Advance Stories

Cooperation to Strengthen At-Risk Churches

Cooperation to Strengthen At-Risk Churches

Cooperation to Strengthen At-Risk Churches

As I think back through my appointments from the past week, I was reminded why cooperation is essential to strengthening our local congregations.

Meetings with pastors, associational leadership, potential replanters, at-risk churches, and other leaders who are leveraging their strengths, so the strength and mission of our churches is renewed, and Christ is proclaimed in every community. Church revitalization is not a solo mission, but a testimony of the body of Christ working together with God-given gifts and wisdom through a multitude of roles. I will seek to demonstrate this reality in review of the appointments from my past week.

Sunday @ 11am – Church votes to affirm a motion to reSTART

On Sunday one of our churches, having experienced decline and years of turmoil, affirmed a motion to reSTART and forge a new work and mission with the remaining resources. This one vote is culmination of many of the elements below in this article, but without a vision, brokenness for the community, and love for the local church this motion is hollow, and all efforts are in vain. The success of this vote was not a result of a visionary leader or an organization’s strategy, but a step of faith by the members of the congregation ready to reach their community at all costs. Hopeful futures can begin with broken-hearted steps of faith to advance God’s mission.

Monday @ 9am – Revitalization / Replanter Training

A Monday morning gathering of pastors from struggling churches could have filled a couple hours with unfruitful conversations about the brokenness of the churches they serve, but not this cohort. The room was filled with men who have committed their lives to strengthening God’s Church through faithful pastoral ministry. They came eager to learn. They came hungry for fellowship and encouragement. They listened, dreamed, prayed, and prayed some more while their inboxes filled with emails and phones pinged with unanswered text messages. Hopeful futures demand contextual training to equip our pastors to fulfill God’s mission of making disciples in their communities.

Monday @ 6pm – Consultation with an at-risk church and a soon to be adoptive church

My day ended with the last consultation session between two churches seeking to finalize an adoption partnership and advance God’s Kingdom together. We’ve spent many hours together discerning a vision and collaborating on details so that the legacy of a 100+ year-old congregation could continue as part of a new family of churches. Far from a takeover, this process has demonstrated the beauty of the body of Christ in a courtship of faith and hope. The adopting church seeking to care for their brothers and sisters with humility, compassion, and honor, took time to build trust, strengthen relationships, and extend an invitation to continue to be a purposeful part of the family. Hopeful futures demand partner churches willing to build God’s Kingdom and instead of their own kingdom.

Tuesday @ 10am – Associational meeting with pastors sharing their challenges and needs

Traveling to another part of our state and spending time with pastors who have served God’s church almost as long as I have been alive, I saw the need for healthy associational partnerships. These men drove from smaller communities and rural contexts seeking community from their peers and encouragement from God’s Word. Almost every one of them represented a church in decline, some with less than 20 worshipers last Sunday. And then there were the empty seats in the room representing the co-vocational pastors unable to meet during the day and pastors who choose not to participate in the associational work. There were a lot of empty seats. Our local churches need healthy, effective associations for many reasons – collaboration, resourcing, community, etc. Hopeful futures demand healthy local associations with cooperating churches and supporting entities to implement a shared vision.

Wednesday @ 9am – Prayer meeting for churches and pastors

Just about every Wednesday our state convention staff prays together for our churches, pastors, and missionaries. Prayer is so vital to strengthening churches. It is both a precursor and a product of church revitalization. Every week we cry out for God to move in our churches and care for our pastors because we understand the challenges of ministry and long for God to be exalted in our state, nation, and world. Hopeful futures are dependent on the fervent prayers of God’s people.

Wednesday @ lunch – Revitalization pastor residency coaching session

What a joy to have a midweek meeting with a pastor and a revitalization pastoral resident! Four years ago, this pastor left a comfortable staff position to become a replanter in an at-risk church. Now he’s sharing his wisdom with a resident preparing to do a similar work in another church yet to be named. This kind of boots on the ground experience is priceless to young men called to pastoral ministry. Over the course of 12-18 months, his head, heart, and hands will be fashioned for ministry in an at-risk church and enfolded into a movement of revitalizers. Hopeful futures demand intentional development of future pastors developed and sent to lead at-risk churches.

Wednesday @ 3pm – Meeting with potential replanter new to our state

I ended my midweek sharing vision and coffee with a potential replanter who has been brought to our state by God-ordained circumstances. With the ability to work remotely for a company, he and his wife intentionally chose our state because of the opportunities and the tremendous number of at-risk churches in the South. Not long after unpacking their boxes, he’s asking me how to get in the game and see God strengthen a local church. As I cast vision for joining a sending church, utilizing their gifts in faithful membership, being assessed by the pastor and our team, he saw the value of sitting on a runway for revitalization runway waiting for flight clearance. Lord, give me more of these meetings! Hopeful futures demand healthy assessment and sending pathways for future revitalizers.

Thursday @ 9am – Training for interim pastors hosted by the associational revitalization team leadership

Thursday morning was an answer to many prayer requests! As I’ve worked with many declining churches, I’ve found a master key to reorienting a church’s mission – the interim pastor. More than a temporary preacher or a chaplain, this role could initiate the right conversation in a declining congregation and shepherd an often fearful and guarded membership through steps of faith. So, casting vision to a group of retired pastors, challenging them to invest a season of their life in purposeful ways, and equipping them to work with an associational revitalization team will return many churches to the front lines of Kingdom advancement. Hopeful futures demand equipped interim pastors willing to till up well-trodden fields of ministry, so that future harvests can be gathered in our communities.

Thursday @ 9pm – Debrief with strategist after a church consultation

My week ended with a call from one of our regional strategists to debrief a church consultation with a handful of senior adult members hanging on with only a few months of financial provision. His meeting was sweet and encouraging leaving the members with hopeful options. They asked him, “Do you think we could be part of something new if we give this place [the facilities] to someone who could use it?” Not every consultation begins this way…but in this instance, God is preparing a people to be part of something bigger than they could accomplish on their own. And because this strategist added a few more hours to his already crowded calendar to meet with the few, they have hope. Hopeful futures demand a network of practitioners engaging at-risk churches and guiding them through many meetings, questions, doubts, and hours of conversation so that God’s redemptive work is accomplished in and through his people.

o   Steps of faith by God’s people.

o   Contextual training for pastors.

o   Kingdom-minded partner churches.

o   Fervent prayers of God’s people.

o   Residency development for future leaders.

o   Healthy pathways for assessment and sending.

o   Equipped interim pastors sacrificing retirement for Kingdom work.

o   Network of practitioners serving our at-risk churches.

A week of appointments demonstrating the beauty of cooperative work to strengthen churches in our state. Our churches need our Kingdom cooperation. Our communities need our Kingdom cooperation. Better yet, those who have yet to believe need to see our Kingdom cooperation as a powerful reflection of Christ’s body and work.

United by our faith in Christ and longing to see his redemptive work in our communities, let’s keep increasing our cooperation until every church is stronger.

Author: James Nugent, SCBaptist Convention

  • James Nugent

    James Nugent

  • Share This Story