging 505 in attendance and led it to grow to 1,064 congregants.
What is his secret?
One of them is he has found ways to reach men.
Thought church was for women
Growing up in a small Missouri town, Bob Farr, the oldest of three boys, attended church and Sunday school with his mother while his fire-fighter dad stayed home or was at the station.
“I thought church was just for women and children,” said Farr. “We had a woman pastor and 99 percent of the people attending services were either women or children.”
That attitude was enforced by his dad who thought church was for sissies. He only attended when his wife insisted.
Although Farr received his credentials as a fireman, he disappointed his dad by saying that he would go into the ministry.
“What kind of job is that? Can you make a living at that?” his father asked.
Looking back on those days, Farr notes that the fire station was only three blocks away from the church. Members could have visited the drinking and cussing firemen to assure them that the faith community was there for them.
Goes where men meet
When Farr was just beginning his ministry at age 22, his father died. That’s when Farr made a vow to do whatever it took to bring men back to God.
He began that effort with a visit to the neighboring fire station, and ever since that time he has served as a volunteer fire chief, a fire-fighter or a chaplain of a fire department.
“I served as volunteer fire chief for eight years in the City of Lake Latawana, a bedroom community outside Kansas City, while I was planting a Grace UMC in Lee’s Summit. About one-third of the men at the station started attending our church.
“I always try to place myself with men who have no connection with the church,” said Farr. “I ride a Harley motorcycle with unchurched men, and started baseball and basketball teams. I do what I can to show there is a place in the church for men.”
Seeks congregational excellence
Since July of 2007, Farr has served as director of the Missouri Conference Center for Congregational Excellence where he is responsible for 16 church starts and providing collaborative learning opportunities leading to congregational transformation.
In this position Farr pioneered the Healthy Church Initiative, a consultation process which provides an in-depth analysis of a local church, develops a prescription for transformation, and offers the services of consultants to churches that agree to adopt the prescriptions. A dozen other UM conferences have adopted revitalization programs modeled after the initiative. Farr has also introduced a version of the initiative especially designed for small churches.
A majority of Missouri pastors are now part of a peer-mentoring group begun by Farr, and more than 300 lay leaders have participated in a lay-leadership-development program, with 36 trained facilitators in the conference.
Farr, 52, is a 1981 graduate of Central Missouri State University in Warrensburg, Mo., and a 1985 graduate of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. In 2011, Central Methodist University awarded him an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree.
The author of Renovate or Die – 10 Ways to Focus Your Church in Mission (Abingdon, 2011) has been nominted by his annual conference as a candidate for the episcopacy (http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nlnet/content3.aspx?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=5259669&ct=11931865.
For more information about Farr’s work with the Healthy Church Initiative, visit http://healthychurchinitiative.com.