By Janice Backer
Although the building and property will remain in the same location east of Jefferson City (1170 East Highway 11E), the congregation has voted to replant the church — with a new name, a new vision and a rededication of its purpose to share the gospel of Christ and make disciples.
Pastor George Miller, along with a committee of members, began exploring the possibility of replanting Magna View in hopes of the church staying open and not becoming a grim statistic.
“We started the process of replanting by spending three months of self-examination,” Miller said. “We discussed everything — the building, finances, worship, ministries and leadership.”
Steve Holt, the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board’s church services director, said it is encouraging and exciting to see churches, such as Magna View, that are willing to explore their options in terms of remaining effective in reaching the community for Christ.
“I have the utmost respect for Pastor Miller and the leadership of Grace Point and the sacrifices they were willing to make in order to follow the Lord’s leadership for their church,” said Holt.
Grace Point is not only in the “replanting” process, but also in the planting cycle, too.
“We are in the beginning stages of helping to plant a new church in our area,” said Miller. “We wanted it to be part of the DNA of our replanted church to help give life to churches, whether that means planting new churches or helping existing churches to revitalize or replant. We want to be a resource for kingdom work any way we can.”
Magna View Baptist Church has been in existence for more than 50 years in Jefferson County.
In the late 1950s and early 60s, Jefferson County thrived with a Magnavox factory that in its heyday employed 15,000. Magna View Baptist Chapel started in a home near the factory in April of 1965. By October, the mission became a church called Magna View Baptist Church with 48 charter members. In March of the next year, the church purchased property and the first building was built in 1966 as part of the Nolachucky Baptist Association.
Unfortunately, like many older churches in America, Magna View reached a plateau and for various reasons membership began to decline, ultimately leading the church to make decisions about its future and beginning the replanting process.
“I have observed Magna View Baptist Church for nearly 40 years, first as a student at nearby Carson-Newman University, then as a pastor in the area, and finally as a state missionary responsible for church revitalization,” said Holt. “I believe Pastor George Miller has served and led that church well for many years and is a role model to other pastors in how to persevere through the hard process of ‘revisioning’ a fellowship of believers to thrive in the present day.”
According to the North American Mission Board (NAMB), on average, 17 Southern Baptist churches shut their doors for good every Sunday. More than 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches have plateaued or are declining in number and 10 to 15 percent are at risk of or near closing.
Since 2013, about 150 Southern Baptist churches have opted to replant across the United States, says Bob Bickford, associate director of replant for NAMB. He says replanting a church does not mean failure.
“Failure would be doing nothing, watching the church close, its members scatter and the facility closed,” he said. “Regrettably, some churches choose to close rather than make the difficult decisions to see their church regain vitality. … They reject change and refuse to endure.”
NAMB, along with the Tennessee Baptist Convention and local Baptist associations, are trying to work together to help local churches in this struggle. On the state level, the Tennessee Baptist Convention has a goal of revitalizing 500 churches by 2024 that are in danger of closing their doors.
“The TBMB has a great team of people who are happy to serve TBC churches who see the need to be renewed,” said Holt. “Whether that is a ‘replant’ like Magna View or more of a season of ‘refreshing’ the fellowship, we have resources that can assist them.”
Miller agrees that a replant is better than closing the church. But it wasn’t an easy task, he said, since some members saw the need for change and others did not.
Miller said there have been people who have helped and prayed for the church during the process. One person was Jimmy Inman, Teaching Pastor of True Life Church in Jefferson City, who gave suggestions for the rewriting of the church constitution and bylaws.
“I was Pastor George’s friend and prayer partner,” Inman said. “Churches have life cycles and can sometimes come to a place of being in a downward spiral.”
David Hawkins, director of missions for Nolachucky Baptist Association, also was another mentor. Hawkins believes that DOMs should walk alongside churches in this struggle.
“I have been involved in conversational meetings with leadership of two declining churches in hopes they would accept the reality (that they) cannot continue doing the same thing and expect different results,” he said. Although the idea of “replanting” or “restarting” was offered as an option, the churches continue to remain plateaued or declining. Hawkins said the association and sister churches can assist a declining church through prayer, encouragement and partner with them in evangelism and missions.
Besides changing the church name to Grace Point, the church has begun some new ministries, including an English as a Second Language class and the “adoption” of Talbott Elementary School (for prayerwalking the campus, and for providing teacher supplies and cakes for the Fall Festival). Another new ministry that may be started soon is a citizenship class to help refugees and immigrants to become American citizens.
The property also will be refreshed. On the outside a revamped sign now displays the new name and the interior of the church building will get a face lift with new paint and some remodeling.
Bickford says on average a replant can take between 3-7 years before the church becomes viable and vibrant.
He says the main reason to replant is simply this: “What about a dying church brings glory to God? The obvious answer is nothing,” he said. “Therefore, we must replant churches rather than watch them close.”
For that reason, Grace Point is poised for the future.
“While we’ve seen some signs of spiritual renewal at Grace Point, we’re not there yet,” Miller said. “I know the physical things are important, but my heart is burdened for our spiritual need.” Miller said he almost daily thinks about Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it …”
“We want a rededication of the church’s purpose to share the gospel of Christ and to make disciples who make disciples,” he said.
For more information about Grace Point, call 865-475-5601 or visit gracepointtalbott.org.
— David Dawson contributed to this story.