Archive for the ‘Church Revitalization’ Category

imagesWhat I’m offering today may not set well with many, but I believe it must be said. I’m a pastor who is becoming increasingly frustrated. I’m not frustrated in my ministry. In fact, God has privileged me to serve in a gracious fellowship of believers that affords me the opportunities to preach and to lead the congregation to fulfill its particular mission in our community and beyond.

So why am I frustrated? I am frustrated because all around me I hear of the increasing number of declining and dying churches that represent only a portion of the churches in the Southern Baptist Convention have stopped growing. To be sure, some churches will decline because the communities in which they are have declined in population. However, this is not the case for most of the ones I know. And if something does not change within these churches that they will continue to decline and will eventually cease to exist. This grieves our Lord, and it should grieve all believers.

Recently our denomination has focused much attention on church revitalization, and I am glad that we have done so. However, some have the mistaken idea that if we can infuse a declining church with some financial aid, some minor adjustments in their programming, and maybe even sending some people to them, then they will experience a turnaround. Generally when this method is used, the church might survive a bit longer while sometimes a spike may indeed occur. However, without significant changes in the way the church carries out its work, the infusion only serves to prop up a congregation for a short period. Often a declining church needs more than an adjustment, but rather a complete shift from the way church functions.

My bigger frustration comes from a pervading attitude that implicitly says, “We’d rather die than change.” Whether this viewpoint comes from the pastor or from the congregation, it often will serve as the church’s own death sentence.

For the past several years, I sensed the need to prepare our congregation for a strategy that would maximize our giftedness to reach more people. We sensed that the Lord wanted us to plant another church in our area. The experiences we gained from the planting a Hispanic congregation, which meets simultaneously on our campus, guided our preparations. As we sought the Spirit’s guidance on strategies for church planting, we were drawn to the multisite church strategy. We identified several reasons for moving to such a strategy.

    1. Multiplying the resources of God had entrusted to our church. God had equipped our staff and congregation to carry out Great Commission ministry. We had committed every aspect of our ministries to developing maturing follower of Jesus Christ.
    2. Being able to utilize people resources within our congregation. Not only had our pastoral staff grown to take on greater responsibilities, but God showed us people from within the church to consider calls to ministry positions. In the last four years, two laymen have been added to our pastoral staff. We see this as a trend for the future and one that can be further developed as God adds ministry locations.
    3. A perception that the unreached want a personal touch. Building a larger auditorium to accommodate a larger number of people did not make sense when people kept telling us that they chose our church because they sought after a “smaller church.” Having multiple locations made more sense because we could take the church closer to where they lived, while providing a “full menu” of ministry offerings through centralized administration.
    4. The possibility of coming alongside struggling congregation and reinvigorating them for kingdom ministry. Admittedly, this reason came about as a result of how the Lord has equipped and shaped me for ministry. Throughout my ministry, I have reached out to pastors within our convention and beyond to help them lead their congregations. But now I sense that by engaging these congregations by including them in a multisite approach, we could utilize kingdom resources and do an even better job in reinvigorating them. We have since learned that more than one in three multisite churches began a new campus as the result of a merger.

In anticipation of what we sensed the Lord wanted us to do with regard to church planting and specifically, with developing a multisite church mentality, I led our pastoral staff and congregation to alter the way we approach the weekend services. In particular, I knew that our staff had to prepare for carrying out multisite church model at a single-site so that we could transition more readily when the time came to multiply the ministry.

For years, I knew that one of the most effective ways to lead the church comes through better planned Sunday morning experiences which translates to more meaningful experiences for everyone. Throughout my pastoral ministry, I had developed the habit of planning my preaching either weeks or a few months at a time. However, now I knew that we needed to shift to a more elaborate planning model. This would make it possible for our creative team (which also had to be developed) to formulate the creative elements for each sermon series such as this music, set design, graphic design, promotional materials, drama skits, and videos. The shift also necessitated forming a teaching team to share the preaching responsibilities. For years we had utilized the giftedness of others on our staff to fill the pulpit in my absence. But with the teaching team approach, we have more consistency in preaching the sermon series. Not only does this permit us to develop and preach better sermons, we have grown together in our ministry while developing a strategy for growing campus pastors.

Having personally observed and studied other multisite mergers in Tennessee, Missouri, and Louisiana, I know that extending the kingdom reach and maximizing our mission efforts can be accomplished by utilizing such a strategy. I have witnessed how the Spirit of God has infused new life, and the church now reaches new people.

Yet I also realize the heart wrenching difficulty that declining churches have in coming to terms with their futures. I know that no one readily wants to admit, “We need help” or “Our church is dying.” These congregations have made sacrifices for the cause of Christ in ministry and missions; however, they now come to the critical crossroads of the future. Therefore, I urge the leaders in these congregations to consider prayerfully seeking out a strong congregation in their area help them to breathe new life and to continue the legacy of their church’s contribution to the spread of the gospel. After all, it’s really not about you and your church. It’s about our great God receiving all the praise that He is due.

Jonathan Edwards, pastor of the prestigious Congregational Church in Northampton, Massachusetts, was a leading figure of the eighteenth century First Great Awakening. Religious leaders, like the famous preacher George Whitefield (pronounce “Whit – field”), traveled great distances to meet with him and discuss theological matters.

At age 14, Edwards, already a student at Yale University, treasured the spiritual qualities that directed his life and ministry. At age 17, after a period of distress, he said holiness was revealed to him as ravishing, divine beauty. His heart panted “to lie low before God, as in the dust; that I might be nothing, and that God might be all, that I might become as a little child.” So the rare blend of spiritual passion and searching intellect characterized his life. By the age of 26, he became the sole pastor of the Northampton Church. Five years later his preaching on justification by faith sparked an awakening.

Yet even a man of Edwards’s credentials was not exempt from criticism. When Edwards sought assurance that those in his congregation had experienced genuine conversion, a group of discontented church members took exception. They launched a slanderous campaign against him that ultimately led to his dismissal from the church he had made famous. One of the greatest theological minds and most devout pastors in American history had been forced out of his church by malicious detractors. Edwards then assumed a modest pastorate in the small town of Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and ministered to native Americans.

Eventually Jonathan Edwards was vindicated before his critics. Some of his most vocal opponents publicly confessed their sinfulness in attacking their godly pastor. Ultimately, the College of New Jersey, which later became Princeton, called his as president in 1758. To its great loss and to that of the American church, Edwards died soon after his arrival at the age of 55. Some consider Edwards to be the finest theologian America has produced.

I offer this short biography of Edwards to remind us that God uses faithful believers who have solid commitments to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to His Word. I am reminded of the call that God issued twice to Jonah, “Get up, go to Nineveh, and preach the Word.” The first time, Jonah ran in the opposite direction of Nineveh. He went down Joppa, down into the ship, down into the sea, and ultimately down into the belly of a great fish. The second time God issued the call, Jonah was more than ready to listen and obey. When he arrived in Nineveh, he preached the word that God had given to him — and God brought about a supernatural movement, and the people repented.

I am praying that God will “do it again.” A few Sundays ago, we dedicated both services to prayer and to seeking God’s divine intervention. We believe that God still wants to do a great work in America and to the ends of the earth. However, He will only do so on His terms. We cannot tell God how He must move. We cannot require Him to submit to our bidding. Rather, we must humble ourselves, pray and seek His face, and turn from our wickedness. Then He will hear from heaven and forgive our sin and heal our land.

Over the past several weeks, we have spent a lot of time refocusing on why Mandeville’s First Baptist Church exists. We have done so for several reasons, not the least of which is so that we can make sure we all get on the same page. The most important reason concerns our belief that God wants to reach more and more people with the good news of the gospel. We have also begun preparing for a church multiplication strategy through which the Lord may use our church to plant and/or to revitalize other churches.

As I wrote last week, whether the Lord calls on us to help another congregation, I cannot know. However, I know that we have been gifted with people who can help make something like this occur. Therefore, I believe we must be ready when He calls.

To that end, I want to offer some principles that we can apply to our ministries in order that together we can bring people who are far from God near to Him. One of the biggest keys going forward for us will be our ability to minister in and adapt to an ever-changing world. We will need to reach out both to our members and to those do not yet believe in relevant ways.

1. We must not strive for size, but we must strive to serve God. We must have a passion for the unchurched not because we want to grow a big church but because people need Christ. We need to see our friends and neighbors in that light so that we focus on bringing them to faith in Jesus not just on inviting them our church.

2. We need to study and know the culture where God has placed us. Knowing our community’s culture will help us determine how to embrace the people and how to speak the gospel in their language.

3. Evangelize in every possible way. The entire congregation – not just the leadership – has been commissioned to make disciples of all people. Each of us must know the gospel and how to communicate it. Sharing the good news must permeate our ministries.

4. We must help people make vital connections in the congregation. Active participation matters, because without it people will, sooner or later, fall away. This means more than getting people to attend a Life Group on Sunday morning. We must show them how committed followers of Jesus serve God and His church and encourage them to do likewise. The sooner people become connected with people in a Life Group and become involved in ministry, the more likely they will stay and participate because they will have made vital connections with people.

5. We must do church well. By this, I mean more than just putting together a good Sunday service and preaching a good biblical message. We must do everything we do with excellence. Our special events at Christmas and Independence Day have been superb, but we must do the “everyday things” well. This includes having a full complement of people on hand to staff the classes (not just adults, but all age groups) and to help new people when they come to our church. Rather than just having a minimal number of people serving in these areas, we must strive for excellence in this area by having many joining together in this aspect of ministry.

6. We must help people live out their calling in Christ.
Because the Holy Spirit gifts every believer, every believer can serve God through their unique talents and gifts. Knowing this and acting on this means that we must encourage our members to recognize God’s calling on their lives and to help them become involved in ministry. Doing so will grow more believers in spiritual maturity and expand the scope of our church’s ministry.

On Sunday (August 17) we begin a new series of messages at Mandeville’s First Baptist Church called “Joseph: A Life of Integrity.” This nine-week series of messages has an aim to offer a model, though hardly perfect, of a person who God raised up to trust Him in every situation and to model His grace before those who did not deserve it. Shan Taylor will preach the first message big ideain this series from Genesis 37, where Joseph’s story begins. With seminary classes beginning next week, this gives Shan the chance to dedicate more time for preparing this message.

We have other reasons for having the various pastors from our staff to preach from time to time. First of all, when I’m away from town, it makes sense to have someone from our team to preach because they already know our church family and understand our vision and mission. Second, God has given us a number of gifted preachers, and it is just good stewardship to use them. I must admit that giving up pulpit time to others has not been easy for me, because I love to preach the Word. However, the Lord has given me a calling not only to preach but also to lead and equip. Therefore, in this season of my ministry, God has surrounded me with men who need to craft their own skills to preach. I believe that He will use this investment to further His Kingdom.

There’s still another reason – church multiplication. We know that the Lord desires to reach more and more people with the saving news of the gospel. We also know that He has gifted us with so many leaders for a reason – to plant and/or to revitalize other churches. To that end, I am leading our team to prepare for a church multiplication strategy.

While we will begin the “Joseph” series this morning, we have already started working on the next series of messages as a staff. Not that it’s surprising that we are working ahead, because I have tried throughout my ministry to provide “at least a clue” to David Watson (and now Tyler Harris), where my preaching was headed. But now we have begun preparing all aspects of the services in team fashion. In fact, a creative team will meet this evening to begin planning for October 19. The teaching team will work together on the message beginning in September, so that all who participate in the preparation for the message would be ready to preach on any Sunday. Such a preparation strategy will provide the benefit to those in our services that we will all be focused on one unifying message (“the big idea”) for the week. We will also work to use the week’s theme in our Wednesday activities, including AWANA, the youth gathering, and the midweek service.

This strategy will also position us to launch new congregations in the future and even to assist in the revitalization of other churches. Across the south, there’s a new strategy beginning as struggling congregations are requesting mergers with a stronger congregation. We saw in St. Louis when we went to World Changers last month. Struggling churches in Woodward, Monroe, and Baton Rouge have recently chosen to merge with other churches, and the results have been outstanding.

Whether the Lord calls on us to help another congregation, I cannot know. However, I know that we have been gifted with people who can help make something like this occur. Therefore, I believe we must be ready when He calls.