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Healthy churches get NOBTS spotlight

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–The “Healthy Church of the Month,” an initiative of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is highlighting growing churches at a time when many Southern Baptist churches are plateaued or declining.

“We not only believe revitalization and church growth is possible, but are showing examples of churches that prove it can happen,” said David Meacham, director of NOBTS’ Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Health which is partnering with the seminary’s Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry in the project.

“Our intent is to inspire and encourage churches to grow again,” Meacham said.

Three initial recipients — Salem Baptist Church in McDonough, Ga., Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover, Ala., and Raleigh Road Baptist Church in Wilson, N.C. — have been selected for the January, February and March awards. The churches are highlighted on the Baptist Center website at www.baptistcenter.org .

“We want to celebrate the churches that exhibit church health and church growth to encourage other churches that they can learn to reach their communities, too,” said Steve Lemke, NOBTS provost and director of the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry.

Based on Leavell Center research, the criteria for consideration as a “healthy” church includes a membership increase of 10 percent over five years, one or more baptisms per year for five years, a member-to-baptism ratio of no more than 35 to one, with conversions representing at least 25 percent of total additions. Mission giving and discipleship/Bible study enrollment also is considered.

“We hope that a struggling church will be encouraged by finding in one of the churches we select, a context similar to its own,” said Bill Day, associate director of the Leavell Center.

Salem Baptist Church, under the leadership of senior pastor Richard Statham, grew in membership from 1,100 to more than 2,000 in nine years. Sunday morning worship attendance averages nearly 1,200, representing well over a 200 percent increase since 1996. Total receipts increased from $700,000 to nearly $4 million, with 119 baptisms reported in 2005.

In its centennial year, Hunter Street Baptist Church today averages more than 6,200 in worship, growing from 250 in 1986. Under pastor Buddy Gray, the church reported 205 baptisms in 2005 with budget receipts of $9.5 million. Sunday School attendance averages more than 3,000 per Sunday, representing a six-fold increase from its 1986 enrollment of 464.

Raleigh Road Baptist Church, under pastor Eddie Maynard, has seen consistent growth in the last five years, tripling the number of baptisms from 17 in 2000 to 55 in 2005. A church plant that is just 20 years old, Raleigh Road grew from 21 attendees in 1986 to a current membership of 745. The church’s average worship attendance in 2005 was 550, more than double its worship attendance 10 years ago. Total receipts today exceed $1.1 million dollars.

“These three churches are different in size and are placed in significantly different settings –- large city and small town, church plant and century-old church. But each of them has found a way to reach their community for Christ,” Lemke said.

“Besides meeting the criteria we established, each of these successful churches exhibits a good balance of outreach ministries and discipleship strategies,” Meacham said.

The Healthy Church of the Month award is one of several new initiatives launched at the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry. Also available are free MP3 and podcast downloads by recognized Baptist leaders and the Baptist Center Blog for conversational exchanges with Southern Baptist leaders. The Baptist Center resources for churches are available at www.baptistcenter.com.

The collaboration of the two NOBTS centers reflects their common mission -– providing resources to enrich and energize ministry in Baptist churches.

Customized church growth resources — diagnostic tools and demographic studies -– are Leavell Center resources available to churches seeking to analyze a changing community. Training for pastors and laypersons and access to the seminary’s audio-visual collection is available in a conference or retreat venue. Jerry Vines, Ken Hemphill and Win Arn are among the nationally recognized leaders in evangelism and church health featured at the Leavell Center’s annual Church Revitalization Conference.

“Our reason for existence is to help a church understand its community and develop strategies for impacting that community for Christ,” Meacham said. “For those who are struggling, we want them to know there is hope for a turnaround.”

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  • Marilyn Stewart