By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
POWELL — At least two models of Baptist church revitalization exist — a sponsoring church can absorb the congregation, developing a campus of the sponsoring church, or the sponsoring church can bring in another congregation to use the facility of the declining congregation.
It is rare for the revitalized church to retain its identity and be given back its autonomy.
However, this occurred in January as First Baptist Church, Powell, saw First Baptist Church, Fountain City, revitalized after a 10-year process and returned to being an autonomous church.
Then in another unusual move, First Baptist, Powell, agreed to try to revitalize Norwood Baptist Church, Knoxville, the same month.
Phil Jones, preaching pastor, First Baptist, Powell, said God definitely led his church in these ventures. The church didn’t seek them and church leaders didn’t have much experience in the beginning, he said. Yet God worked.
Steve Holt of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board staff, said, “First Baptist Church, Powell, has been a pioneer in this ministry of helping struggling churches experience revitalization. I have used them as a wonderful example of how a healthy church can come alongside a struggling church to move them toward a healthier future.”
Phil Young, director of missions, Knox County Association of Baptists, based in Knoxville, said of the recent revitalization effort, “It has been exciting to see the spirit of unity and cooperation between the staff, lay leaders, and members of the two churches. There is a mutual respect that has honored the legacy of Norwood Baptist Church while casting a vision toward the future of maintaining a strong church presence in this community.” Young also serves as a church revitalization specialist for the TBMB.
Norwood Baptist is growing
Several months ago when Kemp Wynn, pastor, Norwood Baptist, contacted Jones and asked for help in revitalizing the church, the church had about 30 senior adults on Sunday mornings.
Jones and leaders of First, Powell, had learned a lot from revitalizing First, Fountain City. They also know “every church is different,” he stated.
In the case of First, Fountain City, the church agreed to let First, Powell, lead the revitalization by becoming a part of First, Powell, which included giving its facilities to the church. This decision is important and was a lesson learned during the revitalization effort of First, Fountain City, and a revitalization effort years ago, explained Jones.
One factor that helped Norwood Baptist agree to do the same thing was they knew that First, Powell, had not only revitalized First, Fountain City, but was going to return it to autonomy.
“That gave us some credibility that we’re not just coming in trying to take over their church,” said Jones.
So in January First, Powell, transitioned Wynn to pastoral care minister; Tim McGhee, missions pastor, First, Powell, was named pastor.
Recently at the Norwood Baptist Church Campus of First, Powell, about 80 people gathered to worship on a Sunday morning including about 35 people from First Powell. That included Spanish-speaking people wearing headphones to hear translation of the service.
The Hispanic Church of First, Powell, has moved to the Norwood Campus. This was done in response to a demographic study of the church’s community which showed that about 36 percent are people of races other than Caucasian, explained Jones.
Other good aspects of this revitalization are that the facilities won’t need to be renovated and it is located only about six miles away from First, Powell, said the pastor.
Another blessing is that a strategy to grow the church has already been found, said Jones. Norwood Elementary School, which has many students who are immigrants including many Muslims from Iraq, allows people to teach English as a Second Language to adults there.
Wynn said he knew of the successful revitalization of First, Fountain City, by First, Powell, so he went to Young for advice. He also offered to step aside.
“I wanted to do whatever was best for Norwood Church in the future because I have really seriously always wanted to glorify God and please Him and let Him get the glory,” said Wynn.
Already bivocational, Wynn is glad he has remained a minister at the church.
Norwood Baptist members made a “commitment that even though the church would change and maybe not to what they prefer,” they would do it to see people saved and the church begin to reflect the people in our community, said Wynn.
First Baptist, Fountain City
Some years ago First, Powell, had been trying to help First, Fountain City, at their request, for several years when Jones realized that First, Fountain City, needed to give up control and let First, Powell, lead it. He hesitated to bring the issue up, though, because the position sounded “arrogant,” Jones said. Mike Powell, executive pastor, First, Powell, agreed.
At that time Powell was serving as interim pastor of First, Fountain City. The church only had about 65 people in Sunday morning activities when it sought help from First, Powell.
So Jones and Powell agreed to pray about the situation.
The very next Sunday, First, Fountain City, asked First, Powell, to accept responsibility for the church, including its facilities, recalled Jones.
After the logistics and legalities of the two churches becoming one were completed, it was decided Jones would invest in the new church campus by preaching there. After preaching at the two Sunday morning services of First, Powell, Jones preached at the First, Fountain City, Campus. It was possible because it is located just about eight miles from First, Powell. To assist in the revitalization, about 30 members of First, Powell, went to participate also.
Then three years later, in 2011, Donnie Wadley, college pastor of First, Powell, was called as pastor of the First, Fountain City, Campus.
First, Powell, also invested about $300,000 in renovation and about $60,000 a year in upkeep and personnel, said Jones. First, Powell, attracts about 900 to Sunday morning activities.
Today, First, Fountain City, is “a prospering church” with about 325 people coming to Sunday morning worship, said Jones. Also the church recently hired a new full-time staff member.
“We’ve had a few little problems as you would expect. You would wonder if the Lord was in it if there was no opposition. But overall it’s gone very smooth,” said Jones, who has served First, Powell, for 30 years.
Both of these efforts have been conducted by First, Powell, while several First, Powell, families (over 60 people counting children) transferred to a new church planting effort in the inner city of Knoxville, said Jones.
First, Powell, has seen total attendance drop some, but “we’re scattered now,” Jones observed.
The other missions work of First, Powell, has continued, added Jones, though it has not grown much during this period. Actually, he feels its current balance of missions work overseas and in North America is better.
One way to see the need for revitalization of declining churches is that Baptists own “millions and millions of dollars worth of property in key areas which could be used to reach the inner city, immigrants, people across racial lines … ,” said Jones.
“It’s been a pretty amazing journey,” he concluded.