Pastor Clarence Stowers Jr. is passionate about helping the people of his congregation connect the dots of life so they can live abundantly. Succeeding his father, Dr. Clarence E. Stowers Sr., in 1999, Stowers was 33 years old when he was installed as pastor of Mars Hill Baptist Church in Chicago. As is so often the case, opportunity came disguised as a seemingly insurmountable obstacle when he inherited a traditional Baptist church that had plateaued.
Stowers says that based on almost every metric available, he knew he had to do something fast or the church’s attendance would decline. “The optimistic side of me was determined to turn our church around,” he recalls.
In 2000, he attended the Purpose Driven Church Conference at Saddleback Church. Following the event, Stowers worked hard to formulate and cast a new vision for Mars Hill Church, located just west of downtown Chicago.
“I restructured our church, hired staff, and with fresh enthusiasm, we were off to a great start,” explains Pastor Stowers. “I anticipated smooth sailing ahead. What I didn’t anticipate is that everyone wants change until it affects them personally.”
Stowers came to realize that those who were comfortable with change, simply would not grow. That’s when he discovered that many people were eager to improve their circumstances, but were unwilling to improve themselves.
“Remaining in a comfort zone encourages people to do the bare minimum,” he says, “and their only goal becomes keeping things the same as they’ve always been.”
Stowers believes that to become successful, one must be willing to push outside the safety zone. He also considers challenges and obstacles a necessary part of any successful journey. In fact, he compares pushing limits to stretching the body. “You will know it’s working when you start to feel uncomfortable,” he says. “When you feel that twinge, you can be assured that you are inching your way closer to your ultimate goal.”
When Pastor Stowers first read The Purpose Driven Church, it forever changed his view of church growth. The message encouraged him to think first about the health of his church, and allow growth to occur naturally. “Understanding that healthy and consistent growth is the result of balancing the five biblical purposes of the church, was a new way of thinking for us,” says Stowers.
As a result of this shift, Mars Hills was presented the Church Health Award from Purpose Driven Ministry in 2004. Today, the church is still Purpose Driven to the core, reflecting the five purposes in everything they do. The concentric circles remains their ministry model, and they’ve molded and made it their own at Mars Hill.
“Our methodology is ‘putting people on the correct pathways,’ and our goal is to make sure we are putting them on the right path. That becomes the handoff. As they complete one path, then they’re ready for another; these are the pathways toward spiritual maturity. We still believe that a great commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a great church. I know that sometimes members may be afraid, but I encourage them to be bold and courageous. If we have dreams, goals, and aspirations, we all need to grow to achieve them.”
After almost 16 years as senior pastor, Stowers has watched his church become innovative, multicultural, and now, a multi-site and online congregation. They recently launched their second campus in Lombard, at the Lindner Conference Center campus of Northern Seminary. That same day, they launched an online campus and are excited how it is morphing into a hybrid of live messages and archived sermons.
When not meeting together, the church uses on-demand services on its streaming site. “We recruit hosts and hostesses to hold viewing parties for small groups,” Stowers says. “This has really helped to lessen the gap for discipleship for us. Plus, you have the ability to connect with a viewing party in your respective area.”
Stowers gets excited when talking about how God has blessed their church. Last year they baptized 171 people and along the way, Mars Hill has become one of the fastest-growing churches in the Midwest. They manage crowds by offering two services on Sunday mornings and host overflow members in their cafe. On any given Sunday, 1,450 people are on campus and another 1,220 are being reached through online streaming.
“Obstacles can’t stop you,” Stowers says. “Problems can’t stop you. Most of all, other people can’t stop you. Only you can stop you. People with clear, written goals accomplish far more in a shorter period of time than people without them could ever imagine.”
That’s why this Purpose Driven pastor is going to continue leaping over obstacles in his ongoing quest for God’s path for his life and his church.
To learn more about becoming a Purpose Driven Church, visit pd.church/start.
This story originally appeared at PD.church.