Downtown Baptist Church has been a landmark of hope sitting at the corner of Main Street in the middle of a quiet, country town as she has for over 100 years. Downtown has enjoyed a long history of being a church that attracted the locals for worship through many generations, but it may be facing its last generation. Stop by on a Sunday and you’ll find a faithful few, mostly older adults gathering for the last two remaining Sunday school classes before scattering to their regular seats spread out across the almost empty sanctuary. They used to have a full-time pastor, but the funds aren’t available for that any more, so now a retired preacher tries to encourage the weary remnant to hold on to hope of a better day. But, will there be a better day for Downtown Baptist? Will they ever see a return of the church they remember and have served for so long?
This story may sound all too familiar as many of our Baptist churches in South Carolina are facing similar futures. This may be the last generation to ever gather for worship before they will be forced to close their doors forever. But, what if there are other options that could restore life and continue the vision of making disciples in the community for future generations?
Recently several of Directors of Missions from across South Carolina participated in a training offered by the North American Mission Board to serve their at-risk churches. Congregations that are currently vulnerable to imminent decline or closure due to plateaued or declining attendance often have options when they are willing to take steps of faith to continue their mission in the community. Through an interactive training, our DOMs learned how to guide their churches to discover which option would be best to reverse the trends and restore life to the congregation. Through a process of exploration and examination, congregations work with the associational leaders to better understand their reality and prayerfully consider how to respond in faith.
Some churches experiencing plateau or decline may benefit from an intentional revitalization process while others may choose to merge with a healthier, often younger, congregation. And still, others may need to consider reSTARTing or reinvesting their resources so that God’s Kingdom can continue to advance in their community. Because of their training, many Directors of Missions stand ready to assist their churches in taking the next steps toward healthier futures.
Maybe the story of Downtown Baptist is the story of your church. God has not forsaken his Church of any size in any town, but without steps of faith and obedience there may not be a future generation gathering for worship in many of our churches. Would you consider beginning a conversation about how your church can continue its mission of proclaiming the hope of Jesus Christ in your community? You can do so by contacting your Director of Missions or James Nugent at the South Carolina Baptist Convention. James serves as the reSTART Strategist and can be reached via email at JamesNugent@scbaptist.org or by phone at 803.227.6049.