Outside the Walls: The Key to Revitalization

“We are willing to do whatever it takes to turn our church around.”

The desperation in her voice drew me into the conversation. Her church was on a rapid decline with only a few dozen people attending, and she did not want to see it die. 

So I said, “Would you be willing to change the name of your church?”

“Well, I’m not sure they would go for that,” she said.

“What else are you not willing to change? I’m not sure you are desperate enough.”

Revitalization begins with desperation. Your desperation, however, must not come from an empty building that was once alive with young people. Its source must be your brokenness over the lost people in your community who are far from God and headed to a lifeless existence. If you really love them, you will do whatever it takes to reach them.

There are over 2,100 South Carolina Baptist churches. Nearly 88 percent of them are plateaued or declining. About 360 of them reported that they did not baptize anyone last year, and 100 have not baptized anyone in three years. I’ve stood in church buildings that used to be vibrant with over 400 people present in worship, but now have eight people scattered throughout the worship service. The great sadness is that many of them are satisfied with where they are and are not willing to change.

But there is hope. 

Hillcrest Baptist Church in York had declined to about 55 people and saw zero baptisms a few years ago. A collection of people started praying desperately for a new leader. Brad Vassey accepted their call as pastor. He refocused their mission to the lost and began to love the community and focus on relationships. Today they have over 300 in worship and have baptized an average of 30 people each year over the last three years, which puts them in the top 100 churches in the state, including some churches three times their size.

Bryan Yelton took over as pastor of New Pleasant Baptist Church. There were years before he came when they saw zero baptisms, but he has been leading them to focus on Jesus’ method of relational disciple-making of the lost. So far this year, they have seen 12 baptisms, which is twice the average in the state for other churches their size. Not only is he leading them, he is putting it into practice himself.

Desperation drives you to your knees, but you won’t stay there long. Jesus will pick you up and send you to the lost. Revitalization begins with an empty church building that has relocated to the community to establish relationships with lost people and share the hope that only comes from the gospel.

The key to the revitalization of your church is prayer and relational, evangelistic disciple-making — and it starts with you.