By Ed Stetzer
Illustrations by Dale Glasgow
When they called Danny Williams as their new pastor, Peniel Baptist Church
was a stagnant church on the edge of Palatka, Florida. The church had about 125
in worship for many years. It was a typical rural church that had never been
able to make the changes it needed to grow, explained Danny. Over eight years,
the church grew to more than 500 in two services. One year they baptized more
than 100 people.
Under Dannys leadership, Peniel began a process of reorganizationfrom Sunday
school, to leader training, to prayer and outreach. Lay leaders embraced and
increased the vision. They contacted every missing member (hundreds were AWOL).
They implemented a church-wide prayer ministry. Finally, they decided to get
directly involved in church planting, helping start a church in Crescent Beach,
Florida. The church experienced a dramatic upswing in growth and mission.
Today, Danny is leading another church through a similar process. First
Baptist Church of Lyons, Georgia, averaged 150 in attendance when Danny became
pastor but has added about 100 members in 18 months. Churches can be
revitalizedthese churches are evidence, but theyre not the only ones. Hundreds
turn around every year and succeedhowever, thousands more try and do not!
Healthy kingdom growthMore and more people
are talking about increasing the number of Southern Baptist Convention baptisms
this year. LifeWay President Jimmy Draper compared the SBC to a frog in the
kettle, slowly losing its evangelistic effectiveness while the world turns up
the heatnot baptizing as many as in the past and not nearly enough for the
present. Bobby Welch, SBC President, toured every state and Canada in a bus,
promoting outreach and evangelism.* North American Mission Board President Bob
Reccord has made it his mission to help many more churches become involved in
church planting and evangelism.
photo by gibbs frazeur
Its great to have leaders who care about the stagnant pace of baptisms. The
baptismal rate is a powerful measure of a churchs vitality, because its
evidence that a church is growing by reaching the lost. But Jimmy Draper, Bobby
Welch and Bob Reccord know they cannot make the SBC reach and baptize more.
Only local churches can do thatchurches like yours with ready and willing
on mission Christians working closely with pastors who are
forward-thinking and dedicated to the goal. If our churches are not
revitalized, we will not reach morein fact we will continue to stagnate and
decline. Statistically, were losing groundour research tells us that seven out
of 10 people in North America dont know Christ, so we need to be reaching more
with the gospel. And yet we arent baptizing as many as we have in the past.
In the last
issue of On Mission, we looked at how churches can turn around from
stagnation and decline. It feels strange to say it, but if youre reading this,
you likely attend a church thats not reaching the lost. This assessment
has nothing to do with you personally. Just look at the statistics, and youll
Im referring to new statistics from the Leavell Center at New Orleans
Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS) which bear this out by showing that 89
percent of our SBC churches are not effectively reaching the lost, and only 11
percent experience healthy growth. So, if 89 percent of our churches are not
experiencing healthy growth as defined by the Leavell Center, the average
reader of this article attends one of those churches.
The method of counting by the Leavell Center was pretty basic:
The church experienced 10 percent membership growth over five years.
The church baptized at least one person during the two years of the
The church had a member-to-baptism ratio of 35 or less in the final year of
the study. (These churches need 35 or fewer members each year to baptize one
new convert. For information about calculating baptismal ratios, see Fall 2004
For the final year of the study, the percentage of growth that was
conversion growth must be at least 25 percent.
By that standard, only 11 percent of all SBC churches experience healthy
growth. You might not have all the numbers at your finger tips, but take a
guessis your church experiencing healthy growth?
Churches that need revitalization need to ask why they are stagnant in the
first place. Its amazing but consistentchurches that need to grow think they
can do it without change! The problem is, if they keep doing things the
same way, theyll have the same results.
Instead, most churches need to be led to embrace change if they are to see
different results. Ive had the privilege of leading some churches to change and
grow, and I always start by encouraging people to care for the lost more than
they care for their own comfortto embrace change because it helps them to be
more effective at reaching their community. Change is often needed to be more
effective. However, people resist change.
But, if people can see that change will produce growth, they are often more
Making the change to growthAs a pastor or an
on mission church leader, you probably already know that something has
to be different today to see different results tomorrow. But, what changes are
needed to put your church back on the growth path?
Generally, a church needs to address more than one area of church life in
order to grow. The first area is the most important: spiritual renewal.
Churches need to rediscover their passion for God, His mission and Empowering
Kingdom Growth in their setting. From their renewed passion for reaching the
lost will flow other areas such as
worship that connects
intentional and strategic church evangelism
assimilating guests to members
motivating people for outreach, and then
building an ongoing strategy.
Looking at worshipChurches often rediscover
their passion for God and His mission by examining their worship.
Unfortunately, some think that jazzing up the worship is a quick fix. It is
not. The solution lies in seeking Gods heart and at the same time finding
worship that helps others to connect with God. In many cases, the worship of
the church was once meaningful but has since lost its cultural relevance.
Younger families may no longer find it worshipful to sing here I raise my
Ebenezer, hither by thy help I come, so they leave for other places. Also,
unbelievers may find themselves uncomfortable, not at the preaching and content
of the Word, but with the expressions and cultural forms of worship. So, for
many churches, the first concern is the worship and how it can both honor God
and connect with the community.
Worship cannot be the end of the refocusing process, but its a good
beginning. When we create a God-centered and culturally appropriate worship
service, it helps us to begin the process of seeking God for other changes that
also need to come. (Note: The next several stories in On Missions
series on reaching and baptizing more will address an outreach strategy and
Kevin Hamm has led Valley View Baptist Church from a declining church of 300
to a vibrant congregation of more than 2,000 in Louisville, Kentucky. The
church baptized 221 last yeara far cry from seven years ago when they used
buckets to catch the leaks in the sanctuary, because they could not afford to
fix the roof. Pastor Hamm explained the turnaround this way: We worked from the
premise that worship is the front door of the church. So we spent the whole
year looking at our worship service without expending energy trying to draw in
visitors. After that first year, we had our worship settled, and we started to
reach out to the community.
Heres the process I use to help churches experience different styles of
worship. If youre a pastor, you might try to lead your church through a similar
process. As a layperson, you could help your pastor form a church growth team
and start the revitalization process by examining the worship of growing
1 List the fastest growing churches in the area, and visit
them.On three occasions I asked the members of stagnant
churches to go visit the areas fastest growing evangelical churches. Every
member returned wanting some of what they saw! Pastors and church leaders can
tell the story all day, but a live picture is worth a thousand words. (Caution:
Maybe your committee members wont have to miss worshipping at your church since
many growing churches have early services. But make sure their early service is
the same as the main service.)
Offer some guidance on what to look for when they attend. Ive created a
checklist page at www.come backchurches.com. Click on Resources for ideas of what to
observe. My favorite part of church
revitalization is to hear the reports of longtime church members who, after
visiting other churches, come back saying, The Church changed, and nobody told
Invariably, they come back with several observations:
Churches that are growing by reaching people through evangelism generally
look very different from those in need of revitalization. For example, almost
all growing churches have an outreach strategy; almost all declining churches
Growing churches have certain things in common but generally only with each
other and not with the stagnant churches. People often report that changing to
be more like these churches may be easier than they initially thought. For
example, most growing churches have an intentional way of welcoming guests;
most declining churches do not.
Growing churches rarely fit the stereotype the visitors from my churches
expected: sold out to worldliness and marketing. The result is that committee
members usually can overcome their previously held objections to the methods
used by growing churches.
One note of caution: pick churches from our denomination, and screen them.
You want churches that are theologically sound and focused on Word-based
preaching but are reaching people in a way that your church is not. My
experience is that the best examples are churches:
With more than 100 in attendance (or scaled appropriately to your area).
That have grown at least 20 percent in each of the past three years.
That are not known for any major negative issues (of course, just growing
gets you a negative reputation with some people!)
Be careful not to pick churches that simply fit your agenda. Instead, pick
the five that are growing the fastest, so that your church members trust the
process. If you rule out a church because of the preaching or views, tell your
Think of this as an exercise in reconnaissance, like the spies in the book
of Numbers, but in this case theyre scoping out what the challenges are as well
as what God is doing in healthy, growing churches. Its a great assignment and
adventure for on mission laypeople who are dedicated to revitalizing
2 Experience different kinds of
worship.Ive led three churches through what I call A
Worship Experience. For four weeks, the church experiences different types of
music styles and formats. Heres a basic progression:
Week 1: Traditional. Worship using only hymns, with a doxology and closing
with a benediction.
Week 2: Blended Traditional. Worship using hymns and slow choruses.
Week 3: Blended Contemporary. Worship using a contemporized hymn, some fast
choruses where people clap along, and some slower worship choruses. Introduce
other elements such as nametags, communication cards and offering at the end of
the service. In two cases, we also wore more casual clothing.
Week 4: Contemporary. Worship using a group of contemporary upbeat songs
that people clap to and slower songs that people focus through.
Of course, these are just my descriptions. Traditional and contemporary look
different from community to community. (At one church, a deacon wanted to know
when we did the banjos and fiddlesa worship expression that was new to me!)
Thats why you visit other churches before planning your own worship
Many churches are discovering the value that other biblically discerning
expressions can bring. One study by Ellison Research (see graphic) found that
churches are embracing contemporary methodologies to make them more effective
at reaching the lost.
You may not find what you think. According to Ellison Research, churches
moving toward more contemporary worship styles are outpacing those moving to
more traditional styles by an 11-to-1 margin; however, this does not mean it
will be effective everywhere. Many emerging churches are embracing more
liturgical forms of worship while many churches are finding that Southern
Gospel music helps them to relate in their context. As you start the journey to
evangelistic effectiveness, be willing for God to stretch you in new ways.
If your community is most effectively reached in a blended traditional
service, then learn from the other churches and do it well. If its contemporary
and your church is really willing to do what it takes, then make the shift.
3 Bring home and discussWhat then?
Have a family meeting with the whole church, so everyone has ownership of the
What are these churches doing, and why is it working?
What is our church doing, and why is it not working?
What can we learn?
What can we try?
ConclusionsIts not a cure all, but visiting
other churches and having a local church worship experiment allows your church
to experience what growing churches look like and what changes could be made in
your church. Theres no more powerful apologetic for change than to see a
church, very different from yours, thats reaching people when yours is not.
This enables your church to take the first steps to a more culturally relevant
and evangelistically effective worshipoften a change that leads to
In upcoming issues we examine:
Summer 05Intentional and Strategic Church Evangelism
Fall 05Assimilating Guests to Members
Winter 05/06Motivating People for Outreach
Summer 06Building an Ongoing Strategy
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., has trained pastors and mission leaders on five
continents. His latest book is Planting New Churches in a Postmodern Age
(Broadman & Holman, 2003). He is the Strategic Networks manager at
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC