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New initiative engages, upholds smallest Southern Baptist churches

NASHVILLE (BP) – Joe Wright expresses a heart for the “smallest of these,” churches numbering 75 or fewer in Sunday attendance and comprising two-thirds of Southern Baptist congregations.

“The time has come for us to step up and decide that the ‘smallest of these’ is not only important but essential for the well-being of our Lord’s Kingdom work,” Wright said. “With our ‘worldly’ definition of success being based on size and notoriety, these churches often go without the necessary resources to allow them to pursue spiritual excellence within their fields of service.”

Wright, executive director of the Bivocational and Small Church Leadership Network (BSCLN), is enhancing the network’s outreach with a yearlong series of monthly webinars designed to provide small church and bivocational pastors additional resources to serve congregations under their care.

Willie McLaurin, SBC Executive Committee vice president for Great Commission relations and mobilization, described small churches as essential to the Great Commission.

“We are not so small when we are together!” McLaurin said. “Small Church America has the potential to mobilize churches to take the Gospel to the nations and their neighborhoods. It’s hard to stand alone in a rapidly declining culture. Small Church America will provide a network where pastors and ministry leaders can cooperate for Gospel advance.”

Sunday’s inaugural webinar is “The Smaller-Attendance Church: Stronger Than Ever,” featuring Wright and Ken Sartain, director of the Small Church Movement, as cohosts. Joining them as presenters will be Kevin Sellars, pastor of RoEllen Baptist Church in Dyersburg, Tenn., where 2020 attendance averaged 52, and William Dooley, pastor of the 75 worshipers at Middletown Baptist Church in Berea, Ky. The 30-minute webinar airs at 7 p.m. Central, with registration available here.

Wright describes the series as focused on “unique and unusual needs” of small church and bivocational leaders, featuring “practitioners sharing instead of professionals teaching,” and equipping pastors to continue in their God-given work.

“Large church pastors are not the only ones to experience burnout, depression and fatigue,” Wright said. “Being the only staff focuses conflict on just the pastor. Bivocational pastors have to deal with time and conflict management in ways that large church pastors often do not. Holding two or even three jobs has its own challenges.”

A quarter of the approximately 47,000 Southern Baptist churches average fewer than 24 people on Sunday mornings, and another 26 percent number fewer than 49 in attendance, Wright said. Increase the attendance to 75, and the metric includes 66 percent of Southern Baptist churches.

“I’m praying that we will continue to engage, equip and encourage all leaders who serve the normative and majority of our Lord’s churches through developing a national resource that is easily accessed, relevant and very informative,” Wright said. “My greatest desire is that the small church is recognized for its value and importance in Kingdom work.”

The webinar series will not be funded with Cooperative Program dollars, Wright said, but instead through partnerships and individual contributions.

“We seek more partners to fulfill our vision of bringing added value to the local smaller-attendance church and her leadership,” Wright said. He listed initial start-up costs of about $28,000, including a webinar software account, website development and maintenance, promotion and advertising, guest stipends and project development.

To support the initiative, contact Wright at [email protected] or (713)589-1786.