Lexington Avenue Baptist Church in High Point was about to close its doors – for good.
Over a year ago, during an average Sunday service, there were about 30 to 40 in attendance. Nearly everyone in the building was around the age of 70 – with the exception of a young grandchild or two. The church didn’t have a pastor to lead them, and there was barely enough money coming in to pay the bills.
“We looked at getting a new pastor but we couldn’t afford one,” said Benny Taylor, 73, a long-time member of the church with his wife, Joyce.
“We didn’t have any young couples … children and youth running around,” he said. “Our future was gone.”
Through the years, the church budget and membership had steadily declined from a congregation of more than 200 members, full of families and children. One factor for the decline, Taylor said, involved economic challenges that caused some key businesses in the community to shut down. Many in the community moved away to find jobs.
By the fall of 2010, the last of the remaining younger families with children had left the church.
“There was a quiet,” Taylor said. “It was really kind of depressing.”
Another factor of the decline, Taylor added, was the churches inability to connect with new people, – of all generations, ethnicities and incomes – who were moving into the community. All of that, however, was about to change.
In the spring of 2011, the church invited Paul Reginaldi, to serve as an interim pastor. Reginaldi was a member of Life Community Church in Jamestown. He had served as a pastor and in other ministerial roles in various churches through the years. He agreed to help Lexington Avenue during their time of transition – or until the church shut down.
In contrast to Lexington Avenue, Life Community was, and is, a growing congregation that now has 1,200 people regularly in attendance each Sunday. It also averages about 80 baptisms annually.
While preaching at Lexington Avenue, Reginaldi developed a friendship with the members.
“God gave me a love for these seniors,” he said. “We really bonded.”
Reginaldi led the church through a survey that confirmed the church’s failing health and lack of impact on its community.
He told the members that they’d be the generation to close the church if they didn’t make a change soon.
“There were no real ministries in evangelism, community outreach,” Reginaldi said.
“They were, in most cases, physically not able to do much because of their ages and health limitations. They really had a heart to reach their community … they just didn’t know how to do it. They needed leadership.”
Lexington Avenue had become, Reginaldi contended, one of the 80 to 85 percent of Southern Baptist churches that are plateaued or dying. Some studies show that more than 60 percent of them are in rapid decline.
Reginaldi asked the remaining members of Lexington Avenue if they would be willing to pray about merging with Life Community.
Taylor, who had been a deacon at Lexington Avenue for years, admits there was some hesitancy at first among the members to turn the church over to Life Community. They ultimately decided it was the best decision. “The proposal was exciting,” he said. “We didn’t want to be the generation to close the doors.”
The churches officially merged in the summer of 2011, and Lexington Avenue Baptist Church changed its name to Life on Lexington. Life Community now has two campuses that are seven miles apart.
Life on Lexington campus soon began holding events for the community and developing a strategy to reach those outside its doors. Several families from the main campus joined Life on Lexington to help them reach more people in the community. Since the merger, the church has grown to a total of 175. The church also has seen some professions of faith. The difference is nothing short of a miracle, Taylor said.
“We are so excited we can hardly contain ourselves,” he said. “It’s like a puzzle, and God is just putting all these pieces together. It’s something we can be excited about. There is nothing better than hearing a child sing [in a worship service].”
Reginaldi became the teaching and preaching pastor for the 11 a.m. service at Life on Lexington’s campus. In the 9:30 a.m. service, Jake Thornhill, the senior pastor of Life Community Church, preaches through a video feed.
Reginaldi is working on a book entitled, How to Leave a Legacy Church, detailing the transition and transformation of Lexington Avenue. The purpose of the book, Reginaldi said, is to help other declining and dying churches. Reginaldi is working with co-author, Amanda Dodson, the daughter of Life Community’s senior pastor. He plans to complete the book by the end of the year or early part of 2013.
“It is our prayer that through … the book we are writing that other people will see what our Lord had done in preserving one of His churches,” Reginaldi said. “It has often been said that we are one generation away from losing our faith and churches, and I am excited to report that this is one church that will live on to the next generation.”