Everybody wants the church to grow, but why isn’t it? TBMB Church Revitalization Specialist Kevin Minchey stops by the Radio B&R studio to discuss all things church revitalization, including what the COVID-19 pandemic means for the future of churches, especially those that need to be revitalized.
Kevin Minchey: Jesus says “The gates of Hades shall not prevail against the church.” The pastor wants to see the church do better. The church wants to see the church do better to reach people. So all these factors would indicate that, hey, it’s a no-brainer that we’re going to be able to just take this church down the road to the next level, but that doesn’t happen. So that’s when we come in and we say, well, let’s help you assess your church and find out if all these things are true why are we not making any progress for the kingdom?
Chris Turner: Hello, and welcome to this edition of Radio B&R. I’m your host, Chris Turner. Today our guest is church revitalization team leader here at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, Kevin Minchey. Kevin, welcome.
Kevin Minchey: Good to be with you.
Chris Turner: Well, I appreciate you stopping by. It’s been quite a stretch for us over the past two or three months with churches and what everything has looked like through the pandemic, the COVID crisis. And it doesn’t look like we’re quite out of it yet. Unfortunately, it looks like it will extend and it has had an impact on church and just the way we do church. And we’ll talk about that a little bit more in a bit. As of now, some churches have gone back in some form or fashion, but there are other churches that are still waiting. And so we know that that also has a bearing, but there’s a lot of people I think that might not have ever heard the term church revitalization, or fully understood what that term means. So when we say church revitalization what does that mean to you?
Kevin Minchey: That’s a good question because the word has been used a lot recently. It’s used so much without being defined, I think it may mean different things to different people. Revitalization, the root word there is the same. We get revived from a revival. So you could call church revitalization, the revival objective of the Convention, or the Mission Board, but when you say revival in Southern Baptist life, people think about a series of meetings, but the objective is the same, which is we need a fresh stirring of the Holy Spirit and his power. And we need to get back on track where we’ve backslidden in our enthusiasm. So when we talk about revitalization, we’re talking about getting back to a place of spiritual productivity and fruitfulness by that measuring it with our people being saved and baptized at least the same number, if not more. If less, if the indicator is less people are showing up for worship, less people are in Bible study, less people are giving, less people are getting saved and baptized then that’s probably a good time to have a church revitalization discussion.
Other times churches are doing really well year after year after year, but they want to go to the next level and they’ve just become complacent. I was looking at our top baptism churches just before coming in here. And one of our churches baptized a good number of people every year, but they made a decision to try to double their baptisms and they were able to do that. And they were already leading probably in the top 10 in the state so that was a form of revitalization is to say, hey, we can do this on our own. What could we do if we really got serious about seeking God and seeking lost people, and twice as many people are getting saved two years in a row now.
Chris Turner: Yeah, a couple of years ago, we did one of our GOTM promotional videos on Parkburg Baptist Church over in the Jackson area. And the pastor there, one of his comments was is they weren’t necessarily declining and the church was healthy, but the church leadership just didn’t feel like they were moving forward the way that they needed to move. And so I think they were one of the first ones that got in on the ground floor of what we’re doing with church revitalization for basically that reason that you’re talking about. They didn’t want to fall into a state of decline, but they felt like what they were doing was good, but as Danny Rachel the pastor said that he didn’t feel like what God was looking for was good. God was looking for excellent. And they needed to figure out a way to revitalize, to move forward from where they were, so.
Kevin Minchey: Yeah, that’s tricky, too. What his assessment was is we’re a healthy church and many times we call healthy really it’s stable, which means we’re not fighting. We’re paying our bills. We’re not losing a lot of ground, but that’s really not healthy in the sense that let’s say your population is growing and people are moving in, but you’re just the same as you were for the last five years. It feels from the inside like, hey, we’re healthy, we’re doing well. As you know, many churches are declining. So if you look at the comparisons, it’s like, well, we’re doing okay, we’re healthy. We would gently and pastorally argue that, well, a healthy church is gaining new ground for the kingdom every year.
Chris Turner: So when we talk about just church revitalization, I would imagine one of the barriers is just admitting that you need to revitalize as a church. So what are some of the barriers that you’ve encountered as you help churches work through this that you’re helping a church overcome the idea that, oh, church revitalization, we’re not there yet, but what are some of the barriers to those churches starting a revitalization process?
Kevin Minchey: Well, like you said, the first barrier is just saying we need help. The reason why it’s a barrier to even enter into the conversation with someone about church revitalization is it’s an admitting of defeat, or our church is lacking. It’s a self-judgment call. It’s like you wake up one day and you say I really need to lose weight. Well, you’ve known that for a while. You’ve just finally said it to yourself in the mirror. Well, the church looks at themselves and they say things are not like they could be. One of the barriers, again, is just that there’s going to be some change. To use that analogy of getting in shape for spring it’s a lot easier to just keep doing what I’m doing and say, hey, this is where I am. This is who I am. Compared to most people I’m not that bad, but a barrier, number one is change.
Another one is the things that have to change are not just, well, we’re going to change our worship style. We’re going to add another Sunday School class. Sometimes we have to break apart some fallow ground that you know that these leaders in the church are not getting along, and you have deacons not talking, or staff that are split and just barely working together. And the church is not going to go to the next level because everybody knows that stuff’s going on, or we have tolerated some things we shouldn’t have tolerated. We’ve tried to be compassionate. We’ve probably gone too far and we’ve allowed some things to happen that shouldn’t so now we’ve become this church that doesn’t have a real solid center, and to regain that and to really have a voice to say, okay, this is who we are because of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we’ve departed from that, we’ve got to come back to it, and that’s very painful. It’s easier just to say, well, we’re going to keep going like we are.
Chris Turner: Well, you’ve talked about how a church might look at several different elements and you were explaining this a little bit before we got on the air that there are several things that seem to be in place, but then the church isn’t growing. Just walk through that, again, where you see that everything appears to be healthy, but there’s no growth.
Kevin Minchey: Yeah, again, one of the barriers is just recognizing that there’s that need there. One of the things that I say is that Jesus Christ, he’s the head of the church, the body. We are the body so we’re the members. 1 Corinthians 12:18 says, “God puts each member of the bodies that pleases him.” So that church you have is designed by God. If you’re a hand and you’re in First Baptist, you’re the hand of Christ. You’re one of the fingers because God’s put you there, you have a purpose, you have a place. So everyone’s there. God’s put them there. Jesus is the head.
The community, most of the people are far from God, probably 51% or more are not where they need to be. Jesus says “The Gates of Hades shall not prevail against the church.” The pastor wants to see the church do better. The church wants to see the church do better to reach people. So all these factors would indicate that, hey, it’s a no-brainer that we’re going to be able to just take this church down the road to the next level, but that doesn’t happen. So that’s when we come in and we say, well, let’s help you assess your church and find out if all these things are true why are we not making any progress for the kingdom? Why are not more people’s lives being changed and souls being saved? That’s really the bottom line.
Chris Turner: When you go in to work with a church, you really start with an assessment and evaluation. Walk a little bit through the process that you go through as you start. A church says, yeah, Kevin, come help us with church revitalization. What are the steps you walk through to get them going?
Kevin Minchey: Okay. Well, the first thing we do try to just be responding instead of going to the pastor and saying, hey, Pastor Chris, we’ve looked at your numbers you need revitalization. That doesn’t work.
Chris Turner: Doesn’t work well.
Kevin Minchey: Yeah. So we try to have them come to us. We put things out, say, hey, we’re here to help. And, fortunately, we do get a lot of response, but the first thing we’ll do is we’ll find out do they really want to see a transformation happen in their congregation? There’s a saying we’ve hijacked it from somebody who stole it from somebody else, but Terry Rawls is the last person I heard say it. He said, “We have to decide do churches want revitalization, or do they want relief?” Sometimes they really just want the relief of some more people to give money, or some younger people to come work in the nursery, or to work with the youth, or to just do whatever we’re tired of doing. And so they really don’t want change. They just want just enough people to come in to relieve them.
If we find that, then we can help. We can say, look, if your only concern is your finances, we can help you. We’ll connect you with that. They probably will not do a two or three year process to really open up their church and look at the really hard to see things. If the reason they called us is because we’re just not making budget we always have, but if we come in and we find that they really are tired, there’s a conviction, and they’re tired of being less than what God’s called them to be. One of the things I say is your vision should never be any less than your potential. So we look at what is your potential.
Some of these are assessments, but I try to not just do these write yourself assessments because if you love your pastor, and you love your church you’ll give fours and fives on a five-point scale. So I’ll go in and I’ll say, well, how many people do you seat in one service? Well, 250. Okay. How many are you running? 50. Okay. Well, at some point somebody had a vision of 250 people being in this sanctuary that, I mean, this validates that vision at some point in time. What was the best you ever ran? Well, we had two services at one time had 300. Okay, well we go back and find out what happened there.
And usually there’s a point in time where some decisions were made, or some opportunities were missed and you can find, okay, how can we redeem that time? Ephesians 5:15, See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, for the days are evil. We can look and say, can we go back and fix? Even if you can’t go back, you can learn from it and go forward. So I would say, well, let’s just say, I said this to one guy. I said, your sanctuary, you can get about 150 people in here. Let’s just say that’s your top end goal. You’re running 75 right now so that’s your spread. That’s who you’re going to try and reach over the next couple of years. We’re going to try and fill this thing one time. Parking spaces, I can use things, and I can say, because they’ll say, well, our potential is limited.
Well, of course it’s limited. It’s limited by your population, by your facilities, by your budget, by your human resources, the people you have, but could you get 10 new families, 10 new households in a certain period of time, let’s say 12 months, 18 months? That brings it down. And then I’ll say something like, okay, if you agree to get 10 households here’s the kicker. You get to choose the next 10 households because you probably know them, your kids play with their kids, they go to school, you work with them, you’re neighbors with them. So that helps them to see the next 10 families are not necessarily just strangers nobody knows. And so I found most of the churches we work with run 100 or less. Some are larger, but most are under 100. 10 households would totally revitalize and enthuse that congregation. So now we have said, “Okay, look, one page in the church directory can change this whole thing.”
Chris Turner: Wow.
Kevin Minchey: And you start to say, okay, come up with a prayer list. Who do you know? Do concentric circles. So those are all assessments that are not just how do you think you’re doing in all these areas? You can give them demographics, but it doesn’t matter that there’s 50,000 people here because they hear 50,000 and think, well, we can never reach 50,000 people. Yeah, but can you reach 10 households?
Chris Turner: So it really sounds like it’s helping them break this down into a manageable piece to see people that could be in those pews rather than looking at that faceless mass in their community. It’s like, wow, where are we going to start, but it really does sound like it’s, well, here’s low-hanging fruit, or a handle that you can say, I bet you can name 10 families, 10 people that people in this church know who are not churched, who could be coming here. Those are the people that are on your pick board, so to speak. And that really breaks it down into something that’s much more manageable, and you can see people, you know people.
Kevin Minchey: That’s the point. You can see it because, again, without vision the people cast off restraint, which means they leave. So when you say, okay, picture in your mind one household. Let’s say we engage 50 people, but we’re going to try and reach 10 households, everybody can think, okay, yeah, I can see my neighbor coming to church with me because our kids play together and we hang out. So the demographics you don’t see anything, but you can see, okay, what would this sanctuary look like with 10 more families? And let’s just say there’s two to three people in a family, maybe four. Well, that would change the dynamic of the room. It would change the number of people that could serve, it would change, I mean, but, again, they can see that.
Most of the time when we go into revitalization the people are frustrated, and frustrated burned out people are overwhelmed. So when you start throwing big numbers like your community has grown by so much that overwhelms them because it’s like, well, okay, you tell me. I’m from Murphysboro. We add 1,000 kids to the school system every year. Well, that overwhelms a church of 100 who has no kids. And so I go in and I say, well, can you reach two kids because I think back to when I was in fourth grade all I needed was a buddy. I was intimidated going to a group of 50 kids that I didn’t know, but if I had a buddy I was fine. So you don’t need a huge group. So you help them to understand we’re not trying to get you to be Walmart. We need a Dollar General here. We don’t have everything you want, but we have everything you need.
Chris Turner: Yeah, something manageable.
Kevin Minchey: Yes, and that helps them.
Chris Turner: Well, it’s easier to take responsibility for something that’s tangible. And you can see then looking at this faceless mass because there’s no connecting point. And if there’s no connecting point then there’s no sense of responsibility to it, and if there’s no responsibility then nothing ever gets done.
Kevin Minchey: Yeah, and if you’ve resigned yourself to be unable to accomplish the task then you won’t even try. It’s a guided assessment. I’ve developed a yes/no assessment. That way it’s like is the youngest mother in your church under 40? Well, that’s yes or no. And you can say we’re healthy, and if you bump that up a few years then basically you can technically almost say, well, there’s no women of childbearing age in this church. So if you pick that number let’s say 50, and you say, okay, there’s no mothers under 50. Mother’s Day the youngest mom was 53. Okay, well, that’s a pretty good assessment that you need to try to reach another generation because if there’s no childbearing women in your church, and you’re not reaching new people evangelistically then that’s where we get the idea that you’ll be gone in a generation.
Chris Turner: Yeah, absolutely. So as you just think about the whole pandemic thing and the way that that’s just thrown such a wrench into the church works and we’ve gone virtual, what kind of impact has that had that you see? I know it’s still early in what the impact might be, but how has that impacted the church that might be in the revitalization process? And then coming out of that, do you feel like all churches will need to be revitalized as they find their way back? How do you see the pandemic messing with the whole idea of needing to revitalize?
Kevin Minchey: Yeah, just to talk about it generally revitalization is never a march forward. They’re steps forward, steps back, and what the pandemic and the quarantine did is it just automatically it didn’t send everybody all the way back to go, but it sent us back to Baltic. I mean, we’re just right there. It’s almost like a restart again. I was working with a church and they were really starting to see some good things happen at the end of 2019, early 2020, there was an unchurched couple coming and the husband was lost, and Laura and I had gone and met with them. Three months away, everybody just goes back to their routine, especially, if they’ve not been coming to church. So we’re finding ourselves having to, actually, instead of reach more new people, go back and reel in the ones that we were reaching so that’s two or three steps back. One good thing I found is as you know, we’ve tried to stay in touch with as many people as we can.
There’s a church that runs about 65. And the guy said I’ve got 85 year olds doing Zoom and Facebook Live. They weren’t on it. He said that they’ve become adapters. And we’ve got two young people under 18 that are getting baptized that got saved during the quarantine. So that’s really encouraging because this is a rural church, it’s a small church. It’s a bi-vocational pastor, it’s single staff. It’s all those things that you think, oh, well, they just really got hit hard, but he said our numbers if you had everybody that watched and now is coming and watching we haven’t lost anyone. We’ve actually picked up more viewers, but we didn’t lose any of our people, and we’ve actually seen some fruit out of that. We’re pleasantly surprised to find more of those stories than we thought we would. At first, we thought, oh, man, this is going to just really wipe out about a fourth of our churches. We’re not finding many of those that are just saying, okay, that’s it, we’re closing up, that did it for us.
I think one thing that came out of it good is it showed us that we’ve always said the church is not the building. Well, now we know it’s not because we kept on going. We kept praying. We kept staying in contact. I’m a member of a somewhat larger church. And during quarantine, one of my Sunday School class members called just to check on me. I thought, well, that’s nice because they usually don’t, but they used this time to say, okay, everybody’s at home. Let’s just make sure everybody’s okay. So the churches that did that are coming out of this okay. I think the ones who just didn’t know what to do are the ones that will struggle, but, honestly, I’ve not found many of those. As we’ve checked in with pastors, they’re reporting that they’re down a little, or they haven’t lost anything, and this is attendance and giving. And some are even saying we’ve had people express interest virtually, or we’ve had some decisions made for Christ and we have people ready to baptize.
Chris Turner: Yeah. So you would say that throughout the pandemic that it hasn’t been a total bad thing for churches, that there have been some things coming out of this that maybe some of these churches that were in a revitalization process, it’s forced them to look at church a different way and force them to break some of that conventional thinking that may have gotten them into the need for church revitalization, but now with the virtual thing and having to do some different things has disrupted that a little bit in a good way.
Kevin Minchey: I think so. That’s what I’ve seen. We were fearful. Of course, the spirit of fear that doesn’t come from God, but we were fearful that this would really throw a lot of our churches for a loop, but they have really risen to the challenge. I mean, my mother-in-law is 85, she’s on Facebook now just since the quarantine. She’s been watching church online live-streaming. She’s doing all these things she was not doing. The younger people that we worry so much about they’ve not disengaged. I mean, the pastors have said, basically, we’ve got every one we had. We haven’t lost a bunch of people. They haven’t just spun off. So maybe we didn’t give people enough credit that they really are committed to their church family.
And I do think this was a shake-up, wake-up for some of us that we didn’t do a lot of programming. And even as we record this today, most churches are not having Sunday School Bible study on Wednesday night. And they’re realizing maybe we don’t have to just be here four nights a week. So I think that’s a good thing because one of the things we try to do in revitalization is convince them you’re probably doing too much that’s not helping you, and not enough of what would. So if they can lay down those things that are just wearing them out this pandemic quarantine may have forced them to do what they just would not voluntarily do.
Chris Turner: So as we head towards wrapping up, just as you look across the revitalization landscape, what do you see that may be some momentum for a church coming out of the pandemic? Let’s just say in two months from now the pandemic goes away and we’re all good, and churches can go back. What might a church that is in a revitalization process be able to take from what they’ve seen during the pandemic maybe with their virtual stuff that they could continue that might help them gain a little bit more momentum coming out than having to go a few steps back?
Kevin Minchey: Well, one pastor told me that he is going to use live-stream, virtual meetings, things like that, more in the future now that his people are used to it. If you told the deacons you’re going to have a Zoom meeting six months ago they would have first off not known what you were talking about, and they would not have agreed to it when you explained it to them. Well, everyone’s been on at least one of those now. And if you said, hey, there’s no reason for everybody to get out let’s have a quick 15 minute Zoom meeting. Let me tell you what we need to talk to you about, and we’ll all get your input. And then if we need to meet later we can. That’s one thing that I’m hearing. I’m adopting that myself. We’re going to do initial assessments across the state so we don’t have to drive everywhere like I said earlier to figure out do you need relief or revitalization? We’re going to do a Zoom meeting with the pastor and whoever else he wants to put on there and just say, tell us about your church.
So another thing is pastors needed help with everything shutting down because the pastor is the bad guy when he goes into revitalization, and he says, okay, look, we’ve got to stop doing these things. Well, the church has stopped doing things now, and it’s always easier to not start something back. I’ve had people tell me we’re just not going to go back to this since we’ve had to stop it. We realized that we enjoyed not having that weight on us. And we think we can move forward without it. And I’m talking pretty significant Wednesday night things, things like that.
I think, again, the reset that happened has been an asset. It’s not just a negative. It wasn’t just an interruption. I think it gave pastors the break where they could breathe. They could step back. They could look at their situation. Not that they were resting, they worked as hard as ever, but they were not behind anymore because nothing new was happening. They were just able to do some pastoral care, and talk to their guys and say, okay, look, if budget is impacted, and attendance is impacted by this, what do we have to do? And what can we let go? Force that conversation.
Chris Turner: I think one of the things we’ve really heard throughout just our contacting churches during this time is that there are a lot of churches that have been able to really just get back to basics like the things that really make the church the church. Ministry and care, evangelism of people, discipleship, and they found using Zoom for small group and those kinds of things. So it has forced, I used a great word, reset, and forced those churches to just, okay, what are the essentials we need to take care of? I mean, that gets you back the Book of Acts and what the essentials were of community evangelism, discipleship, and those types of things.
Kevin Minchey: That’s what we’re calling people to do is they’re not doing those things. They’re doing things that really don’t matter. And so, yes, that’s been very helpful. I had one pastor tell me we have a Sunday School class that’s going to continue to meet with that format because the interaction is better. People are talking to each other and this one pastor even said some people who aren’t local have joined the group because they’re not at a place. And some of its connections, maybe they used to go to church here. Well, now they can go to church, but they can visit their old Sunday School class, and interact through chat or just speak up. So those are just some of the things that I think pastors are thankful for.
Chris Turner: So as we wrap up, if somebody wanted to get in touch with you to talk a little bit more about revitalization in the whole process what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Kevin Minchey: They can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or they can call me 615-651-4770. They can call the TBMB and they’ll route it to me, but, typically, I’m fine just catching the calls and emails myself.
Chris Turner: Sounds great. Well, Kevin, I know that church revitalization is a big part of what we do here. It’s one of the five objectives. We do have a desire to see at least 500 churches in the revitalization process, but, honestly, should the Lord do way above 500 that would be a good thing, too. So, thanks for taking some time to talk to us about church revitalization. And, again, if you’re listening, be sure and contact the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and Kevin for more information. Kevin, thanks for being here.
Kevin Minchey: Thanks for having me on.
Announcer: Thank you for listening to Radio B&R, a podcast production of the Baptist and Reflector, the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This and other episodes can be downloaded at baptistandreflector.org/radiobr. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board are supported through the cooperative program and gifts received through the golden offering for Tennessee missions. For more information, visit tnbaptist.org.