Mitch Miller, Pastor at Griggs Memorial Baptist Church
Click here for part one.
If you've agreed to pastor a revitalizing church, and you've been at it for over a week, you've noticed that there are moments of discomfort. I know this from experience.
When I was in college here in Greenville, South Carolina, I was invited to visit a little church on the other side of town. The name of the church was Griggs Memorial Baptist Church - "Griggs" for short.
Upon arriving, I saw an awesome, old-school style auditorium. Huge, long pews made of solid Oak. Well, I don’t actually know if they’re Oak. Solid something. The Baptismal was right up front built into the stage with a mural of a river on the wall behind it.
I was greeted by the pastor, a man who, at the time, was in his late 70's. Nicest guy I’ve ever met. He introduced me to his people, about 25 folks, mostly elderly, and they were the nicest people I’ve ever met. The service consisted of some great hymns, fiery preaching, and testimonies.
I started attending on a regular basis. I brought friends with me. The pastor was glad to see the young faces and let us serve and lead in whatever way we felt gifted. My friends led the singing and, by God’s grace, I was able to teach about once a month. Sometimes more.
Eventually, my senior year came and went, I graduated, and said goodbye to Griggs. Little did I know that I would be back. For the first 5 years after graduation, I worked as a Student Pastor. I was in a very large church, had every reason to be content and to stay the course I was on.
But, late one Sunday night, I got a call from the last remaining deacon at Griggs. He shared some very difficult news with me. The pastor of Griggs (now in his early 80's) was on his deathbed, many of the members had passed or were shut in, and only 5 members were now regularly attending the church. He asked if I could come back and help out.
I walked back through the doors for the first time in 5 years. I saw the pews, saw the river mural and caught up with the 5 remaining members. I left intrigued. A few more weeks went by. Though I was still on staff as a youth pastor at another church, I found myself asking all sorts of questions about Griggs.
"What if we reach the neighborhood surrounding Griggs?"
"What if I recruit some friends to help re-start Griggs?"
"What if Jesus isn't done with Griggs yet?"
After a while, through reading the scriptures and prayer, these "what if's" became callings. I truly felt the Holy Spirit lead me back to Griggs. I quit my staff role at the large church (who has been a great help through the process), got a regular job tutoring elementary kids, and started pastoring Griggs.
Shortly after, I noticed that revitalizing a church and reaching a neighborhood like the one around our church isn’t always comfortable. But that’s ok, because those of us who follow Jesus have a Comforter. He is with us always even unto the ends of the world.
We've been at it a total of three years now. We walk a hard but simple road - hold community events once a month, knock on doors and invite the neighborhood to them, build relationships with attendees, invite them back to church, then disciple them the best we can.
We've baptized 23 people, added over 50 members, installed 4 deacons, dedicated 6 babies, had attendances of over 100, remodeled a handful of areas in our building, and preached 1 gospel.
We have a long way to go, but we've learned some things along the way.
Revitalizing bodies aren't broken, they're wounded.
When I first came in I saw everything as a problem to fix, but as time went by I realized that there are real people with real souls behind those problems. Healing souls is more important than fixing problems.
Before a cool rebrand, before remodeling the stage, counsel your people, call them to worship, and help them re-focus on Jesus' example. Be a gospel oxygen tank connected to them at all times.
Revitalization happens from the inside out.
Very early on, I tried to change the name of the church. After discussing it with the church, we came to the conclusion that changing the name of our body would do as much good as changing the name of a guy on his deathbed. That move may at some point be necessary for a revitalizing church, but it doesn't heal the wound. So we have left the pews and the river mural alone. (I've come to love both).
You have to start revitalizing from the inside - the way you word your doctrinal statement, bylaws that have long needed to change, what happens at leader meetings, the mission, the vision, the traditions, anything internal. Start there. Then you can work your way to the outside - the stage, the building, the website, the branding, the social media, the name, the murals.
Revitalizations need friends.
One of the most helpful things we've done is make friends. We hooked up with one thriving church in particular that allowed me to come on a Sunday morning, cast the vision of our church revitalization, and try to recruit up to five families to help us out. The folks we recruited have all stuck with us, implemented programs, served, given, and led.
We have a long way to go. We have a lot of people left to reach in our neighborhood. But we’re giving it all we've got every Sunday because we can’t get one thought out of our head - "What if God uses our revitalizing church to help revitalize other churches?"
That’s our dream, to build ourselves up to health, sustain ourselves, and then give everything off the top away to churches who find themselves in the same spot we were in three years ago.
Again, this plan will not always be comfortable, but we always have the Comforter.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.