Another huge turn around on a property gifted to a healthy church from a church struggling to stay alive. Fellowship Church on Airline, planter/pastor Todd Blount, was gifted Immanuel Baptist Church on Airline Dr. in Gonzalez. Immanuel last reported 15 in worship. Fellowship has had between 130 & 175 since moving onto the property. Fellowship plans to construct a new building on the property later this year with the help of the Mission Builder Program (https://louisianabaptists.org/missionbuilder).
This makes at least NINE huge turn arounds in Louisiana through church mergers or gifting of properties in the last few years. At least three more in the works this year.
- Is your church struggling to maintain healthy systems? Would merging or gifting your property be a good option for your community?
- Is your church ready to multiply? Are you in a place where you could merge or take on an additional campus?
A few resources to help with these conversations:
Many churches are experiencing dwindling numbers, changing communities, & the need for drastic change. Sometimes the picture gets so dim that the remaining faithful are forced to make hard decisions about the future of their church. Here’s a spectrum of scenarios that can bear fruit for the kingdom when a church can’t go on as it is.
1. Closing the Doors, for Now
All living things have life cycles & we should not see churches as an exception. Closing the doors of the church often is seen as a failure, but it shouldn’t be. In reality, it’s having the courage to recognize that the life cycle of the current ministry has run its course & it’s time for God to use His kingdom resources in a different way. And remember, God sees death differently than we do (Psalm 116:15; John 12:24). With God, death is never final. And when a church decides to close the doors, the resources will be utilized to birth something new and the legacy of the former members who made that hard decision will be alive forever. This may be the best scenario for a church if the area has experienced considerable population decline & the location may no longer be viable for a church.
2. Replanting the Church
Planting a new church is an exciting venture that begins with a church planter & a core group or launch team seeking God’s will & dreaming of reaching new people for Christ & then designing ministry with the community in mind. So replanting would mean taking a step back to core group or launch team phase & re-dreaming & redesigning with a fresh look at how to reach the community. Most likely, one of the reasons for the decline of the church is the lack of fresh vision & ideas for reaching the lost. As church plants often begin with a sending or sponsoring church & infused resources from the denomination & association, there may be opportunity for a replant to develop these partnerships as well. This may be the best scenario for a church that still has some financial means & people who are willing & able to restore the systems of the church with the help of partners.
3. Merging with a Healthy Congregation
The scenario that is gaining the quickest turnarounds in Louisiana is the merger of a declining church with a healthy, growing congregation. In this scenario, the church in decline essentially gifts its building(s), assets, & autonomy to the growing congregation, who then multiplies their healthy DNA & church systems onto the property. We’ve seen churches with a dozen attenders reaching hundreds within one year as a result of a congregational merger. And, in many cases, remaining members of the declining congregation stay on, faithfully serve, & enjoy seeing the fruits of their giving & sacrifices over the years, increased in fruitful ministry to new generations. Without a doubt, the decision to move your church toward drastic changes like these will not be easy. Don’t think of it as the end, but as the decision to extend the influence & legacy of your church for future generations. How do we begin the process:
- Pray & ask God for wisdom & direction as you seek what’s best for the future of your church & the community.
- Contact your local Director of Missions for help with next steps, legal issues, & potential partners.
Check out some of my other posts that may help on your revitalization journey:
- Do We Need A Church Revitalization Plan?
- Tools for Revitalization: Church Systems Analysis
- Scenarios for Church Revitalization: Diagnosis
- Scenarios for Church Revitalization: Restructure or Restart
- Scenarios for Church Revitalization: Refocus and Re-Energize
- The Solution for Church Health and Revitalization
- 5 Attributes of a Church in Decline
- Revitalization Story: The Grove
- Church Revitalization: Merging & Multisite
“a lot of change… that’s all nothing compared to the fact that you’re saving lost souls”
~ from a member of a church revitalization project
Broussard Grove Baptist Church had experienced an 80% decline in attendance in less than 10 years in one of the fastest growing parishes in Louisiana. They were struggling to keep systems alive in their congregation. Interim Pastor Larry Badon reached out to a sister congregation, Istrouma Baptist Church, for help. Istrouma adopted Broussard Grove a Multi-Site Campus Development, brought in a Campus Pastor / Church Planter, changed the name to The Grove, aligned ministries with to reach the community. Now, two years later, the congregation has experienced a 60% turn around in attendance & are seeing new people follow Christ. See the story for yourself:
Interested in Church Revitalization?
Interested in Multisite?
Got to sit down last week with leaders from First Baptist Church West Monroe & The Way Church in Denham Springs & talk about their successful Church Revitalization endeavors over the last few years.
Fairbanks Baptist Church in Sterlington, LA, had a history of decline & was struggling to keep systems running in the life of their church. They reached out to First West & First West accepted the challenge of helping them revi through merging. Fairbanks Baptist became First West Fairbanks. A Campus Pastor was chosen to restart the work. Today, 250+ worship where 3 years ago there were 20.
Calvary Baptist Church in Denham Springs, LA, had a history of decline & was struggling to keep systems running in the life of their church. The Way Church was in their third year as a church plant & had baptized over 100 in three years by successfully reaching unchurched young adults in the same community. However, the Way Church was paying very high rent & began looking for other facility options. Their Associational Director of Missions connected Calvary & the Way & they began exploring the possibilities of merging. Calvary officially closed its doors in the Fall of 2014 & the Way took over the property & today 300+ are worshipping each Sunday, where last year there were only 20.
As I listened to First West (Pastor Michael Wood, Global Mission Pastor Mark Fenn, & Campus Pastor Chad Merrell) & the Way (Scott Cheatham) tell their respective stories, I wrote down 9 Keys to a Successful Church Revi Transition that includes Merging & Multisite:
1) Healthy Church Life & Multiplication Happening. Both First West & The Way were growing, multiplying leaders & groups. Healthy systems were in place & functioning at both churches.
2) Healthy Relational Networking Among Churches in the Community. Both First West & The Way are involved in their local Associations & relationships laid a foundation for the development of merger talks. The Way Church had even began hosting a quarterly community worship experience where they first met the pastor of Calvary & conversations were initiated.
3) Realization of Need by Declining Congregation. Both Fairbanks Baptist & Calvary Baptist had reached a point where they were willing to admit their need of help from the outside. For most congregations this will probably come in the form of financial struggles. Many will be faced with a loss of pastoral leadership. But something happens to initiate the idea that help is needed.
4) A Healthy Mediator. In both scenarios a healthy mediator began the conversation of merging. For Fairbanks, a Deacon at First West was good friends with some of their leaders & they ask him if First West would be willing to help. For Calvary & the Way, David Brown, the Director of Missions in the area served as a healthy mediator beginning & walking through the details with the congregations.
5) Everybody Seeking God’s Will & the Good of the Community. There had to be a declaration by all parties that we’re not seeking our own will, but God’s & the good of the lost community around us.
6) Defining Terms. There had to be a moment where hard realities were laid out & hard decisions made. In these scenarios, the older congregations had to come to understand that nothing would stay the same & it was time for their congregations to die that something new may be birthed for the good of the Kingdom.
7) Accepting Responsibility. These transitions WILL NOT be easy or cheap. Both First West & the Way said you can expect it to be costly. Broken systems can create some messy situations with taxes & debt & building needs. Jim Tomberlin with Multisite Solutions says you can expect to pay about $250,000. Both First West & The Way spent that in the transition period.
8) The Right People at the Right Time. Everything rises & falls on leadership. The Way Church was blessed to have Scott Cheatham, who had a business background & knew the right steps to take to raise money, get the property legal, & assure the Calvary faithful few that their church would be in good hands. First West also had a businessman, Chad Merrell, who knew how to build great relationships & solve problems. These were the right people at the right time.
9) Keep the Good, Retire the Bad. Fairbanks Baptist had 70+ kids coming on Wednesday night for a Kids program. Chad Merrell made the healthy decision to keep that ministry going. At the same time, they held services off campus at the High School for a season, to increase their capacity for attendance & build relationships with the community. Moving back to the campus of Fairbanks meant they moved back into the gym, because the worship center was too small.
Merging & Multisite is one healthy scenario for churches in need of revitalization. These 9 characteristics of a healthy transition may help guide you through a process with a partnering church.
What would you add or take away from this list?
Got to hear Church Growth & Revitalization guru Gary McIntosh share some wisdom at last week’s Louisiana Baptist Convention Evangelism Conference in Shreveport. Gary likened church to Newton’s first law of motion: A body at rest tends to stay at rest, unless… A body at motion, tends to stay in motion, unless… It’s a good challenge for churches to be intentional & here’s some things that Dr. McIntosh believes that growing churches intentionally do to get or stay moving toward growth:
7 Best Practices of Churches in Motion:
- Put a greater emphasis on prayer.
- Teach & preach the Bible with authority. Preach it & live it!
- Define reality for the church & community.
- Take responsibility for making disciples.
- Make hard decisions. (i.e. Closing ineffective ministries, let staff go, realign finances, dealing w/sine, etc.)
- Refocus ministry on the unchurched in the community.
- Start new ministries.
Simple list of things that can be acted upon this week.
Check out some of Dr. McIntosh’s helpful books on Church Growth & Health & Revitalization here.
Congrats to The Way Church of Denham Springs on the grand opening of their new building. The Way is in their 3rd year as a church plant & have already baptized over 100! AND they are already serving as a primary sponsor for a new church in a neighboring community! Grateful for Planters Scott Cheatham & Josh Spinks.
The new location of The Way was formerly Calvary Baptist Church. As the Way grew, Calvary continued to face severe decline. David Brown, Director of Missions for the Eastern LA Baptist Association, led the two to begin to converse about merging. Zoar Baptist Church, North American Mission Board (NAMB) Legacy Church Program, Louisiana Baptists Georgia Barnette State Mission Offering each contributed to the remodeling. Look fwd to seeing what God does through the Way Church in the future!
Church planting is about BEFORE AND AFTER. The after affect should be lives changed & God’s kingdom expanding. And that’s what we see in Denham Springs because of the starting of a new church focused on evangelism & the decision of an existing church facing decline, to die to themselves so the kingdom can grow.
Sunday night two churches connected that are on the opposite sides of a couple of church growth barriers. The church that’s broken those barriers was Bedico Baptist Church. Located in a fairly remote, rural area on Hwy 22 between Ponchatoula & Madisonville, LA, the church has grown from 27 to near 400 in regular attendance in about 15 years. Last night three lay leaders from Bedico got together to share what they thought were keys to breaking growth barriers & growing a rural church beyond expectations. Here’s what they said were the keys:
- Prayer & Faith.
- Putting the needs of the unchurched ahead of our own.
- Intentional processes for developing people.
I’ll add a couple of keys from personal involvement & observations with Bedico:
- Increased Missions Involvement.
- A Culture of Yes.
Prayer & Faith
When asked what was the number one key to growth, the answer was PRAYER. Glenn Sanchez, retired school teacher who ended up serving on staff with Bedico, said the most important thing that happened was starting a prayer partner ministry that got people praying together for the spiritual needs of the church & community. He said, “When we involve God, we get what God can do, not just what we can do.”
Margaret Wedgeworth came to the church in 1970 & served as a leader during several stages of growth, talked about how many issues came up that there was no human answer for, but God provided when people prayed.
Caleb Miller, who was 10 when he came to the church & now serves as Youth Minister, also said that from a young age he saw how important prayer was to the ministry of the church.
Putting the needs of the unchurched ahead of our own
Margaret Wedgeworth said that she remembered a meeting where the former Pastor Leo Miller, said to the church, “If we’re going to reach this community, we’ve got to look past what people wear, look like, & the color of their skin.” She said she believes that was the point when Bedico began to grow. The condition of the heart & soul became more important to the church than outward appearance.
According to Sanchez, the church put a real emphasis on the unchurched. The clear mission of reaching unchurched people for Christ became a filter for decisions & event planning. Some church events were even moved off site just because unchurched people might not attend if it was at the church. Members were challenged to host home Bible Studies not inviting friends at church but unchurched neighbors, friends, & relatives. Then when they came, not feed them coffee & cookies, but steak & fried fish.
Bedico also had the goal of becoming known in the community. The church is in a fairly remote area & many people didn’t pass by so to become known they focused on community outreach. At one point the church sent out postcards to the community asking if they needed any repairs on their homes. Hundreds of members served specific needs of the community. They conducted Block Parties, Crawfish Boils at members homes & local community centers, etc. “When we got out, people began to come in” said Sanchez.
Intentional Processes to Develop People
Margaret Wedgeworth recalled intentional efforts to connect with guest & people in need in the community through sending cards & praying for them. The church also started a New Members Class & a Meet Bedico Baptist Church Info Meeting to introduce church life & membership to those new to church. The church restructured internally from committees to ministry teams that were focused on getting everyone involved. Sanchez said, “When we were able to get people connected with a small group & a ministry team, we found they stayed with us for the long haul.”
Leaders also emphasized daily quiet times as a part of growing the church. Intentional effort was made to reach new people & then help them grow.
A few other things I’ve noted as keys to growth as I’ve been a part of Bedico’s story over the past 4 years:
- Increased Mission Involvement. In 1997 & before, the church reported on it Annual Church Profile a big zero under mission involvement. Beginning in 2002, that began to change. In 2002, 40 people participated in missions. In 2007, 68 participated in missions & in 2010, 136 participated in missions. Along with an increase in missions participation, Bedico sent out 12 people & over $60,000 to start a new church in a neighboring community.
- A Culture of Yes. I can say that I’ve experienced a “can do” spirit from the people of Bedico Baptist Church. As a congregation they see the possibilities, they’re not afraid to make sacrifices & face challenges. And over the past few years, I’ve asked some crazy questions: “Can I borrow 100 tables?” – “Can you house 100 volunteers in your SS rooms?” – “Can we park four trailers in your parking lot?” & more, but have always gotten, “Yes, we can do that!”
Today Bedico is working on breaking the 400 Growth Barrier but continue to reach unchurched people in their remote community. In a state where 82% of the churches are 125 & below, we need more breakout stories like Bedico’s if we’ll continue to push back the darkness into the next generation.
What have been keys to growth at your church? Does your church have prayer, reaching the unchurched, & intentional discipleship as part of its makeup? Growth takes intentionality.
I like this line of thinking. Just like the human body stays healthy because of healthy systems – respiratory, nervous, digestive, skeletal, etc., a church needs healthy systems to stay healthy. Here’s an Assessment tool we’ve developed to help a church leadership team assess its systems. Get Nelson Searcy’s book on systems here.
ChurchSystemsAnalysis – PDF Download
With over 70-80% of churches plateaued and declining, church revitalization must be a major topic of conversation for church leaders and strategists. In the next few posts, I’ll share the strategy we are working on with the Northshore Baptist Association. Everyone working on revitalization should be indebted to Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson for their great book Comeback Churches. One of my top gleanings from the book is the diagnostic tool for assessing a congregations needs:
This image gets even those most entrenched in the attitude “we’re fine the way we are” thinking about the need to change. Great tool to help churches diagnose their need for revitalization.
The next question is – How? How do we refocus? re-energize? Restructure? Restart?