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Revitalization effort transforms dying Tenn. church

HERMITAGE, Tenn. (BP) — “This is a story of coming from dying to being healthy again,” said Bill Blair at the Church Revitalization Conference: Giving Hope for Change of his journey.

Blair was referring to his experience with revitalization as pastor of Mill Creek Baptist Church, Nashville, Tenn. The conference was held Aug. 31-Sept.1 at Hermitage Hills Baptist Church by the Tennessee Baptist Convention in partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources and Nashville Baptist Association.

Blair told folks attending a breakout session at the conference that though the historic church had started other churches including First Baptist Church of Nashville, it was down to about 40 people on Sunday mornings two years ago when he “took on the call as pastor.” Blair also was accepting his first pastorate and is bivocational.

Since then, 16 people have made professions of faith at Mill Creek Baptist, 11 have been baptized, the children and youth group has grown to about 20, and a singles ministry which has drawn as many as 40 has been started.

Attendance has increased to about 65 on Sunday mornings, but more importantly the church is becoming healthy, Blair said.

God has answered so many prayers to lead to these early steps toward revitalization, he noted.

Sometimes it just took fresh eyes on the situation, he said. For instance, to protect the parking lot which had been damaged by big vehicles using it to turn around, the church had installed a gate. But that kept parents from parking at the church as they waited for a school bus. By recognizing necessary adjustments and opportunities to be more accessible to the community, the church has developed many ministries while forming relationships, he said.

“We’ve seen amazing answers to prayer of God doing things even before we’ve taken action steps,” he said.

The three steps toward revitalization that the church took were prayer, partnerships and perseverance, he noted.

Strategic, specific prayer is needed by a church seeking revitalization, Blair said. That may be for a teacher for a certain class, $200 for a need in the church, or a speaker. He referred to John 14:12-14 in which Jesus asked for specific requests and then promised to meet those needs.

Blair said he involved the congregation in supporting these prayer needs by adapting the Wednesday night printed prayer guide. The list of those who were ill was updated which pared it down substantially. Then the prayer guide was broadened to include other prayer needs such as North America and international needs. Needs are also shared throughout the week.

Blair said he decided to pray about worship time at the church rather than try to change it in order to attract people. Since then, a group of people have stepped forward to lead a style of worship that has drawn a positive response from the congregation, he said.

On the partnerships needed for revitalization, Blair said a partnership with First Baptist Church of Nashville helped in several ways including financially. A partnership with the TBC provided resources and funds from the Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.

The church also asked the Nashville Baptist Association for help and has received guidance from it. Blair said a struggling church should ask for help.

The church also has received assistance from Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, which sent its medical/dental mobile clinic two times to the Mill Creek community. As a result, 74 people were treated and seven people made professions of faith.

A church undergoing a revitalization must persevere, Blair said. You must have a “radical faith with realistic expectations.”

In small churches, which are the majority of Southern Baptist churches, one or two people can make a huge difference, he noted. He advised that church leaders “look for changes that don’t show up in the numbers.”

What people are talking about at church is a measure of their attitudes, he said. Is there joy in the church? Do people pray and then act like they believe their prayer will be answered?

Pastors should “equip the people you have rather than wish for the people you don’t,” he said, noting that Jesus didn’t have a “dream team” in his disciples.

Pastors should consider their church members as those that God has sent to the church. He said they should trust that God can work through anyone.

A pastor should lead the congregation to accomplish the revitalization in small steps, drop hints as to the progress being accomplished, and regularly celebrate accomplishments, he said.

“Walk with them from step to step,” he said. “You are going from a near-death experience to life.”

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  • Connie Davis Bushey/Baptist & Reflector