It was December 2004 when Doug Bell dug in his heels at the thought of becoming a pastor. From children’s nursery to the worship center, he grew up in a Southern Baptist Mississippi church and was content with living life outside of ministry.
At the time, Doug was earning a good salary and on a lucrative trajectory for his family — that is until his wife, Brandi questioned their path. Both were committed to their faith, but it was Doug who pulled away from a pastoral calling after seeing one too many wounded shepherds.
“I told my wife, ‘I can keep my family in church, I can volunteer, but I’m not going to get bitten by the sheep’,” recalls Doug.
With his response, tears rolled down Brandi’s face. She was well aware of her husband’s calling at the age of 13, and now she was ready to be part of God’s vision as a pastor’s wife. But with Doug’s unwillingness, Brandi boldly reminded him that he was not the man she married.
Those words stung deep, so deep in fact, that by December of 2005, Doug found himself as the Senior Pastor of CrossPointe Church. The swift transition began after the previous pastor announced retirement, leaving Doug and Brandi hosting church services in the basement of a wedding chapel in Red Banks, Mississippi.
By the time attendance reached 20 people, Doug knew God had big plans for this little church. Fast forward 15 years, and CrossPointe is now a multi-site church just south of Memphis, with over 600 members and an online following of 1,600. The road to church health was long and painful, despite the ministry infrastructure Doug was handed.
As a young, new pastor, many in the core leadership that Doug inherited viewed him as a supporting cast, rather than the vision caster.
“We had no vision,” Doug admits. “There were some people who were satisfied with growing with the knowledge of God, but there were very few people coming into the Kingdom.”
In fact, it had been so long since the baptismal was used, that mud shot out on their first water baptism under Doug’s leadership. Everything seemed to go wrong for the fledgling pastor, including convincing banks to give the church a small loan.
“It was all a struggle,” Doug recalls. “I felt like God was leading us to go beyond the church walls, yet that was not necessarily the same vision as some of my leaders.”
During this dry spell, Doug met with a mentor who told him that “the vision is always worth the sacrifice”. Those words became Doug’s daily mantra, until eventually, the “sacrifice” became the people on his staff.
“I had to make some big decisions in my elder body,” he says. “They were all strong followers of Jesus Christ. They just weren’t going where I was headed . . .God gave me a vision to simply love people. But I couldn’t grab that vision until I removed the people who couldn’t help lead me where that vision was going.”
Not only has that vision now been clearly defined, but today, it’s being boldly lived out by every member at CrossPointe. The campus is made up of a broken people who are being put back together, and then serving more broken people. Dozens of ministries have been launched to battle drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and other needs that have propelled CrossPointe further in the past two years than in the first 12 years combined.
Yet, the pruning of leadership didn’t come without consequences. With the loss of some elders came a drop in giving, leaving the church $20,000 dollars in debt. And while they quickly grew 20 percent in attendance, they only grew two percent financially.
It was Doug’s heart-level sermons on giving, generosity, and blessings that have recently taken tithes to a 20 percent increase above their highest point in 2018. These constant ministry-lessons of hurt and pain have prepared Doug for today, and have given his members a desire to serve in a greater capacity. They have also helped shape one of the core values of CrossPointe: embrace the pain of change for the win of seeing more people meet Jesus.
“Healthy things grow,” Doug explains. “At CrossPointe, we give people opportunities because we truly believe the Gospel is not a spectator sport. It’s a participant sport.”
Ironically, many of those “participants” are not even physically attending church, but rather are taking action through their online campus. After attending a 2016 conference on online ministry, Doug rolled out technology as a way to reach more people for Christ. He’s an advocate for social media discipleship, and teaches that God is not limited by place, space, or finances.
By launching a church-online platform, it opened the ability to stream semi-live videos from Saturday night services and allowed interaction and engagement through chat, comments, posts, and sharing of content. In the process, relationships developed among the online community, bringing church into people’s homes, offices, and pockets. Once content sharing took off, CrossPointe’s weekend messages reached up to 5,000 views per sermon.
“We could never build a building to contain what God’s doing through this free platform,” explains Doug. “We’ve picked up a lot of people that way, and as our generation progresses with this, we’re figuring out how to keep them healthy.”
One big healthy step is “Pray First,” an online morning program hosted weekdays by Pastor Doug. What started out as a 21-day beta test, has turned into several hundred people joining the program daily at seven o’clock for encouragement and prayer. To date, analytics show nearly 20,000 people have viewed the Pray First content.
Seeing the fruit of their online efforts has ignited a passion for other CrossPointe ministries to launch, including the Southern County Destiny Center. By retrofitting old buses into computer labs, hair salons, food stations, and immunization clinics, CrossPointe is able to bring resources directly into low-income neighborhoods. In the summer months, they plan to deliver meals to students without access to government-subsidized cafeteria food.
Clearly, this former wedding-chapel church with its muddy baptismal waters is just getting started when it comes to loving the community.
“There’s more than one way to reach people,” Doug says. “We live in a time where there’s no excuse for us not to go out into all of the world and compel people to come to Christ.”