Justin Nelson said he’s not sure exactly how long it went on, but for a while a group of women met regularly in the church nursery at Camden Baptist Church. They would get on their knees in the empty room and pray for God to fill it with babies again.
“And the Lord has done that,” affirmed Nelson, the current pastor. “We went from literally no children to going, ‘Hey, we’ve got to have help in the nursery.’
“It’s been really good just seeing how the Lord has brought some families back, people who grew up in the community and now have come back.”
That gave them a base to reach other families in the community, Nelson added.
“So that’s been a really good journey, seeing that excitement and that growth of our millennial age group, the late 20s and 30s.”
The need for revitalization is common to churches throughout the Southern Baptist Convention, noted Rick Barnhart, director of the office of associational missions and church planting for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions. He said he gets at least one call a month from an associational mission strategist who has been asked by a church to guide them through the process of closing their doors.
“If we don’t revitalize the churches that we have, then we’re on a path to self-destruction,” Barnhart lamented.
That’s why one of the most important works of an associational missionary isn’t closing a church, even though that does happen — it’s helping it figure out how to stay open.
Rob Jackson, director of the SBOM office of church health, said associational missionaries are “boots on the ground” for a local church during a revitalization journey.
“As each of these associational mission strategists are working with the churches, their leadership and their laypeople, they’re keeping them focused on the truth of God’s word, His power and the possibility that God can bring about something in and through them that can only be done in His power,” Jackson related.
Pastor Nelson said Steve Dunn, associational mission strategist for Bethlehem and Pine Barren Baptist Associations, has been a big help to Camden Baptist as the church walks through its revitalization process. Dunn has simultaneously been working with Monroeville’s Southside Baptist Church in Bethlehem Association as they’ve taken a similar journey.
“They’re both benefiting from the process. They’re seeing results,” Dunn affirmed.
As Jackson guides them, Dunn also is learning to become a qualified revitalization coach so he can take what he’s learning at Camden Baptist and Southside and use it as a blueprint to help other churches.
Dunn noted other associational mission strategists in his region have been talking about how churches in their area face some of the same issues and need revitalization.
So the associations are doing what they can to support the churches, and it starts with prayer, Dunn asserted.
“Prayer is a big part of it; we pray together a lot,” he noted. “It’s the focus of our efforts. We pray for the lost. We pray for each other. We pray for the work.”
SBOM’s Jackson said he’s seeing associations and their churches focusing on prayer more and more, asking God to touch their churches and their lives.
“We’re plugging into the critical component of revitalization — prayer and seeking the movement of God.”
Fittingly, this year’s Week of Prayer for Baptist Associations set for Oct. 23–29 will focus on church revitalization, said Johnny Rumbough, director of missions for Lexington Baptist Association in South Carolina.
“As we were planning the 2022 Week of Prayer materials, one of the things we realized is that a lot of our associations are helping our churches go through revitalization or replanting,” noted Rumbough, who works with the North American Mission Board and the Southern Baptist Conference of Associational Leaders each year to produce prayer guides for the week.
Prayer guides available
He and his team have produced seven guides of varying lengths which can be used during the week of prayer or anytime. They all focus on revitalization, with one written specifically for the days right after a church votes to start the process.
The prayer guides can be used individually or together for a longer season of prayer for revitalization.
Ray Gentry, SBCAL president, said he’s grateful this time of prayer for associational missions is included on the Southern Baptist Convention calendar.
“This is when most associations have their annual meetings in the fall, so we think October is a good time to emphasize associations and the importance of associations in the SBC ecosystem,” he noted, adding that associations promote and support missions and ministry in their area in a variety of ways, including church revitalization.