By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
SHREVEPORT – Ike Reighard had become the pastor in 2007 of Piedmont Church in Marietta, Ga., when he noticed problems that, if not corrected, could have led to the church closing its doors within six to 12 months.
Attendance had dwindled to around 200 in a worship center that seats 1,500, the HVAC system was in need of $600,000 worth of repairs and the carpet in the sanctuary was moldy due to seven buckets catching water from a leaky roof each Sunday.
However, Reighard encouraged the church to dream and bit by bit, Piedmont Church began returning to the church it once was, making a difference in the community and reaching an attendance of more than 1,000 eight years later.
The key to the turnaround, Reighard said, was found in the book of Nehemiah. By implementing three principles, Piedmont Church grew to the highest average in the 50-year history of the church.
Define reality, inspire hope in people and take action, becoming a “why not” church.
“Uncommitted hearts always look for an escape,” Reighard said. “Committed hearts look for a solution.”
Reighard shared his story and tips on revitalization to those attending the 2015 Louisiana Baptist Evangelism Conference at Summer Grove Baptist Church in Shreveport. His message was in step with its theme – RESET: A Revitalization Conference.
According to the 2020 President’s Commission report, three out of four churches in Louisiana are either plateaued or declining. For various reasons a congregation may find a need to make a minor tweak to enhance what they are currently doing or ask the Lord to help them refresh multiple ministries of the congregation.
With ‘Reset’ as the theme, the speakers, testimonies and equipping seminars at the 2015 Conference were not only designed to encourage but give practical assistance to help reverse the trend. The most attended single session drew around 1,200, with more than 600 more attending the senior adult luncheon.
“Churches that needed revitalization left encouraged and with tools,” said Wayne Jenkins, Louisiana Baptists evangelism and church growth director.
In his message, Leroy Fountain shared about the fall and rise of Simon Peter. Citing Mark 14, Fountain said that Peter believed he would never deny Christ but in the end did so three times.
He said that pride captured Peter, pushing him in a direction he did not wish to travel. And much like Peter, the same can happen to all Christians if they are not careful.
“There are some prideful areas in your life and mine and we need to deal with those,” said Fountain, church development strategist for the New Orleans Baptist Association. “The Bible says pride goes before destruction.”
Fountain said that a strong prayer life prepares believers for tests such as Simon Peter faced.
“Prayer prepares us for trials of life,” Fountain said. “And the trials of life are just a normal part of the everyday Christian existence. If you do not prepare yourself in prayer, you may not be ready for the trials.”
If churches are serious about resetting, they must understand God has established three lines that must not be crossed.
These are commands, not options, as found in 2 Timothy 1 in a charge by Paul to Timothy, said Don Wilton, pastor of First Baptist Church in Spartanburg, SC.
The three red lines are cultivate one’s gifts, loosen one’s tongue and prepare to die.
“If you do not do these things, you will be sentenced to a life of deep timidity,” Wilton said in his first message.
In his other message, Wilton shared principles of godly leadership. Wilton said that Nehemiah possessed certain qualities that made him a great leader.
Nehemiah went personally, took a deep breath, selected only a few, thought before he spoke, traveled light, avoided the crowds, detailed the challenge, waited on God’s timing, rested on the Lord and gave the critics over to God.
“If we are serious about reset it’s got to begin with me,” Wilton said. “It must begin with me.”
In his message, Gary McIntosh, who has done church consulting since 1983, identified the seven best practices to get a church going and growing:
• They begin to put a greater emphasis on prayer.
• They teach and preach the gospel with authority.
• They help to define reality.
• They take responsibility to make disciples.
• They make the hard decisions.
• They refocus on people outside the church.
• They start new ministries.
“A church at rest tends to stay at rest until somebody takes action and does something to help that church move in another direction,” said McIntosh, president of Church Growth Network in Temecula, Calif. “If your church is stagnant, it’s not going to change until we do something. The Holy Spirit wants to work but the Holy Spirit always works through men and women, boys and girls, pastors and deacons and deaconesses and people who come in and make a difference in the church.”
Citing Luke 4:14-19, Ted Traylor said believers must press the reset button on the anointing of God in their lives.
“We’ve got to press this button again,” said Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola, Fla.
Traylor said an anointing happens for two purposes – good news and good works.
“If you are a gospel preacher you must be preaching the gospel,” Traylor said. “The gospel will do its work. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”
Traylor emphasized the importance of reaching out to others, just as his church did in a major way in 2004. That’s when Hurricane Ivan devastated many communities in Florida, though the church was not damaged and was able to host disaster relief teams.
That led to the start of a Ministry Village, which provides food, medical care and other assistance for others in need.
He said churches should take hold of two plows for the fields in hopes of reaping a harvest.
“This plow we plow has two handles on it and it is good news and good works,” he said.
In his other message, Traylor shared how to reset leadership. He said that Malachi 2:6 is a verse that exemplifies what true leadership is all about and he hopes one day that will be etched on his tombstone – The law of truth was in his mouth, And injustice was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and equity, And turned many away from iniquity.
To reset pastoral leadership, three things must occur, Traylor said. They are lead with exposition, lead with ethics and lead with encounter.
He also challenged pastors to lead in evangelistic efforts, such as holding regular evangelistic training and events.
“If we are not leading in evangelism, who is going to do it?” he said. “We are to be bearing fruit. Christ has called is to be fruit bearers and that fruit should come through our life.”
For revitalization to occur, discipleship is a key component to making that happen.
“Discipleship is something you never get over and you never stop needing,” said Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville, Tenn. “Any church that is going to experience genuine revitalization will do so because of a disciple-making focus.”
Stetzer, who has led four churches through a revitalization process, said Paul emphasizes the importance of discipleship in Philippians 2. In that passage, Paul said discipleship is persistent faithfulness by spending time in God’s word, an intentional effort, a radical reliance and a Christ-like transformation.
“You can’t lead a church to revitalization with a bunch of spiritually dead people,” Stetzer said. “It has to be an obvious difference.”
In his other message, Stetzer shared four commissions of Jesus in light of the revitalization mandate. They are we are sent, to all kinds of people, with a message and empowered by the spirit.
“Church revitalization is in my view the hardest thing that you may ever do,” he said. “Why? It’s easier to birth a baby than it is to raise the dead. But I’ve learned to love it.”
Servant Evangelism Project
In addition to speakers and Tuesday’s breakout sessions, the conference also featured a servant evangelism project.
This year’s project was collecting coats to be used for the poor and at-risk in the Shreveport-Bossier City area. By the end of the Evangelism Conference, more than 350 coats were donated in overflowing boxes.
Leading up to the conference, Summer Grove Baptist set out collection bins available on site for anyone wishing to donate coats. The coat drive was a Louisiana Baptist Convention event hosted at Summer Grove.