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Research points to attitude in churches’ health, growth

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Healthy churches are filled with members who have positive, healthy attitudes, according to research by a state Baptist convention church growth director.
It’s a self-esteem issue, said Vernnon Cole, whose study of the characteristics of healthy churches in the Kentucky Baptist Convention will be the focus of a statewide Church Health Summit Oct. 10-11 in Bowling Green.
Yellow Creek Baptist Church, Owensboro, Ky., was cited as an example in a recent issue of the state Baptist newsjournal, the Western Recorder, of a church where a positive attitude has helped integrate a range of generations and new and established residents in the community. “They’re able to reach them because of the optimism that they have,” Cole observed.
Pastor Wyman Copass said he knew the church had a positive outlook when he was considering being its pastor. At the time, Copass asked to see the minutes from the past 10 years of church business meetings. “I found out through that that in their doing the business of the church they seemed to have a good spirit,” Copass recounted.
That spirit has continued as both leaders and staff continue to trust each other, the pastor said. “I have not been in a finance committee meeting in two years,” he said, adding he knows the leaders have the congregation’s best interest at heart.
Cole noted the relationship between attitude and health is like the chicken and the egg. Either can precede the other, but they’re definitely related.
Conversely, a stagnant or declining church emits a negative attitude that’s evident, he said. “You walk into the place and you kind of get the feeling.”
Plateaued or stable churches can start focusing inwardly and lose track of the outreach needs in the community, Cole continued. It is very easy as a church moves into its middle-age stage to become contented with programs and decision-making processes that don’t relate to younger generations, he said.
As churches get out of sync with their communities, attendance declines and members can feel defeated, Cole said.
Churches with poor attitudes need a leader who can jump-start renewal in the congregation, he said. “You need someone who is going to create a genuine sense of excitement that God can still do something with us.”
Cole outlined five ways churches can renew members’ attitudes:
— Personal renewal can come through a Bible study or personal experience that sparks a new attitude about church.
— Corporate renewal is an experience such as revival within members.
— Conceptual renewal is a willingness by members to reconsider the purpose of their church.
— Structural renewal is the result of adding or reorganizing the church to meet needs.
— Missiological renewal is the new vision that results from missions experiences in the church.
It can start at any one of those points and it spins out, Cole said. “But for renewal to stick, I think all five have to occur.”
Cole said a key to improving or maintaining a healthy attitude is to be flexible and aware of what church specialist Lyle Schaller calls its “contemporary reality.”
Stay flexible and open to how God is moving in the community and how to connect with what God is doing in that contemporary reality, Cole advised.
More information about the Church Health Summit is available from Cole’s office, (502) 245-4101, ext. 227.

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  • David Winfrey