Last fall, the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC) announced a new emphasis on strengthening existing churches. The emphasis included the formation of a newly named Church Health and Revitalization Team headed by BSC staff member Sandy Marks. Marks assumed his new duties at the beginning of the year, and he outlined his vision for church revitalization to the state convention’s board of directors at the board’s January meeting. We caught up with Marks following his remarks to the board to capture his heart for church revitalization in this interview.
Q: Congratulations on your new position. What’s your goal and vision for the new Church Health and Revitalization team?
A: Our stated goal is to see God glorified through churches returning to their mission of impacting lostness by making disciples. That’s the guiding philosophy of our team and is what the team will be about.
Q: Who will make up the team?
A: We’ll be adding a staff member who will serve as a full-time consultant for church revitalization, which is the role I had previously been serving in. We’ll also utilize consultants and contract workers in several other areas. These include leadership development, worship and music, pastoral ministry, church administration, chaplaincy and more. Plus, we’ll also serve a variety of specific populations that includes African-American ministry, Hispanic ministry, Asian ministry, as well as ministries to those with special needs.
Q: Church revitalization has become a hot topic in recent years. Yet there may be some churches in need of revitalization that don’t know it. What does church health really look like today?
A: Church revitalization is a great need across our state and nation. The North American Mission Board reports that 70-75% of Southern Baptist churches in North America are plateaued or declining.
Thom Rainer says that nine out of 10 churches in America are declining or growing more slowly than their communities. When communities are growing but churches are not, that’s a sign we are not impacting lostness in that community. Rainer also reported in January 2018 that between 6,000 and 10,000 churches close each year.
To bring it home to North Carolina, LifeWay reports that 82.4% of churches have either plateaued or are in decline. That’s all based on data submitted by churches from the Annual Church Profile. The numbers are staggering.
Q: So where do we begin?
A: First, we understand that revitalization is a work of God as the Holy Spirit moves amongst His church. But we also recognize that there are certain skills and abilities that are needed as a pastor and leader to position the church to be receptive to the move of God. This is a process and not a program. The process we will use focuses on three phases – revitalizing the man, revitalizing the ministry and revitalizing the mission.
Q: What’s involved with revitalizing the pastor, and why start there?
A: Because churches are never going to surpass the health of their pastor. It’s only after pastors become healthy themselves and are growing spiritually that they are able to lead a congregation down this path. Our revitalization process starts with helping pastors connect with other pastors in a cohort where they can find community, fellowship, equipping and prayer. Revitalization is hard work and involves spiritual warfare. Engaging this alone is unwise, so we enter the process with other pastors who are in the same place and going on the same journey.
Q: Where do things go from there?
A: Next, we focus on revitalizing the ministry and revitalizing the mission. Revitalizing the ministry brings the church into the process by helping them to see where they are as a congregation and get a true picture of their community. In many churches, both the congregation and the community around them have changed, but they don’t realize it. This phase helps them see the big picture and moves them toward engaging the community. Churches have spent years trying to do everything they can to get the community into the church, but revitalization works to get the church into our communities. And we help pastors lead their congregations through this.
Finally, revitalizing the mission involves establishing a disciple-making process that moves a person from an unbeliever to a disciple to a disciple who makes disciples. We offer coaching and resources to support the church’s overarching strategy.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: Remember that revitalization is a work of God and there is no quick fix or silver bullet. But I believe we can position our churches to once again capture a movement of God that He desires to do in our midst. Pray for our team as we seek to assist churches. And if we can help your church in any way, please call our office.