March 2010

David Platt: A crisis of belief

March 24 2010 by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications

After listening to David Platt preach it’s hard to think that a man so passionate, so clearly devoted to following Jesus Christ, would ever say he experienced a crisis of belief.

This is a man who preached through the book of Ruth and taught about God’s mercy, provision and redemption. A man who teaches on going into all the world and making disciples. Surely this pastor could not mean what he said — a crisis of belief?

Platt not only meant it, he changed his lifestyle in order to do something about it, and he changed life for The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., where he is pastor.

During an interview at the February Convergence Conference in Charlotte, he explained more. Convergence was a three-day evangelism, prayer and training event sponsored by the Baptist State Convention at Hickory Grove Baptist Church.

Platt’s crisis of belief developed over time, as he realized he could no longer ignore the reality of vast physical and spiritual need.

He could no longer ignore the fact that children starve to death and people die from chicken pox and Christians are martyred.

His heart became burdened for the needs of others.

“If these needs are real, and if I believe the gospel, then my life has to reflect a radical abandonment to Christ,” he said.

BSC photo by Melissa Lilley

David Platt, pastor of The Church at Brook Hills, was one of many speakers at Convergence.

Platt came to understand that “to be serious about living the gospel out” he had to restructure his values and priorities.

Platt and his wife sold their house and moved into a smaller one. The goal is to “establish a cap on our lifestyle to free up as much as possible to give away” and he is challenging Brook Hills to do the same.

“We challenge families and individuals in the church to look at the way they are spending their money. Just because we have a certain salary doesn’t mean we have to live up to that standard of living,” he said. The question becomes not what can families keep, but what can they give away?

The church budget got a serious makeover and staff started asking what could be cut so more could be given away. Some events that once cost $1,200 now cost about $25. Instead of spending money to print posters advertising events, cardboard and magic markers now get the word out around Brook Hills.

Eighty-three percent of the worship ministry was cut as Brook Hills came to learn they really can do more with less.

A plan to revise the budget was in place in just a few weeks because the people were ready.

“They’ve seen it in the Word,” Platt said.

Over the past few years Brook Hills heard sermons on how Jesus called people to radical abandonment so the changes seemed like the natural thing to do.

“The Word precipitated it,” Platt said.

Budget changes now allow Brook Hills to invest more in local and global ministries.

Locally, they work with inner-city ministry in Birmingham, helping to plant a church and care for needs such as food, housing, transportation and job training. Internationally, Brook Hills is partnering with other organizations to help in India, where 41 percent of the population is poor; where Platt said truly physical and spiritual needs collide.

In India they are helping train pastors, do Bible translation and feed the hungry. Revamping the budget is not the end for Brook Hills. In 2010, Brook Hills is taking on a one-year commitment called “The Radical Experiment.”

The church is challenged to pray for the entire world; read through the entire Word; commit their lives to multiplying community; sacrifice money for a specific purpose; and give time in another context.

“I want our people to see the nations of the world day after day,” Platt said. He hopes the church will use mission trips as an opportunity to serve in a context different than their own.

Hearing about the needs overseas is one thing, but “until you really see it and feel it and smell it, you don’t get it,” Platt said.

“If we’re not careful, if I’m not careful, we can start to think the world looks like Birmingham.”

Through this crisis of belief and time of rethinking values and priorities, Platt is resolved more than ever to “keep the Word in front of them. The Word is really the only thing that’s going to create change.”
3/24/2010 6:21:00 AM by Melissa Lilley, BSC Communications | with 1 comments

Churches plan to ‘Ignite’ western N.C.

March 24 2010 by BR staff

Western churches are preparing for the Ignite rally in the Asheville Civic Center April 30-May 2, culminating several years of regional youth rallies.

Ignite rallies started in 2006 out of concern for the spiritual health of youth in Maggie Valley, according to organizer Ricky Mason, pastor of Maggie Valley’s First Baptist Church.

A special event at the Stompin’ Ground Dance Hall elicited “phenomenal response” Mason said, with average attendance of 1,500 and with 300 professions of faith recorded.

Since the initial meeting, 14 other Ignite events have been held at Lake Junaluska, Western Carolina University, Maggie Valley, Cherokee, Andrews, Brevard, Mars Hill College, Spruce Pine, Asheville and Marion. More than 2,000 youth and adults have made professions of faith.

This movement is building toward the largest event so far with an area wide Ignite three-night rally to take place April 30-May 2 at the Asheville Civic Center. More than 7,000 youth and adults are expected each evening as churches from all over bring their church families and unsaved friends.

Mason said the planning committee has set a goal of 2,000 professions of faith. The event is interdenominational and is free.

Evangelist Clayton King, who has preached the Ignite events, will be the primary speaker, with Carlton Cartee providing music leadership.
3/24/2010 6:19:00 AM by BR staff | with 0 comments

Pastor preaches about near-death experience

March 24 2010 by Sarah Grano, Special to the Recorder

An avid hunter, 76-year-old Norman Lutz was sitting in a deer stand in the Virginia Mountains when he had a stroke that left half of his body paralyzed.

The minister of Antioch Baptist Church in Lincolnton spent seven hours in that stand doing what came naturally to him.

“I prayed,” Lutz said. “I prayed for my family, my children. I prayed for everyone I knew to pray for.”

Lutz also quoted scripture to himself and sang hymns. During those seven hours, he knew he had had a stroke and he knew he might die, but Lutz said he wasn’t scared.

Lincoln Times-News photos by Seth Mabry

Antioch Baptist Church Pastor Norman Lutz reads a will he wrote on the back of an Abernethy Laurels memo while in the rehab center after suffering a stroke in November. After having a massive stroke while hunting, Lutz was left with bleeding in the brain and a blood clot in his lung. Doctors say his survival is “a miracle.”

The stroke came soon after climbing a 25-foot deer stand for the day.

“I said ‘Whoa I feel funny.’ I didn’t feel faint. I just felt weak, no pain,” Lutz said.

He felt no pain during the following seven hours. Although half his body was paralyzed, he managed to hold on and not fall out. Eventually, his hunting partner came back to the stand and ran to get help. It took six men from the Baywood Rescue Squad two hours to get Lutz out because of his position in the tree. Lutz was suffering from bleeding in the brain and a blood clot in his lungs. His wife, Betty, said they couldn’t treat one because of the other.

He was treated in Virginia and then sent down to Winston-Salem. Doctors did not think he was going to live. Four hospitals and one rehab center later, Lutz returned to his church on Jan. 17.

“Doctors said it was a miracle,” Lutz said. He sat in the front pew instead of the platform, and when it was time to preach, he spoke from his wheelchair.

“I just wheeled myself up to the communion table. I turned around,” he said. “They wanted to hear the story about the tree and how God intervened.”

Lutz is now back to preaching full-time. He is regaining mobility on his right side, although the process is a long one. He says the stroke has affected his preaching style, but no one seems to mind.

“I’m possibly not as lively as I used to be,” said Lutz, who has no plans to retire. “I just preach and the people listen a little better for some reason.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Grano is a Lincoln Times-News reporter. Click here for original article.)
3/24/2010 6:15:00 AM by Sarah Grano, Special to the Recorder | with 0 comments

NAMB honors Garay as Asian church planter

March 24 2010 by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications

ATLANTA, Ga. — Baptist State Convention (BSC) staffer Ralph Garay has been named “Asian Church Planting Missionary of the Year” by the Southern Baptist North American Mission Board (NAMB) for his role in planting 25 new Asian churches across North Carolina during 2009.


Garay, Asian church planting consultant with the Baptist State Convention, received the award during the recent NAMB-sponsored 2010 Church Planting Missionary Forum. A native of the Philippines, Garay earned a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. He and his wife, Anna Lynn, and their two sons, Paulo and Philippe, immigrated to the United States in 1995. He was pastor of a Filipino-American church in San Diego, Calif., for 11 years before joining the Convention staff in 2006.


As one of the Convention’s five church planting consultants, Garay helps oversee the work of more than 40 Asian church planters who are in some phase of church planting as they partner with the Convention, associations and local churches. His work centers on visiting the planters as coach, trainer, teacher, cheerleader and accountability agent.


Photo by John Swain

Ralph Garay, center, Asian church planting consultant and a member of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina church planting staff since 2006, was named “Asian Church Planting Missionary of the Year” during the North American Mission Board’s 2010 Church Planting Missionary Forum in Atlanta Feb. 24-27. Presenting the award to Garay was Ken Weathersby, right, vice president-church planting for NAMB, and Van Kicklighter, left, NAMB’s church planting team leader for strategic planning and people groups.

“With 234 different language groups now in North Carolina, Ralph’s strategic thinking ability is a valuable asset to effective church planting in our state,” said Mark Gray, church planting team leader. 


The 25 new Asian churches started during 2009 include about as many language/culture groups, reflecting the fact that Asians are one of the fastest growing minorities in both the United States and North Carolina. Asians make up one very diverse element in the Convention’s church planting ministry, which started 98 new churches during 2009. 


That equates to a new church being started somewhere in the state every three or four days on average. North Carolina Baptists support this ministry through their Cooperative Program giving and gifts to the North Carolina Missions Offering. Some 150 church planters and their support teams involved in planting new churches made more than 176,000 evangelistic visits and led more than 2,300 people to faith in Christ during 2009. The church planting ministry is one of the Convention’s biggest and most successful evangelistic efforts; since more than 90 percent of the churches started grow into self-supporting churches and will continue to reach people for years, it is also one of the Convention’s most enduring ministries.


Asians include many language/culture/nationality backgrounds but also represent a wide range of income and educational levels, Garay said. He said Asians in the state include very poor refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar (formerly Burma). Some Asians may operate hot dog stands or clean houses, he said.


“But not all Asians are poor. For example, Asian Indians own and operate many of the hotels along North Carolina interstate highways. Chinese or Koreans are often students or have well-paying jobs in the Research Triangle Park. Filipinos often serve in nursing or other parts of the medical field,” Garay said.


Asians have brought their religions with them. Several Hindu temples now stand in Cary and Charlotte; Buddhist centers are now open in Greensboro.
But for Asians who accept Christ as Savior, the differences in their lives can be immense and immediate. For example, Hmong people from Laos try to buy farms so they can raise animals to sacrifice, as a way to appease the animistic spirits who they believe might otherwise bring illness or misfortune. Once they come to understand that Jesus Christ is the ultimate high priest who sacrificed Himself for those who accept Him, they are able to set down a very heavy spiritual burden.


Although he works out of the Baptist State Convention office in Cary, Garay spends much of his week on the road as he visits the widely scattered planters, driving some 30,000 miles a year in the process. 


Known for his soft-spoken, understated demeanor and hard work, Garay is quick to credit the hard-working church planters and their families, as well as fellow Convention staffers, associational staffs and others involved.   “I received this award for everyone involved,” he said.


He marvels that God keeps raising up new church planters from so many other countries here in North Carolina. 

“But we keep praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send them, so we should not be surprised.  We should anticipate that God will respond and help us in His work,” Garay said.
3/24/2010 6:09:00 AM by Mike Creswell, BSC Communications | with 0 comments

Piedmont merges with Central Triad Association

March 23 2010 by Norman Jameson, BR Editor

Messengers to a special called meeting of the Piedmont Baptist Association March 22 voted 92-14 to admit churches of the Central Triad Baptist Association (CTBA) and merge into one entity. Central Triad Association members voted for the merger March 2. 

The new association — now with 120 member churches — will be known as the Piedmont Baptist Association. Larry Doyle will continue as associational director of missions. Central Triad Association Director of Missions J.C. Bradley, 76, will retire effective March 31.

While financial crisis from slumping support by CTBA churches prompted the merger, the reason for merger is mission, Doyle told 106 messengers, meeting at Life Community Church in Jamestown. The CTBA, which formed from Piedmont Baptist Association churches a half century ago, will not be investing its limited funds simply in maintaining an organization, and can instead free resources to the Piedmont Association which has a vision to “transform its community.”

The merger will benefit the Piedmont Association by “increasing the missional workforce,” Doyle said, adding as many of the 37 CTBA churches as wish to participate. Additionally, the Piedmont Association will “expand our territory, geographically and demographically to cover all of Guilford County,” and will bring together the association’s greatest resource, “our people.”

Piedmont Association Moderator Patrick Fuller said earlier a merger of Baptists in Guilford County will have the added benefit of helping to unify political and social divisions within the county.

In effect, Doyle said, the Piedmont Association was answering a “Macedonian call” from its sister churches.

BR photo by Norman Jameson

Piedmont Baptist Association Director of Missions Larry Doyle, left, and retiring Director of Missions J.C. Bradley of the recently dissolved Central Triad Baptist Association, center, share their joy with Bob Burchette, member of Green Street Baptist Church in High Point.

Leading up to the vote, listening sessions were held in both associations and leadership teams worked out details after the merger was first proposed between executives last September. Three members of the leadership team from CTBA will join a temporarily expanded leadership team from Piedmont, for staggered terms to expire in 2012.

Ken Evans, chairman of the CTBA leadership team and pastor of Trinity Baptist Church; Tony Moore, pastor of Trindale Baptist Church in Trinity, moderator of CTBA, and Charlie Waller, vice moderator of CTBA and pastor of Lexington Avenue Baptist Church in High Point will join the Piedmont leadership team.

Physical assets and liabilities of CTBA were assumed by Piedmont Association. Assets include two office suites, which are for sale and valued at $315,000; commercial property valued at $205,000 and a disaster relief trailer, valued at $5,000.

Liabilities include a mortgage on the office suites of $84,500 and miscellaneous bills of $14,000. Monthly contributions from CTBA churches have been averaging $5,265 — more than enough to cover liabilities if churches continue to support the expanded association.

Doyle said the mission and objectives of both associations were “in harmony.”

The vision of Piedmont Association “is to see our community radically transformed by the power of Christ,” he said. To bring about transformation, associational leadership assists churches to develop leadership, connect with their communities and network with other congregations and ministries.

CTBA objectives were to strengthen churches, mobilize resources and network churches for mission.

“There is a harmony here in the sense of direction where we’re going,” Doyle said.

While the doctrinal guide for Piedmont Association is the Baptist Faith and Message Statement 1963, the doctrinal statement of the CTBA does not conflict with the BFMS, Doyle said.

A special service is planned May 3 to celebrate the merger, with other informal events being planned for pastors and churches to get better acquainted.

Josh Parrish, chairman of a networking group from Piedmont Association and pastor of Awestruck Church, said that although CTBA churches were “non-supportive” they were not negative and the Piedmont Association is not “bringing on negativity or dead weight.”

“We’re seeing a large increase in support and excitement over being a part of the vision of the Piedmont Association,” he said.  
3/23/2010 6:31:00 AM by Norman Jameson, BR Editor | with 1 comments

BSC, Foundation available to help

March 23 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

By the time the Baptist State Convention (BSC) hears about a dissolving church, it’s usually too late.

But Brian Davis, BSC executive leader for administration/convention relations, wants churches to know that the BSC staff is available at any stage in the process.

“While we are not a central contact, I’m glad that we are finding out through a variety of different ways,” he said. “Churches have to think this thing through.”

Churches have several things to consider when dissolving, including property, other assets, endowments, cemetery, equipment, etc.

The first point of contact is usually the association, said Davis. Sometimes the church will contact the attorney that helped the church incorporate.

Davis encourages churches to include a dissolution article in the bylaws of the church.

Otherwise, the church will have to follow state guidelines and may lose control of the process.

Davis said various persons at the Convention can help a church in deciding whether to dissolve or choose other options. David Moore helps with pastoral ministries and Mark Gray can help with a possible restart of a church.

Sometimes a church will consider a way to help a new church get started while it contemplates the future, Davis said.

He said churches need legal counsel when dissolving a church because there are so many things to consider.

Davis sees this as a possible trend for associations as well. He mentioned the merger of Central Triad and Piedmont Baptist associations.

The Convention is willing to help set up a meeting with legal counsel and to guide them in thinking and praying through the process.

“It’s a decision that needs to be bathed in prayer,” he said. “I think associations are already at the point of struggling.

“It’s not going to be if they merge but how they do it.”

One of the problems Davis sees is that some churches look at ministry as business.

Churches need to consider where resources go.

“A lot of it comes back to church health — one that is growing spiritually,” said Davis, who mentioned the Church Health Institutes the Convention is leading around the state. “Every church needs to be growing spiritually and have a culture of discipleship.”

For some it is “imperative that they reach out and get some help,” he said.

Incorporation used to be a question on the Annual Church Profile (ACP), but fewer churches fill out the forms or provide incomplete information.

Davis said the ACP is important for the Convention staff to assign help in areas where it’s needed.

“There’s a lot of statistical information people don’t realize” that the Convention needs, Davis said. “We don’t have all the answer s but are available to help find answers.”  

Setting up endowment
Bill Overby, director of development at the North Carolina Baptist Foundation, said they’ve only seen one church in the last 7-8 years that left a scholarship endowment along with the rest of its assets to another local church. That scholarship endowment has since been fully turned over to the Foundation to manage and it awards funds for students at many of the Baptist colleges in North Carolina.

stock.xchng photo

Church cemeteries add difficulty in the dissolution process. One option for an endowment is upkeep.

“It took a long time to get it right, but now kids are getting scholarships because of it,” Overby said.

Overby said dissolving churches tend to give resources locally, either to other churches or to ministries.

“Imagination is your only limit,” he said, indicating money could be used for statewide ministries. The funds can be divided up among several organizations too. At least 51 percent must go to a Baptist entity if it is managed by the Foundation. If a church is considered a non-profit organization, it must give funds to another non-profit.

“It opens a window for a lot of different things that might be attractive,” Overby said. “We don’t want to focus on the churches that have to go out of business, but it’s even worse when you’re a poor steward.”

He encourages churches “to be a legacy church and continue to finance ministry as a legacy.” Overby said a rural Durham homeowners association even has an endowment set up through another foundation. That money is given to a couple of different Baptist efforts, including disaster recovery.

The dissolution process gets even more complicated if there’s a “boneyard” or church cemetery, said Michael Ester, associational missionary for Liberty Baptist Association (related story).

A cemetery requires perpetual care. An option churches have is to set up an endowment for the upkeep of the cemetery.

Hal Bilbo, associational missionary with Stanly Baptist Association, said the former Palmerville Baptist Church is in the process of setting up an endowment (related story).

The church closed last Easter but is still putting funds towards this endowment. The former members have raised $83,000 towards a $100,000 endowment to provide for the cemetery upkeep.

For the BSC, visit or call (800) 395-5102. Visit North Carolina Baptist Foundation at or call (800) 521-7334.

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A time to die: How do (and should) churches die?
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Church renewal depends on leadership
3/23/2010 6:00:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

A time to die: How do (and should) churches die?

March 23 2010 by Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press

Churches close their doors every day. But is a church’s death inevitable? Who can give congregations permission to die? Should church members feel guilty for closing their facility’s doors?

Peter Bush, author of In Dying We are Born: The Challenge and the Hope for Congregations, believes every church must “be prepared to die” because each will die in one of two ways. Each church must die to “deeply held understandings of life and the purpose of the congregation” or it will close its doors.

Congregations are organisms, subject to an organism’s life cycle — birth, development, plateau and aging — and that cycle is inevitable, Bob Dale, author of To Dream Again, Seeds for the Future and Cultivating Perennial Churches, believes.

“Living things don’t live forever, but there are some living things that last a long, long time,” he said.

Les Robinson, vice president of interim-ministry resources for the Center for Congregational Health, also sees the cycle of life. “Churches are human institutions. Why shouldn’t they complete the same cycle?” he asked. 

Some point out the Bible reveals the pattern, as well. A kernel of wheat must die before it can produce a plant and new seeds, according to John 12:24. The verse usually is interpreted in the light of Jesus’ death. But the verse has broader application, Bush believes.

“We have tended to read that as an individual ... but I also think it applies to the corporate body,” Bush said. “The pattern of dying and rising is continual.”

Even churches important to the early Christians faced death, Glenn Akins, associate executive director for the Baptist General Association of Virginia, said. The seven churches in the New Testament book of Revelation no longer exist, he pointed out.

Causes of death
What causes a church to die? Akins believes lack of leadership and denial of decline contribute to a church’s demise. “When multiple people are involved, the church doesn’t have to die. But without adequate leadership, without wise decisions, it will die,” he said.

Change — or failure to keep pace with it — can be the major factor in church deaths.

“Churches are birthed because of a need,” noted Jim Hill, executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. “On the frontier, churches were birthed as communities sprang up. But some of those communities are gone, and that’s not the fault of the church.”

Communities often change complexion and cultural makeup. Differences in the ways cultural and age groups define the community concept also determine the type of church that will survive.

“Many churches were started with a sense of neighborhood ... a geographical community,” Akins said. “The hitch is with all the cultural changes going on, we don’t find it that way anymore.... Those (churches) that are ‘parish-based’ and have never changed their ministry model will not make it.”

Closure or revitalization
What indicators might signal a church should close or rethink its ministry? What questions might congregations ask themselves as they face change?

Churches most frequently use traditional indicators — membership numbers and weekly receipts — to determine success. Congregations should begin to ask hard questions as soon as they recognize decline, Hill insisted.

Robinson agreed that those traditional markers catch churches’ attention. “Money, membership and attendance are usually what get our attention first. Those are the practical things,” he said.

But the more abstract aspects of church life often determine whether a church should close. “We must be very clear about our mission and our vision ... who we are at this place, at this time, at this moment in history,” Robinson said.

Clarity of identity is critical, he believes, emphasizing that today’s congregations can’t hang onto the vision they had in the 1950s and ’60s. “We can’t fulfill that,” he said.

“Sometimes churches lose their identity or their clarity. Churches need to ask themselves on a regular basis to keep their identity clear. That doesn’t automatically eliminate the struggle with the practical, but it helps the congregation be able to look at their future.”

A church’s identity can be expressed in its mission, Dale said. A vibrant understanding of mission can help a congregation determine whether it should close or find a new way to move forward.

“One question churches might ask: Is our sense of calling, our sense of mission still alive in this place?” the author said.

Hill also believes congregations must focus on mission first. “Perhaps the most critical questions are: Are there people who need to be reached, and who are not being reached? Can we adapt our ministry to those who are not being reached? Can we build ministry that will help us respond to needs?” he said.

Morale is important as well, Dale noted. Churches often will do what their members “believe they can do,” he said.

Closing with hope
Members and even denominations often view church closure as failure. Baptists do not have a system in place to help churches prepare to die. “We need to do better at helping churches recognize new possibilities or to help them close,” Robinson said.

Celebration can mitigate guilt and help the congregation recognize the church’s contribution to God’s Kingdom.

“Find a time of storytelling. Sharing is the way to celebrate, to look at the ministry as having done what God called us to do,” Robinson added. “That’s success, not failure.”

Hill agreed celebration can help heal, especially if it is followed by rebirth. “Celebrate the ministry, conclude it, and then focus on birthing a church where a new one is needed,” he said.

“Bodies die, but the Body of Christ doesn’t,” Dale stressed. “It may wane in one place but will rise up in another.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brown is associate editor of the Missouri Baptist Word & Way.)  

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A time to die: How do (and should) churches die?
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3/23/2010 5:51:00 AM by Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press | with 2 comments

When churches die, can they live again?

March 23 2010 by Jim White, Associated Baptist Press

RICHMOND, Va. — One sees them occasionally. Abandoned church buildings in rural areas stand in mute witness to changing times. In urban areas, big brick structures once crowded with eager worshipers now house restaurants, community centers or even nightclubs.

Sometimes churches die. Like individuals, some may reach the end of a long and fruitful life and pass away with a sense of triumph. Others may die from years of self-destructive choices.

Every denomination in the United States has scores of churches that expect to die within a decade. No one can prevent the cultural shifts that leave behind churches unable or unwilling to adapt.

Weakened, vulnerable and sometimes paralyzed by uncertainty, membership dwindles until death seems inevitable.

Some had leaders who failed to prepare the congregations for the cultural change occurring in their midst. Other churches lacked the know-how or the resources necessary to change. Some churches simply refused to change.

Whatever the reasons for decline, once church members believe they lack the resources and energy necessary to effect a turnaround, recovery becomes almost impossible and they focus solely on survival. Unable to accept impending death as an option, church members sometimes seek someone or something to blame.

Phil Rodgerson, retired from the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, has identified classic options churches often consider when facing their own demise. Unfortunately, 58 percent of the time, the church chooses to do nothing — an approach that almost guarantees an inglorious end.

Experts insist a healthier, theologically appropriate approach is to celebrate the life the church has known, consider its options and prepare for a death that honors Christ and leaves a Kingdom legacy. When a church completes its mission and dies, members will mourn, but they also will celebrate the church’s ministry successes.

If 42 percent of declining churches want their ministries to survive, what can they do?
  • Let old dreams die and envision something new.
Born in 1907 to reach a thriving, new community in south Richmond, Va., Weatherford Memorial Baptist Church had declined terribly. By 2000, the surrounding area had changed, but the church had not. Finally, the few members who gathered weekly realized they could not continue.

“We saw what was happening, but we didn’t want to acknowledge it. We were in denial,” lamented Ruth Guill, a former member.

In 2005 Pastor Ricky Hurst, assisted by Glenn Akins, assistant executive director of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, led Weatherford to embrace an extraordinary dream. Despite offers from other churches to buy their property, the congregation voted to donate its $2 million facility to St. Paul’s Baptist Church, a rapidly growing African-American congregation in another part of the city. Weatherford’s gift enabled St. Paul’s to minister at a second site. In the three years since Weatherford Memorial became St. Paul’s South, Sunday attendance there has grown to over 500.

The desire for a lasting legacy also led Weatherford Memorial to establish an endowment for mission purposes by the Richmond Baptist Association and the Virginia Baptist Mission Board.
  • Remain, but develop a community consciousness that creates ministry opportunities.
Like many other urban congregations, First Baptist Church of Clarendon, now called simply The Church at Clarendon, in Arlington, Va., experienced stagnation and decline. In the past 30 years, resident membership dropped steadily from 871 to 236. Worship attendance, however, has begun to climb again as the congregation has embraced a new vision.

Located just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital, the Clarendon neighborhood’s property values soared in the late 1990s and early 2000s, making it nearly impossible for mid-level professionals to live where they worked. Firefighters, police officers, teachers and nurses increasingly had to commute long distances to work because they could not afford nearby housing. Church member Ellen Bartlett reports The Church at Clarendon decided to leverage the value of its property, tear down its aging facilities except for its landmark portico and steeple, and build a 10-story structure. The church will occupy the two bottom floors while the upper eight stories will provide affordable apartments with rent based on income levels.
  • Change as the community changes.
Bon Air Baptist Church, a growing congregation in Richmond, chose to use its size and strength to change as the community changes. Toward that end, Pastor Travis Collins is leading the congregation to reflect the racial and cultural makeup of the communities around its primary campus the southwestern part of the city as well as its three other locations.
  • Remain at a central location while establishing other sites for worship and ministry.
Pastor Bob Sizemore led Fairview Baptist Church, located in an older section of Fredericksburg, Va., to establish Fairview at River Club. The River Club site, led by Dee Whitten, has grown to an average attendance of 550.
  • Remain, but share the use of facilities with other churches or organizations.
Akins of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board points out that although shared use often has a community-ministry component, the motivation most often is financial. For that reason, this option postpones rather than prevents further decline.
  • Refocus.
Exercising invention and adaptability, some churches change the type of ministry they offer — shifting from a neighborhood church to a specialized ministry, for example.
  • Relocate.
Anytime a church moves, it requires church members to abandon a sacred place. Rarely can churches relocate without experiencing disunity, Akins noted.
  • Merge with another congregation.
Congregational mergers often create one slightly larger, weak church from two smaller, weak churches, Akins asserted.
  • ‘Re-church.’
The established church “goes out of business” then reopens after reorganizing and retraining. The obvious difficulty, observes Akins, is that many of the people remain the same, taking the same assumptions that failed before into the new church.

Fair-Park Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va., could see the end approaching and chose to become a different kind of church.

To avoid the attitudes and practices that led them to decline, the church turned over decision-making to a group of trustees who brought expertise from outside the congregation. The trustees constituted the Convergence Church, specializing in ministry to Alexandria’s sizeable arts community. Led by Lisa Hawkins and a leadership team she put together, the new church is gaining numbers and vitality.

Another version of this option occurs when a church gives itself to a stronger, larger church whose members fill key leadership positions. This approach can change the DNA of the new church.
  • Simply disband.
Akins challenges churches to engage in ongoing assessment of their success within their cultural settings. He points out that every church faces many internal and external circumstances beyond its control. Church members die or move away. Businesses shut down, neighborhoods change and buildings age.

But churches can control the way they live out their faith, their worship styles and their responses to circumstances that lie beyond their control.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — White is editor of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald.)

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3/23/2010 5:40:00 AM by Jim White, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Church renewal depends on leadership

March 23 2010 by Jim White, Associated Baptist Press

FALLS CHURCH, Va. — Jim Baucom, pastor of Columbia Baptist Church in Falls Church, Va., has helped lead three established congregations to renewal and growth. He says doing the same thing in other churches, while not easy, is possible — with the combination of factors.

“I think it should be said that growing a church to relevance and vitality from near-death is an extremely rare incidence that requires a confluence of ‘favorable conditions,’” he said. What are those conditions?

Emphasizing that there is no magic formula, Baucom said he believes that certain transferable principles may guide a congregation in transition from hopelessness to new vision and new vitality. The transition begins with leadership.
  • A ‘change agent’
“A new leader is an absolute necessity, and that leader must be a change agent,” he said — noting that a change agent heightens the crisis in order to heal the system, much as chemotherapy temporarily sickens the patient but destroys the cancer. The pastoral change agent uses the crisis to implement necessary changes — small at first, then larger. These changes eventually create a cultural shift in the attitudes and expectations of the congregation.

“Once the church family becomes convinced that it can be effective again, and the first small waves of growth begin to generate excitement, something of a snowball effect is generated. Over time, the new growth overwhelms the old system as those who enter the ‘new church’ live out the new mission without the fear created by previous failures they never even knew. In other words, as new members are added, the church becomes the church they believe they joined.

Of course, he cautioned: “Inevitably, a few of the traditional members will leave the church.”
  • Inwardly secure
To move a congregation from self-absorption to having a missional focus and confidence in the future, the pastor must be “more committed to being relevant and effective than being universally liked,” Baucom said. “A portion of the traditional constituency of the declining church would rather see their church die than change (though they would never say so). Dramatically declining churches typically become unhealthy in ways most members cannot understand.” Churches that experience lengthy decline begin to panic about the future. They turn inward and develop a survival mentality that reduces the church’s ability to functional effectively, he said.

Decisions such churches make tend to meet the members’ needs but do little if anything to share the gospel with others. “Most leaders console and comfort such a system, engaging in hospice care that eases the suffering but limits the possibility of restored vigor,” Baucom contended.
  • Relational
Tremendous relational work is necessary to keep those who choose to remain on board. Although they may resist change initially, they are generally thrilled to see their church thrive and excited to be part of the journey when they witness successes.

“Some of those who remain may be unhappy with facets of the new church, but their voices are drowned out by the vast majority of people who are thrilled with the new direction, especially if they believe that the new thing is built on the foundation of the old,” Baucom advises. “For this to happen, the new leader must begin his or her work by helping the traditional church clearly define its core values and competencies. New ministries are created as extensions of old values, and in a very real sense the church simply does much better what it has done well in the past, casting itself into a new era to reach new generations.”
  • Patient
“In a real sense, the work of turning a church around is not one movement, but many smaller ‘shifts,’ each of which is ‘set’ by intentional periods of rest. The church moves forward, then rests; then moves again, then rests, again and again,” Baucom said.

At each stage of its growth, such a church pauses briefly to allow the change to gel. “To most, this feels like one constant and rapid push forward, but the leader instinctively freezes the system after each primary shift before prompting the congregation to initiate new changes. This is a careful balancing act,” Baucom cautioned. “If the leader moves too quickly, he or she will cut himself or herself away from the body. The most likely response to systemic change, by far, is to remove the change agent.

“If the leader pauses too long between change phases, the system becomes complacent and stuck, especially once the initial threat of congregational death has passed and the change platform has cooled,” he continued.

Baucom said many would-be change agents “become too patient or too exhausted and either leap from the change platform or lie down upon it. Either response short-circuits the change cycle and ends the turnaround.”
  • Confident
“I think it goes without saying that the change-agent must have a certain charisma and a degree of confidence tempered by humility and love for people,” Baucom said. “Over time, the congregation begins to trust the change agent implicitly IF the people believe that the leader has the church’s best interest at heart consistently, follows God unflinchingly, and loves the people unfailingly.”
  • Aware of own limitations
“Along the way, the leader must also draw around himself or herself gifted, selfless and spiritually mature leaders (or disciple such leaders himself or herself) who can implement the change he or she envisions. I say this, because the change agent is almost always a visionary communicator with limited ability to translate change into programs and ministries without the assistance of a platoon of gifted administrators and ministers. The leader must know his or her own limitations and interdependence with others in order to be effective long-term.”
  • Love for the church
“What made me uniquely qualified for turnaround was vision, energy, charisma, communication skills, and an intense love for people grounded in the traditional church. Because I loved the old thing and had a certain set of leadership skills, I could lead the turnaround,” he said. “I do not discount, even a little, what it means to be the son of a successful traditional-church pastor nurtured in the heart of great traditional churches any more than I do my enthusiasm for entrepreneurial creation of new things. In our context, the turnaround pastor must have both in equal measure.”

Another factor affecting the ability to turn around a declining church is the number of new, vibrant churches that have emerged in the area. The greater the number of exciting, effective, ministry-oriented churches in the area, the more difficult the turnaround will be.

“All that said,” Baucom concluded, “there is no joy like turnaround leadership, in my book. And there is no leader loved so much, trusted so thoroughly and embraced so quickly as the proven, successful change agent. Turnaround pastors become cemented into their church systems like no other leaders, save perhaps the founding pastors of new churches.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE — White is editor of the Virginia Baptist Religious Herald.) 

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3/23/2010 5:34:00 AM by Jim White, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments

Saying good-bye to church hard

March 22 2010 by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor

Heart-wrenching. Tortuous. Painful.

There are probably more adjectives to describe Pat Moore’s grief over the loss of her church in Winston-Salem, but she is definitely still struggling with the loss of the only church she’s ever known.

“I’ve gone there all my life and it’s been very hurtful,” said Moore of Temple Baptist Church. “We had no other choice.”

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

Church members have to consider what to do with property and other assets during dissolution process.

The church closed its doors at the beginning of December. They were down to three members and had been renting a building.

“Most of our members have passed on,” said Moore, who had been the church’s clerk and pianist.

Moore’s grandmother was a charter member. Her mother was also a member and had been carrying Moore to church since she was three weeks old.

“It’s been sad,” she said. “It’s been very hard for me to take.”

The pastor, Robert Blackburn, 85, lost his wife last summer, and was himself hospitalized in late December.

Moore said several members had died in the last couple of years leaving them with Blackburn, Moore and her husband. She had played with the organist at the church a long time. She passed away too.

“That was a big blow,” said Moore. “It was just one thing after another. We have been praying about what to do.”

Pilot Mountain Baptist Association’s Associational Missionary Jim Pollard helped them with the dissolution process. 

Pollard preached a message in early November from Ecclesiastes about “a time and a season,” said Moore.

She distinctly remembers him saying, “Maybe this church has done all it came here to do.”

Moore said they mailed a letter to everyone currently on the role in November for a meeting at the end of the month to voice opinions.

“No one showed up except the ones who had been coming,” Moore said.

The church donated items to a local mission and is finalizing all the bills. Everything left will be going to Pilot Mountain Baptist Association.

“The only reason they hung on this long” was Moore, Pollard said. “She just didn’t want to see it die. With tears in their eyes as we talked about it, I said let’s celebrate the victories. Let’s talk about the history and rejoice in those things.”

Pollard, who has been associational missionary for three years, said he’s seen church closures several times and believes it will happen again soon.

“There are a number of churches that are facing this reality,” he said. “If the ’60s ever comes back I’ve got some churches that are ready.”

BR photo by Dianna L. Cagle

Some churches sell buildings and rent space putting off an inevitable future closing. Others choose to merge with a church plant in hopes of survival.

There are several causes of church closures. Sometimes it might be as simple as an event like a leaky roof or a busted heating unit.

“They don’t have money to fix it,” Pollard said, “and they don’t know what to do. Something that will cost thousands of dollars to fix will force a church to close.”

Another reason is having a very small number of members. Pollard said that Temple waited until they were down to three active members before seeking help. Pollard chose the Sunday he preached to share about the “time and great purpose for your church for many years” and urged them to “decide whether they want to leave a legacy” and “try to find a way to end gracefully.”

Pollard encourages churches to include a dissolution clause in their articles and bylaws to help in case it ever happens. If the church is incorporated, any assets must be given to non-profit organizations. Some choose to donate directly to the organization like the Baptist Children’s Home of North Carolina, the Biblical Recorder or another church. Others leave endowments, which can be managed by the North Carolina Baptist Foundation.

Pollard said he is working with Forest Hill Baptist Church in Winston-Salem to either move toward closing or form a partnership with a group planting a church in the area. Forest Hill has less than 30 active members.

“I’m trying to help them find a way to gradually ease into this,” Pollard said.

The new church is contemporary and aimed at people in their 20s and 30s. “As they begin to grow and the other church continues to decline, they will have someone to hand the baton to,” he said.

Westview Baptist Church dissolved last year, Pollard said. The members gave the building to a non-profit senior citizens group and divided the leftover cash among several organizations.

Westview was experiencing low numbers, and the members realized they couldn’t take care of the building.

“Some churches refuse to open doors to community,” he said. “A lot of it depends on the attitude of people there. People get more nervous and get less willing in dealing with people who aren’t like them. We have other (churches) as well that in the next five years they won’t be here.”

When churches try to stay in the community and reach the changing population, Pollard calls that the exception and not the rule.

“It’s very difficult for them,” he said. “Sometimes churches give the keys (to him) and say do something with this. We’ll go in and start a different kind of church. They could have done this all along but they just refused.”

Pollard said Pilot Mountain has started five churches since he’s been associational missionary. One church started another campus. Two predominately white churches should be starting up soon and a group from Florida is planting a church. Another group from South Carolina is partnering with Forest Hills. They will be arriving in May.

“It should be an exciting thing to see,” Pollard said. He said this trend is seen more in the city.

“Where cities have changed and populations have changed I think we’re going to see an awful lot of this,” he said.

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3/22/2010 8:13:00 AM by Dianna L. Cagle, BR Assistant Managing Editor | with 0 comments

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