Church revitalization is not just for churches that are about to close their doors, but it is for any church that is attempting to evaluate its overall health. Our gauge for church health is where a church is on the trajectory model of incline, recline and decline. This gauge provides a snapshot of the health of a congregation.
Terry Long serves as senior consultant for church revitalization with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC). Prior to joining the state convention in April 2020, Long served as senior pastor at West Burnsville Baptist Church in western North Carolina. Long shared some of his vision for church revitalization in North Carolina during a brief report at the 2020 BSCNC annual meeting. Long recently took time to answer some questions about church revitalization in general, his vision for North Carolina and how churches can connect with him.
Tell us a little about you and your family?
I’m originally from Oklahoma and felt called to ministry during my sophomore year of college. I’ve spent more than two decades in pastoral ministry, which has included serving churches as a children’s pastor, student pastor, education pastor and senior pastor. My wife, Joyce, is a North Carolina native and the daughter of a Southern Baptist pastor. We have five wonderful children, and I like to say that our family is a picture of revitalization.
My wife and I went through five years of unexplained infertility before we decided to enter the “foster to adopt” program in North Carolina. Just two days after finishing our licensing process, we were placed with a 2-week-old baby girl named Millie, who’s now 5. We had Mille for just over a month and were surprised to find out we were pregnant with Ryn, who’s now 4. About a year after we had Ryn and were getting used to what felt like twins and no sleep, we found out that — surprise — we were pregnant with Tucker, who’s now 3. Four months before Tucker was born, we got a call informing us that Millie had a 2-month-old biological sister Skyler, who became part of our family and is now 3.
With four preschoolers under one roof, we took in 16-year-old Niccole, who gave us some help! Niccole has since graduated, has a full-time job and now lives on her own. We are a picture of God’s grace, the gospel and how God revitalizes us all.
What is the greatest current hindrance in the area of revitalization?
Our goal in revitalization is to see God glorified through churches returning to their mission of impacting lostness by making disciples. However, many churches design their strategies around buildings, personalities and programs. In the current cultural climate, church attendance has dropped because many are not finding these attachments or seeking them at all. Others find themselves wandering or leaving altogether when these attachments are taken away in cases like COVID-19. Most importantly, these were not Jesus’ markers for ministry or the focus of His strategy. He called His people to make disciples who make disciples. Many pastors go into ministry with this vision, and many churches start with this passion. However, other markers take precedence over time, or desire never meets biblical execution. Helping a church transition from a program- or personality-driven ministry to a disciple-making ministry is the most challenging part of revitalization ministry, but it’s also the most rewarding.
Our goal in revitalization is to see God glorified through churches returning to their mission of impacting lostness by making disciples.
What is your vision for church revitalization in North Carolina?
We want to extend our revitalization opportunities to all North Carolina Baptist churches through multiple avenues and mediums. I believe church revitalization is not just for churches that are about to close their doors, but it is for any church that is attempting to evaluate its overall health. Our gauge for church health is where a church is on the trajectory model of incline, recline and decline. This gauge provides a snapshot of the health of a congregation.
Unfortunately, very few churches are actually in an incline. An inclining church has experienced consistent growth over a five-year period. LifeWay research tells us that over 82% of our N.C. Baptist churches are either plateaued or declining. Some are in a slight decline and need a clearer focus on outreach. Some are in a slow decline and need to deal with internal issues as well as outreach. Some are in a substantial decline and need internal changes and a refocusing. Then, some are actually near death and may need to look at a restart or merger. We need to have unique and specialized plans with resources for churches in each of these areas. The local church exists to magnify God. We desire to see all of our churches doing this on a grand scale.
What is your revitalization strategy?
We must revitalize the man, the ministry and the mission.
By revitalizing the man, we are trying to encourage pastors to be disciple-makers while providing the support system to make this possible. We will attempt to do this through cohorts, retreats, coaching and multiple media avenues. We desire to see pastors revitalized in their passion for the Lord and His ministry. This can be difficult sometimes. It’s easy as a pastor to point the finger at all the reasons why your church is not thriving — facilities, congregational apathy, lack of staff, etc. What is more difficult is to draw the circle around yourself and say, “If revitalization is going to happen in the church, let it start with me.”
By revitalizing the ministry, we are trying to walk alongside pastors and churches to focus on developing their internal systems. This is done by looking through church health processes and assessments. Renewing a Great Commission focus through a discipleship pathway is key to revitalizing the ministry of the pastor and church. The local church engages in ministry to make the gospel known, so that people might respond in saving faith and become followers of Jesus so they can glorify God in their lives. Christ commanded His church to seek His glory and authority by making disciples that make disciples. We desire to help churches to be founded on this model. A healthy church will evaluate all ministries and decisions through this biblical model.
By revitalizing the mission, we want to help pastors and churches launch externally for multiplication through missional outposts in their communities. This will be done by partnering with other ministries of the state convention. These specialists can help a church develop a plan to reach its unique community. During this time, our revitalization team will continue to provide accountability and encouragement for the pastor and church to execute the plan that is developed.
Some churches may not know if they are in need of revitalization, or if they do, they may be afraid to admit it. How can a pastor or church connect with you and your team?
That’s a good question. We’ve made a revitalization assessment available online that churches can access. A pastor or church leader can access it by visiting ncbaptist.org/revitalize and clicking on the “Take Assessment” link. They can also click on the “Start the Process” link, which involves submitting contact information and a short questionnaire to our team. Someone on our team will then follow up with you. Please know that all submissions are confidential. We would love to connect with you and at least have an initial conversation to see how the Lord may be leading.