Free Will Baptist North American Ministries – answering the call for Church revitalization!

Church revitalization efforts are getting ready to swing in to high gear at Free Will Baptist North American Ministries.

All four directors (David Crowe, Kenneth Akers, Brad Ransom, and Jim McComas) are preparing for a series of six regional Church growth and revitalization conferences that are taking place in 2015. That schedule is as follows:

March 6th and 7th – Hardin Valley Free Will Baptist Church – Knoxville, Tennessee

May 30th – John Wheeler Association – Shiloh Free Will Baptist Church – Bristol, Virginia

June 18th – Kentucky State Leadership Conference – Pikeville Free Will Baptist Church – Pikeville, Kentucky

September 25th and 26th – Beaver Creek Association – Fairview Free Will Baptist Church – Spartanburg, South Carolina

October 23rd and 24th – Parkers Chapel Free Will Baptist Church – Greenville, North Carolina

November 13th and 14th – South Highland Free Will Baptist Church – Muscle Shoals, Alabama

May 25th and 26th is the National Acts 1:8 Power Conference for Church growth and leadership in Branson, Missouri. This will be the first conference of its kind in our denomination. With folks from 12 states already registered and more than half of the blocked hotel rooms already reserved with more than four months to go, it is obvious that excitement and interest is high for this historic event! (There is NO COST for the conference, but you must register by calling Teresa Womack at (615) 760-6132.)

In addition to all this, there are several “legacy church plants” underway, with several more in the works. (Placing a church planter into an existing, struggling church.)

Director of Church Revitalization Jim McComas also has a full roster of church revitalization events himself this year. Included on his 2015 calendar is a “Church revitalization revival” in Florida, a church health analysis seminar in Michigan, and a ministers retreat focusing entirely on church revitalization in North Carolina.

Church revitalization is desperately needed now more than ever – Free Will Baptist North American ministries is answering the call! Please be much in prayer for all of these exciting endeavors, and we hope to see you at one of these events this year.

How to create a “Visitor Friendly” Church

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ASSESS your situation

Self examination is a painful thing. No one wants to come face to face with their shortcomings. However, if our churches are going to be the very best they can be, it is crucial to practice it often. Some simple, practical ideas (I’m a simple and practical guy!)  on how to do this in relation to visitors are:

  1. Be a visitor – At least once a year,  I highly recommend that every pastor, church leader, and member go to a church that they have never been to for Sunday Morning Services and reacquaint themselves with what it is like to be a visitor. There is nothing that will help you be “visitor minded” more than putting yourself in their shoes.
  2. Have a “secret agent visitor” pay you a visit – Whether it be a professional church consultant or just someone you ask to do this as a favor, have someone from outside your church that no one would know or recognize, pay a visit to your church on a Sunday morning, then give a report of their experience as a visitor in your congregation. The results may really be an eye-opener!
  3. Review church policies and procedures – Analyze each and every aspect of how your church operates, from advertisement to social media to your Sunday School, worship services, and activities, from the perspective of how it affects the first time visitor.

ADDRESS your situation

We can read books and articles, go to conferences, discuss, debate and analyze the problem all day long. None of it really does any good until we put it into action and actually CHANGE OUR BEHAVIOR.  Medicine does the patient no good unless it is administered! Once again, a few simple and practical ideas to make this happen:

  1. Teach it – A church will never see the importance of making visitors a priority until church leadership makes it a priority. Having a time where all the church membership comes together (at least the church leadership) and is trained and taught about the importance of being “visitor friendly.” This would include specific ideas and instructions on how to implement this goal and make it become a reality.
  2. Preach it – I preached a message one time when I was pastoring on “Why we do what we do.” At every point in the service, from announcements to offering to sermon to invitation, I would jump up and yell “STOP” and then take the time to discuss what we were doing and why we were doing it. Someone said “a rut is just a grave with the ends knocked out.” Use every means possible to wake your congregation up to the dangers of a “me centered” church!
  3. Practice it – The best leadership is leading by example. Make visitors a priority before your church services start, during the service, and after. Folks can’t follow a parked car.

I have no idea what’s going on!

confused

 

One of the highlights of my first year with North American Ministries was a visit to the Ebenezer Free Will Baptist Church in Miami, Florida with a group of Free Will Baptist pastors and their wives.  Pastor Jose Rodriguez and his congregation made us feel so welcome, and we had a wonderful time of worship and fellowship with them.

The Ebenezer Church’s services are bilingual, so much of the worship service we attended was in Spanish. Five minutes in I was wishing I had paid better attention during that one year of Spanish I took in high school. I was desperately trying to figure out what was being said – especially when Pastor Jose was introducing me to sing. I knew he was talking about me because I heard “Jim McComas,” but other than that, until the English translation, I was pretty lost.

The source of my confusion in this example was a language barrier. But, in visiting many Free Will Baptist churches throughout the year, often I get left with the uncomfortable feeling that   “I have no idea what’s going on!”  Let me give you some examples:

TRYING TO FIND THE CHURCH

When I am heading to a church, I just need a couple basic pieces of information: The address  and what times services start. You would be amazed at how difficult this simple information is to find from many of our churches! No website, no facebook page, no recording on the churches phone system with this information – Understand, I want to attend this church, but I have no idea what’s going on!

A simple website, a social media presence, a phone recording – all of these things are simple to arrange, at little to no cost, with very little time and “know how” needed – yet it’s amazing how many of our churches don’t have them.

Chances are, that prospective visitor does not have the latest copy of the Free Will Baptist Yearbook laying around at home with your church address in it. Not having the most basic information about your church readily available to the public makes the statement that “we really don’t care if you come to our church or not – we are satisfied with the folks we have now.”

 

TRYING TO GET IN THE CHURCH

Some churches have great signage, a clearly marked parking area, and clear directions in the building sharing where everything is located.

Some do not.

Visiting one church recently, I was trying to enter what looked to me to be the main front door. However, it was locked, and I could tell by looking inside that there were potted plants and various other things blocking the entrance. Just then, a church member walked by on the sidewalk and yelled “Why are you trying to get in that way? We haven’t used that door in years!”

Apparently they knew it , and the folks who had  been attending the church for years knew it.

But I was visiting for the first time, and I had no idea what was going on!

 

THE WORSHIP SERVICE

THE BULLETIN – Here’s an announcement for you: “The ASFJ are holding their annual PD at the Jones Family residence this Saturday at 2:00 p.m.”

Say WHAT? Can somebody please interpret for me? As it turns out, the All Stars for Jesus, which is the children’s Bible club on Wednesday nights, were having their “pinewood derby”, which is a small wooden car race, over at Jones family home that weekend.

I guess it made sense to somebody, but hey, I’m just a visitor, and I have no idea what’s going on!

 

THE SINGING – Lots of churches are singing a variety of new songs these days in their worship service. Many of those churches also project the words to their songs on the wall instead of using hymn books.

This is all well and good – unless your song leader is singing “Song A” and your A/V technician decides to put up the words to “Song B” on the projection screen.

If I don’t know the song you are singing (and I probably don’t ‘cause I’m an old fuddy duddy) I am up the creek without a paddle – because I have no idea what’s going on!

 

THE TOP SECRET SOCIETY RITUALS – I have seen so many things take place during worship services that went unannounced, and it seemed as if I had been placed in a secret club with secret rituals, except no one had let me in on the secrets!

Everybody is together in one room in Sunday School, and suddenly, with no announcement, folks are scattering out every door to places unknown! Where am I supposed to go? Do I leave or stay here? Where are the kids going? Who knows? I’m just a visitor, and I have no idea what’s going on!

Worship service is moving along and then, out of the clear blue, folks start making their way to the front, dropping money in a bank, and everyone starts singing “Happy Birthday”! What just happened? Does the money go to the person who is the oldest, or is that paying for a membership in AARP? I’m so confused and I have no idea what’s going on!

 

One of the keys to church revitalization is serious self-examination of all that we do and how we do it. If we are going to be successful, we are going to have to be honest with ourselves. The truth is that many of our churches are stagnant because they place a higher priority on those that are already within the four walls than those that are without.
How many folks will be sitting in your church this weekend thinking to themselves, “I have no idea what’s going on!”

 

Coming next – Practical ideas to help make it easier for visitors

 

10 Easy Steps to Church Revitalization, curing the common cold, and ushering in world peace!

Tip #1 for creating a successful blog – Have an eye-catching title for your posts. 

Mission Accomplished. 

I became the Director of Church Revitalization for Free Will Baptist North American Ministries in March of 2014. This is a brand new position in our denomination, and I have immersed myself in reading dozens of books, blogs and articles on the subject for months.

Just about everything I read on the topic of church revitalization involves a list of some sort:

“10 things churches need to do to attract new members”

“The 5 worst things churches do that turn off visitors”

“8 things the pastor of a struggling church needs to know”

“10 problems with church music today”

“7 questions to ask to see if YOU are the problem”

You get the picture.

I don’t know about anybody else, but sometimes I get lost in all the voices. (Especially when one “expert” gives the exact opposite advice of another “expert”!) It seems to me that it would be easy for the pastor of a struggling church who is reading all of this advice to just get so confused and frustrated, that a feeling of hopelessness and despair might set in.

Let me say right out of the box that I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly don’t consider myself to be an expert. You’ve probably figured out by now that I do NOT have 10 easy steps to church revitalization, world peace, or a cure for the common cold. However, I DO feel that I have learned a few basic things about this thing called “Church Revitalization”, and I would like to share them with you here:

Church revitalization is VITAL –  I don’t think I need to bore you with a list of facts and figures on this point. The Free Will Baptist denomination has hundreds of churches that have either plateaued or are in decline. There are varied reasons for this – aging congregations, a lack of pastoral candidates, apathetic church members or leadership, etc. We will discuss these at length in the future.

Strengthening our existing churches must be a top priority, and there are many reasons for that. If we are planting one church for every one we are closing, then we are simply treading water. If we are planting  one church for every TWO we are closing,  then we are actually losing ground.

If we are going to be successful in fulfilling the Great Commission as a denomination, we must begin by strengthening our existing churches.

Church Revitalization is VARIED – In other words, no two situations are alike. Churches are like people in that they each have their own unique personality. The history of the church, its worship style, its leadership team, its location in the community and where it’s located in the U.S. – all these and many more are factors that make each situation unique. While there are some overarching  principles that can be applied in every situation, a detailed analysis of an individual congregation will have to be done in order to really make a revitalization process successful. (We are developing tools to do just that – stay tuned!)

Church Revitalization is VICIOUS – Dangerous, harsh, fierce, brutal – Church revitalization is not for the faint of heart! It’s DIFFICULT WORK!

Think for a moment about what all is involved in turning around a church. First of all, it involves CHANGE – and generally,speaking, folks aren’t fond of change, or the agent of change for that matter!

Do a Bible study on the pitfalls of the trailblazer. Nehemiah (the leader of the first Free Will Baptist revitalization project)  battled enemies from without and within, had his motives questioned, and pretty much had to wake up building and battling every day.

Before David could do battle with Goliath on the field of battle, he first had to fight through those close to him who questioned his motives, and fight through King Saul’s mind set of “we’ve always done things this way”.

Of course, the ultimate religious rebel was Jesus Christ, who came and challenged virtually every standard practice of organized religion. The religious folks were not too happy about it – they hated the message and killed the messenger!

Is it easy? Certainly not.

Is it necessary? Certainly.

Will it be worth it? Absolutely.

No, I don’t have all the answers, but I look forward to standing side by side with my brothers and sisters in Christ as we head out on this journey of revival and renewal in our Churches.

A world of lost and hurting people are counting on us. Make no mistake, they are worth it!