The story still haunts Milton A. Hollifield Jr. to this day.
It came from an illustration during a sermon Hollifield heard preached years ago by former Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) President Jim Henry. Henry told of a time when he was visiting another city to preach. While there, Henry noticed a church in the distance that appeared to be closed down.
Curious, Henry went closer. The church’s doors were indeed closed, and a sign hung on the boarded-up door. Again, Henry went closer.
“Closed,” the sign read. “Gone out of business. Forgot what the business was.”
Hollifield, executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), hopes the formation of a new team at the convention will help other churches avoid a similar fate.
The goal of the new church health and revitalization team is to help struggling churches become vibrant congregations that are focused on the mission of God. Hollifield announced the new team during his report to messengers at this year’s BSC Annual Meeting in Greensboro, following approval by the Executive Committee of the BSC Board of Directors.
“We’re trying to help churches understand what the business is all about – reaching and discipling people,” Hollifield said.
“I’m very excited about this team and how churches are going to be helped with the people that we will have working across the state.”
Brian Upshaw, who recently led the BSC’s disciple-making team, became the team leader for the new team Dec. 1. Upshaw will work with a team of contract workers throughout the state who will work with individual churches in revitalization efforts.
“I believe church revitalization is critical to the mission of God,” Upshaw said. “It’s important to see the local church healthy, outwardly focused and to be the sending agency God wants us to be.”
The new team will be part of the BSC’s evangelism and discipleship group led Lynn Sasser, executive leader.
“This is not a church growth program, per se,” Sasser said. “This is a program that is intended to help churches grow by doing the right things, focusing on the right areas and by making disciples.”
The church health and revitalization team will focus on four priorities – disciple-making, church health, church planting and missions mobilization – which align with the convention’s ongoing strategy of “impacting lostness through disciple-making.”
“Church revitalization is not compartmentalized,” Sasser said. “It’s a very broad approach that intersects with all the work that we do at the convention.”
The team will employ a three-fold process in working with churches. Those phases include a focus on developing a church’s leadership, internal ministry and external mission, utilizing both individual coaching and team consultation.
In the coming months, Upshaw will begin to discover, enlist and train contract workers throughout the state who will work with individual churches. Sasser said the team hopes to enlist 10-12 workers by the first half of 2016, with plans to increase that number as the team works with more churches. Upshaw will also be developing a number of resources to assist the contract workers in their efforts.
BSC leaders said they became convinced of the need for a church health and revitalization team as they examined the statistics and data from research conducted on the overall decline of church health. The numbers, they said, were staggering.
Citing research conducted by the North American Mission Board (NAMB), only 27 percent of SBC churches experienced growth between 2007 and 2012. Additionally, other research showed that across all denominational lines, approximately 3,500 churches close each year.
NAMB research also shows that 70-75 percent of SBC churches in North America are either plateaued or declining, and an additional 10-15 percent of SBC churches are either at or near risk. Taken together, those figures suggest that an estimated 80-90 percent of churches are in need of revitalization.
More alarming, BSC leaders said, is that most churches do not know they need help or where to turn to get it.
BSC leaders also spoke with representatives from other state conventions and found that those that were making progress related to church revitalization had an individual or team in place devoted solely to that task.
“I am excited about this team, and I felt like this was a step we had to make,” Sasser said. “This is a hard work, this is a difficult work, and it’s not a quick work. But the No. 1 thing that had to happen for us to move forward successfully is that we had to have someone on our staff dedicated to church revitalization.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Contact Brian Upshaw at [email protected] or (800) 395-5102, ext. 5632.)