By Keith Collier/Southern Baptist TEXAN
KANSAS CITY, MO (BP) — State convention leaders from across the country gathered to discuss and strategize for revitalizing plateaued and declining Southern Baptist churches.
This marked the fourth year for the state revitalization network meeting, which was held March 20-21 at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO.
Gary Mathes, who leads church revitalization efforts for the Missouri Baptist Convention, told the TEXAN the goal of the meeting was to discuss “how [Southern Baptists] might be more effective in the work of helping struggling churches become vibrant, healthy, gospel-centric, kingdom-expanding congregations once again.”
“To that end,” Mathes said, “we share best practices in the work we do within our respective states, discuss common issues we all face, and collaborate on solutions we can offer to churches that call on us for help.”
One of the key matters addressed during the meeting was agreement on definitions for “revitalization” and “replanting” so leaders and churches are on the same page, Mathes noted.
They defined church revitalization as “The supernatural work of God that restores health in a church, evidenced by submission to God’s Word, right relationships among members, and a renewed commitment to Great Commission ministry.”
Reinforcing a cooperative spirit
Their definition for church replanting is “The process in which members of a church discern God’s leadership to dissolve their current ministry and work with other churches or denominational bodies to begin a new church for a new season of ministry in their community.”
The leadership team from the states is based on regions: Steve Rice of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (South), Randy Millwood of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (North), Gary Mathes of the Missouri Baptist Convention (Midwest), Darwin Meighan of the Nevada Baptist Convention (West), and Kenneth Priest of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (Southwest).
Priest described the group as “a network of state conventions, but all of us have a heart to help the local church. If what one state is doing can help another state, we want to be a part of that and share that process.”
Rodney Harrison, dean of post-graduate studies at Midwestern Seminary, served as the host representative for the meeting and led a plenary session on Charles Spurgeon’s strategy for church revitalization.
Harrison, who teaches in both of Midwestern’s doctoral degrees on revitalization, noted the seminary’s interest in the topic as well as the number of state leaders who graduated from the school with the doctor of ministry in church revitalization.
“The conference reinforced the cooperative spirit of Southern Baptists as being open and willing to learn from one another with regard to how can we best help struggling churches,” Harrison told the TEXAN, adding that the meeting “demonstrates the [state] conventions not only care, [but] they have a plan to serve and support the local church.”
An issue being taken seriously
Joining Harrison as presenters at the meeting were John Mark Yeats, dean of Midwestern College; Mark Clifton, senior director of the North American Mission Board’s replant team; as well as several state convention leaders and associational directors of missions.
Clifton told the TEXAN he was “extremely encouraged” by the meeting because “state conventions are taking seriously the issue of declining and dying churches” and willing to work together.
“At no time in our recent history has our overall convention been so focused on creating systems and strategies to rescue dying churches,” Clifton said. “More recently we spent a great deal of time creating systems and strategies to plant churches. And that’s well and good. But when the SBC plants 1,200 churches a year and closes 900 churches a year, the net gain is only 300 churches. That does not even come close to keeping up with the church-to-population ratio.”
Of those 900 churches that close each year, he said, “over 77 percent are in cities larger than 100,000 people. And the vast majority of those churches are older than 10 years of age. In other words, it’s not new church plants that were closing. Nor is it churches within communities that are declining. The majority of churches that are closing are in communities that are growing and within our cities.”
NAMB has created resources to help churches and conventions, including books, training, video series, events, assessments, blogs and cohorts, Clifton noted. Pastors and churches interested in more information about these resources can visit churchreplanters.com.