Published May 30, 2017
FRESNO — In California’s 2,300 Southern Baptist churches each week, according to www.csbc.com, nearly a half-million people sing or listen to worship songs and hear a pastor/preacher/guest speaker talk about some aspect of God’s instruction through the Bible, in more than 70 languages.
But about 90 percent of those churches are either in decline or growing at a pace slower than their community, according to a LifeWay Christian Resources’ pastors blog written by Rob Hurtgen.
“Estimates are that only 10 percent of all SBC churches are healthy and multiplying,” Hurtgen wrote in 2014, to make his point that revitalization is needed in Southern Baptist churches across the nation.
California Southern Baptist Convention was — again — ahead of the curve. Randy McWhorter, then leader of the healthy church group (HCG) and now a pastor in Fair Oaks, in 2014 led the staff to embrace the Psalm 51:10 concept of “renewing the right spirit” of churches.
“Basically he got us in a room and asked, ‘How we gonna do this?’” said Mike McGuffee, team member who specializes in church leadership, but who, like the other members of the group, is cross-trained in all HCG disciplines. This includes pastoral care, church programs such as Sunday school, small groups, worship and evangelism.
“As lifelong learners we continue to want to be relevant, fresh, up-to-date, and have perspectives that will genuinely help churches,” McGuffee explained. “We don’t want to be theoretical; we want to be practical.”
The group members — McWhorter, Charles McClung, Roger Byrd, Daryl Watts, Sherann Kim and Tom Belew — read books on health and wellness, strategic planning, leadership and more, brought in nationally-known speakers on various related subjects, and hosted round-table discussions as they worked to arrive at the best solution to the problem of assisting plateaued and declining churches in California.
“One of the keys is, this is not one-size-fits-all,” McGuffee said.
HCG developed the Elevate initiative for each church that wants to have better health. It has three aspects:
A healthy church, according to Acts 2:14-47, the group determined, balances worship, fellowship, ministry, evangelism and discipleship, with prayer the umbrella over all.
“What’s the church supposed to be doing? That gets back to why the church exists,” McClung said. “The answer is, we’re supposed to make disciples. … A healthy church is worshiping together, reaching people, discipling them, doing ministry; they get along, and prayer is very important individually and corporately,” said the recently-retired McClung, who currently is interim pastor at Copper Springs Church in Clovis.
“A healthy church is one that has an upward (God), inward (loving, accountable relationships) and outward (a desire to reach people) focus. They love God, each other and a lost world,” McGuffee added.
“A healthy church is a church that balances its five purposes in the way that best fits their unique design, their divine DNA,” Watts explained. “A healthy church is one that is reaching people for Christ, discipling them to be more like Christ and helping them develop their own ministries; at the same time maintaining a strong healthy fellowship.”
A healthy church has developed effective systems for development of a disciple, a committed follower of Jesus Christ, Belew added. “A healthy church has learned effective ways of meeting every person where they are and helping them become more like God wants them to be.”
“A church needs healthy worship, good discipleship, good fellowship, good ministry and good evangelism; all these things have to work together,” Byrd noted. “Prayer has to be part of everything we do. … Prayer is the concrete that holds up the five pillars of a healthy church.”
Though people in many churches across the state — and nation — seem content with the status quo.
As members die, they experience the loss on a personal level. They miss the person but don’t think about the fact that the congregation’s numbers are declining.
Baptisms may be “down” (or non-existent) but after all, that’s God’s responsibility, many say. It is ultimately He who draws people to Himself and the church.
And money? The less said, the better, so less information is provided about giving — no word in the Sunday worship guide of last week’s offerings, and no mention of last year’s figures in the treasurer’s report.
“I think God cares if a church is healthy or not,” Watts said. “When a church is not healthy, it’s like when you make copies of copies — you get duplication errors; the smudges grow. If a church isn’t healthy, the Christians they produce won’t be healthy.”
“If a church isn’t healthy, it is not being obedient to God’s Word, because this is what God says you are to do,” McClung added. “A church is as healthy as the body is healthy — the individual members. Just as with the physical body, the arm can’t do everything, or the eye. It takes everyone being healthy for the church to be healthy.”
Unhealthy churches are often focused on members only, and rarely see people making professions of faith in Christ, Belew said, noting unhealthy churches often are in conflict.
“Unhealthy churches will not be able to accomplish God’s mission to ‘make disciples who make disciples,’” McGuffee added.
“If you want your church to have a long life, you need to be healthy or you’re on your way to close your doors. Eventually you find you cannot hire a pastor and you cannot do the work of ministry,” Byrd added.
Attendance, baptisms and giving are three quantitative benchmarks of a healthy church because stagnation or decline in these areas reflects a plateaued or declining church, the HCG team agreed. Elevate takes a close look at those areas (see related stories in following pages).
“Just change one thing and the logjam opens,” Belew said. “If (churches) can learn to get out of the box they’re in, they can move forward.”