By Connie Davis Bushey
News Editor, Baptist and Reflector
HERMITAGE — “This is a story of coming from dying to being healthy again,” said Bill Blair at the Church Revitalization Conference: Giving Hope for Change of his journey.
Blair was referring to his experience with revitalization as pastor of Mill Creek Baptist Church, Nashville. The conference was held last week at Hermitage Hills Baptist Church by the Tennessee Baptist Convention in partnership with LifeWay Christian Resources and Nashville Baptist Association.
He and the church also are featured in a TBC video on the 2015 Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions.
Blair told folks attending a breakout session at the conference that though the historic church had started other churches including First Baptist, Nashville, it was down to about 40 people on Sunday mornings two years ago when he “took on the call as pastor.” Blair also was accepting his first pastorate and is bivocational.
Since then 16 people have made professions of faith at Mill Creek Baptist, 11 have been baptized, the children and youth group has grown to about 20, and a singles ministry which has drawn as many as 40 has been started.
Attendance has increased to about 65 on Sunday mornings, but more importantly the church is becoming healthy, said Blair.
God has answered so many prayers to lead to these early steps toward revitalization, described Blair.
Sometimes it just took fresh eyes on the situation, he observed. For instance, to protect the parking lot which had been damaged by big vehicles using it to turn around, the church had installed a gate. But that kept parents from parking at the church as they waited for a school bus.
Then a nearby public school contacted him, added Blair, with a request to hold a march or walk from the church property to the school. That led to many other ministries the church has conducted at the school while forming great relationships, he described.
“We’ve seen amazing answers to prayer of God doing things even before we’ve taken action steps,” he observed.
The three steps toward revitalization that the church took were prayer, partnerships, and perseverance, he noted.
Strategic, specific prayer is needed by a church seeking revitalization, explained Blair. That may be for a teacher for a certain class, $200 for a need in the church, or a speaker. He referred to John 14:12-14 in which Jesus asked for specific requests and then promised to meet those needs.
Blair said he involved the congregation in supporting these prayer needs by adapting the Wednesday night printed prayer guide. The list of those who were ill was updated which pared it down substantially. Then the prayer guide was broadened to include other prayer needs such as North America and international needs. Also needs are distributed throughout the week.
Blair said he decided to pray about the worship at the church rather than trying to change it in order to attract people. Then God sent some people to the church to lead a new kind of worship and everyone really likes it, explained Blair.
On the partnerships needed for revitalization, Blair noted that a partnership with First, Nashville, helped in several ways including financially. A partnership with the TBC provided funds from the GOTM. He learned about the TBC’s demographic data available and used that. Finally, the church asked the Nashville Baptist Association for help and has received guidance from it. Blair said a struggling church should ask for help.
The church also has been helped by Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, which sent its medical/dental mobile clinic two times to the Mill Creek community. As a result, 74 people were treated and seven people made professions of faith.
When utilizing partnerships, churches should choose help which supports their ministries and be sure they work well with people while acknowledging that Satan will try to make it difficult.
In that vein, Blair told of a block party which seemed doomed because of a lack of volunteers expected from another church. Then that need was amazingly filled by Mill Creek members. They learned that they could do more than they thought, said Blair.
Finally, a church undergoing a revitalization must persevere, said the pastor. You must have a “radical faith with realistic expectations.”
In small churches, which are the majority of Southern Baptist churches, one or two people can make a huge difference, he noted.
He also advised that church leaders “look for changes that don’t show up in the numbers.” For instance, a church may have more people without an increase in weekly attendance.
What people are talking about at church is a measure of their attitudes, he said. Is there joy in the church? Do people pray and then act like they believe their prayer will be answered? he asked.
Pastors should “equip the people you have rather than wish for the people you don’t,” he continued, noting that Jesus didn’t have a “dream team” in his disciples.
Pastors should consider their church members as those that God sent them. Additionally they should trust that God can work through anyone.
Finally, Blair said a pastor should lead the congregation to accomplish the revitalization in small steps, drop hints as to the progress being accomplished, and regularly celebrate accomplishments.
“Walk with them from step to step. You are going from a near death experience to life,” concluded Blair.