Many churches in the Kentucky Baptist Convention have seen a decline or plateau over the past few years. Churches are bombarded by the word “revitalization.” For some this is a negative term. However, I see that the process of revitalization has been around a lot longer than we have used the word.
In Ohio County, there is a church that more than likely has not heard the word “revitalization,” but God has restored them and given them new life.
East Hartford Baptist Church began as a mission in 1956 and became a church in 1974. Looking at the 20 Year Statistical History Report, from 1995 to 2005 the worship attendance looks like a bell curve, beginning at 60 with a high of 175, then plummeting to 33 in worship for 2005.
During this decline a new pastor came: Troy Richards. Over the next 10 years, God began the process of revitalizing East Hartford. Looking at the years 2006-2014, you see a totally different church. The church has seen more than 150 baptisms, worship attendance growing from 33 to 252, and five times the offering.
As I spoke to pastors Troy Richards and Andy Gowins about what God has done at EHBC, several things jumped out, suggesting that any church connecting to God can see a turnaround. Here are six factors that God used to cause this church to become a story of His revitalization process:
The church accepted their current situation.
In 2005, when Richards arrived, the church was almost ready to close. Growing up in Ohio County, Richards understood the church’s history and the struggles it had gone through. The church was approximately $100,000 in debt, with no apparent way to pay the loan. The church did not have a great reputation in the community, which added to the work for the new pastor and those 33 members left to tend to church affairs.
Another issue was the large percentage of new Christians. However, it was here that Richards heard the people asking him, “Can you teach us how to be a church?” These people had come to accept their current situation and needed help.
Develop a vision
The church had too many ministries and was not doing any of them well. Pastor Richards led the church to embrace a “Four L” vision: Live, Learn, Love and Lead. The vision was simple and still drives the church 10 years later. The vision is “Live for Jesus, Learn about Jesus, Love people as Jesus does, and Lead people to Jesus.”
The vision has also helped EHBC organize their ministry into four teams. The “Living Team” is for fellowship and keeping unity in the church; the “Learning Team” is for teaching and making disciples; the “Loving Team” is about being servants and showing the love of Jesus to community and the world; and the “Leading Team” has the task of training people to fill the roles of the other teams.
God has and is still using this vision to accomplish His task through EHBC. Developing a vision is another reality for a church to move forward.
When Pastor Richards got to East Hartford in 2005, he needed to help the community better understand the new congregation. The goal for the church, Richards said, was to “touch the community so they would see us.” Like many churches. EHBC was not being intentional about reaching the community.
As EHBC began to minister to the community, they touched people in the county, and they collected and delivered supplies for the victims of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana.
Pastor Richards said that EHBC now has a desire to impact its community. He said, “If we know someone is not in a church, we help them.”
Development of members and leaders
Pastor Gowins engages new church members with DMV: Discipleship, Membership and Volunteer. As new people have come to EHBC, they have been given many opportunities to connect to ministry by fulfilling the “Four L’s.” With both the DMV and the Learning Team, church leaders are moving people out of the chairs and into ministry. Churches today do not have the luxury of endless volunteers, so the key of connecting people to a place of service is extremely important.
Talking with Gowins and Richards, you hear their passion for the kingdom and EHBC. These two men would encourage every pastor to have a long tenure at one place with a great dependence on God. The work has not been easy and many times it is without fanfare, but for these two pastors long tenure equals life investments in people.
In the case of EHBC, it has taken 10 years to get the church to this place. These two pastors know that prayer is their greatest tool. Richard’s encouragement for other pastors is to stay grounded in prayer. He explained, “God knew what they needed, and He supplied the needs.”
I encourage pastors to contact either Richards or Gowins to hear how God showed them how to be a church. (WR)