“In the last three years, the shift has been staggering: 435,000 lost in 2020; 410,000 in 2021; and then 484,000 in 2022. In total, the [Southern Baptist Convention] has lost more than 1.3 million people in just three years,” notes Ryan Burge, pastor of First Baptist Church Mt. Vernon, Illinois, and author of “The Nones: Where They Came From, Who They Are, And Where They Are Going.”
The North American Mission Board is working to help combat these statistics from the Gospel Coalition’s report for May 2023 through its church replant division that specializes in providing resources and encouragement for those planting new churches or revitalizing older ones.
One of these resources was the Revive Summit, held Sept. 12–13 at Hope Community Church in Birmingham, Alabama.
Mark Clifton, senior director of replanting for NAMB, summed it up, saying, “It’s not a how-to conference; it’s a look-to conference.”
The first speaker for the conference was Richard Blackaby, president of Blackaby Ministries International. He described the experiences of his father, Henry Blackaby, pastor, author of “Experiencing God” and church revitalizer.
One church where Richard’s father was pastor wanted to keep its community — prostitutes, drug dealers and gang members — out. He helped them realize that only through bringing the community into the church would it flourish.
Richard’s father heard about another church with only 10 people. Many thought that he shouldn’t waste his time, that the church needed to die anyway. Not believing that any church “needed to die,” he and his family moved and started over again.
A different mindset
Richard Blackaby grew up with this mindset. He knows the struggles firsthand. He learned from a young age that “you become a great man or woman of God in the hard places.”
He encouraged focusing on possibilities, not on problems.
“If you’ve got God in your church, you have everything you need,” he said.
“Don’t apologize for what you don’t have. Look at who you serve. Serve Him like He’s the awesome living Lord of the universe,” Blackaby said.
Other sessions included:
— Joseph R. Crider, dean of the School of Church Music and Worship and professor of church music and worship at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, led worship and spoke. He highlighted that “Christian worship is about the relationship,” and pointed out that God didn’t call Christians to gather around the music. Services need to be focused on the Word of God, not the music or a personality, noting the danger of equating being moved by a song instead of being moved by the Spirit.
— Frank Lewis, revitalization pastor of Tusculum Hills Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee, shared three practical points about jars of clay — that God brings glory to Himself through the treasure inside, that our response is gratitude and that even Paul had critics and enemies and was subject to physical and emotional issues. Remembering that jars of clay are breakable, clergy self-care is a spiritual discipline that can’t be ignored.
— Bob Bickford, associate director of replanting for NAMB, relayed that Clifton said to expect “significant spiritual attack and deep, dark depression” when leading small, dying churches. He ignored this warning and was diagnosed with clinical depression. However, he learned that even in suffering, God is present and powerful. The good news is suffering is for a season and “in the middle of great struggle comes great comfort.”
— Mark Clifton spoke on the diagnosis of a dying church. He said that many leaders of dying churches will ask, “What is a good program to add?” or “How do I find a great personality to hire?” or “Should I add a youth ministry?” However, what is needed is for the remaining members to show they care about the youth, not simply to add youth activities. They shouldn’t resent the community for not coming to church; they need to love the community because of Christ.
— JimBo Stewart, replant specialist for NAMB, noted that dying churches are not just a pastor problem, a strategy problem, a leadership problem, a culture problem or a generational problem. It’s primarily a spiritual problem. He also said that “we confuse caring for the organization with caring for the body.”
For more information about church revitalization and church health, go to https://namb.net/church-replanting/.
- “Flickering Lamps: Christ and His Church” by Henry & Richard Blackaby; Blackaby Ministries International 2015
- “Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches” by Mark Clifton; B&H Publishing 2023
- “Return to Me: God’s Plea and Promise to His Church” by Claude V King; Lifeway Press 2020
- “Pastoral Friendship: The Forgotten Piece to a Persevering Ministry” by Michael A G Hayden, Brian Croft, and James B Carroll; Christian Focus Publications 2022
- “Rhythms: Finding a Biblical Rhythm Moving from Surviving to Thriving in Ministry” by Pastor Andy Addis; AddiMedia 2023
- “Come to the Lord’s Table: A 28-Day Devotional Guide” by Claude King, Andrew Murray; Lifeway Press 2006
- “On Preaching: Personal and Pastoral Insights for the Preparation and Practice of Preaching” by H.B. Charles Jr.; Moody Publishing 2014
- “What Your Pastor Wishes You Knew” by Chris Crain; BMBA 2022
- “God is Not Done: How Any Church Can Find Purpose Through Revitalization” by Josh Cook; BMBA 2022
- “Baptist Beliefs” by E.Y. Mullins, edited by Chris Crain; BMBA 2023