Index Magazine: Parr’s vision for Gwinnett Metro Baptist Network could be implemented anywhere


LILBURN, GA – Johnny Mercer, the songwriter went to church and heard a sermon that contained the words, “You got to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative.”  The phase inspired Mercer to write the lyrics to the song Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive in 1944.

The song is sung in the style of a sermon and explains that focusing on the positive produces joy. The lyrics are arguably true experientially, if not theologically. It was nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Original Song in 1945 after being used in the film Here Come the Waves.

Steve Parr, executive director of the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Network, is seeking to accentuate the positive in his association of 144 churches. His network of churches is ethnically and culturally diverse and actually has more churches than 8 of Southern Baptists’ state conventions.

Membership in the Southern Baptist Convention has been declining for several years and LifeWay Research recently reported: “Overall, 18.5% of Southern Baptist Churches are growing, 42.5% are plateaued and 39% are declining.”

In the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Network Parr’s analysis of the churches revealed that 36% are growing (twice the national average), 33% are plateaued, and 31% are declining.

Parr is intent on reversing the notion that plateaued and declining churches cannot be revived and energized to experience growth again. He has done an extensive study on how thriving and struggling churches differ; and he is committed to helping the pastors and churches in his network find a way to overcome the status quo and begin to prosper and flourish again.

One of the principles derived from his evaluation of the churches is that “the leader is not one who does everything. He is the one that sees that everything gets done.”

To explain his principle, he initiated a hypothetical case saying, “Suppose we discovered that the three things that distinguish thriving churches are clean carpets, a text (contact) within six hours of a guest visiting the church, and prayer gatherings specifically on Thursdays.”

To that theoretical or supposed scenario Parr offered three potential solutions: (1) as pastor, you could start vacuuming, sending out more texts and start a Thursday night prayer time adding to your work load, (2) you could assign the tasks to staff if you lead a large congregation, or (3) you could prayerfully seek out three people, give them one of the tasks, ask them to form a team for the purpose of implementation, and meet with them every other month to track progress and improve their process.

Parr concluded from his research and communication with the Network pastors that growing churches have ten distinctions that enable them to thrive. They are listed here in order of prevalence from 10-1.

10. Thriving churches have “organized” guest services and register guests and are three times more likely to use QR Codes or electronic options.

9. Thriving churches have small group Bible studies and tend to offer Sunday morning and weekday learning opportunities

8. Thriving churches focus on Sunday guests by preparing for them, getting them there, and creating a welcoming environment for them.

7. Thriving churches equip members to share the Gospel. They may not train them twelve months a year, but they do not let twelve months go by without training them.

6. Thriving churches equip their small group leaders. The average for them was five training session a year. Ephesians 4:11-12 seems to imply that “equipping” in the church is assumed.

5. Thriving churches intentionally focus on the next generation. Growing churches must be multicultural, multi-ethnic, and multigenerational.

4. Thriving churches pray for the lost by name. Praying for the lost generally rather than specifically often minimizes the responsibility of adding a personal witness to the prayer.

3. Thriving churches leverage summer opportunities to reach kids and families. Vacation Bible School, student encampments, etc. can be used to reach lost children and their parents.

2. Thriving churches have a community focus. Churches must have a vision for reaching the unreached in their neighborhood or community.

1. Thriving churches have systems for following up on guests. They are community focused, and the members are equipped to share the Gospel. Many guests may be loved into the church with the proper kind of attention and loving witness.

The number of churches that are plateaued and declining would likely never die if the members would take seriously the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 seriously.

What Steve Parr is doing in the Gwinnett Metro Baptist Network is showing pastors and churches the positive things that are working in thriving churches, sprinkling that with love, grace, and a good dose of Gospel preaching and witnessing; and at the same time, he is trying to eliminate the negative forces of doubt and the existing conditions of stagnation and loss. If our churches in Georgia and around the nation would ever catch on to what he is proposing the churches that are only surviving could conceivably become churches that are thriving.