By David Dawson
Baptist and Reflector
JACKSON — Addressing a group of more than 100 pastors and church leaders at West Jackson Baptist Church, former SBC president Johnny Hunt delivered some disturbing statistics in the opening few minutes of the “Moving Beyond” conference on Sept. 26.
“We’re losing 17 churches per week,” said Hunt, the senior pastor at First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga. “That’s 900 churches per year.”
But Hunt didn’t park beside those discouraging numbers. Rather, he spent the remainder of the one-day, three-part conference talking about ways in which churches can reverse the trend through revitalization, and he challenged the attendees to take on the assignment.
“Everything rises and falls with leadership,” Hunt said. “And, as leaders, we have to work the harvest fields.”
Doing otherwise, Hunt said, is like a farmer waiting for crops to grow that were never planted. Hunt went on to say that leaders need to get on board with the visionaries in their church and not be afraid to dream big.
“Get in with the movers – and move with them,” he said.
The conference, hosted by the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, was one of several similar conferences in which Hunt has served as the featured speaker.
“This is a big event for our state and for church revitalization,” said Larry Murphy, the director of missions for Madison-Chester and Crockett Baptist Associations. “For us to have Johnny Hunt here and to be partnering with North American Mission Board is exciting.”
Hunt focused on “Leadership that Lasts” during the day’s first session. He then zeroed in on the challenges of church growth in the second session, which was entitled, “Moving beyond the wall: Getting off the Plateau.” Hunt concluded the conference with a Q-and-A segment in the final session.
Hunt, who served as the SBC president from 2008-2010, used a blend of humor, story-telling and insight to guide the attendees through the seminar. He spoke frankly on several topics while challenging those in attendance to make a difference in their respective churches.
Hunt said pastors and lay leaders set the tenor for the church. He also said revitalization cannot take place unless the church leaders are open to new ideas.
But if growth and revitalization are a top priority for the leaders, the church will follow, Hunt said.
“For those (in roles of leadership), what’s important to you will become important to the church,” he said.
Citing Matthew 16:18, Colossians 2:19, and Ephesians 4:15-16, Hunt talked about God’s desire to see the church grow. Hunt said growth is a process, not an event; it’s an attitude, not an ability.
“Growth is facilitated by a new vision,” he said, “and change must be seen as a fact of life.”
Hunt’s overall theme for the day was to encourage churches and pastors to “do whatever it takes” to ensure that the church not only survives, but thrives. Hunt said the “whatever it takes” concept is something he’s employed throughout his years in ministry.
“You can’t grow the church without growing yourself,” he said. “I believe in the philosophy that if you don’t want to do something, you will find an excuse. But if you do want to do something, you will find a way.”
Hunt also offered words of encouragement for pastors of churches who are in a holding pattern in terms of membership numbers.
“In some cases, I’d rather see a healthy church than a growing church,” he said, noting that a stable situation is cause for celebration, not alarm.
When looking out into the sanctuaries on Sundays, pastors “need to make sure that we are more joyful about who is there than we are concerned about how many are there,” he said.
Murphy said he hopes the conference had an impact on the attendees in ways that will be felt for many months and years to come.
“My hope is (that the attendees) will learn how to be better leaders and how to lead their churches moving forward,” he said. “This is about all of us working toward having healthy churches and doing the things that God wants us to do. It is a chance for us to focus on one of the TBMB’s five objectives and to make a difference in terms of moving toward that goal.”