To say Litz Manor Baptist Church was on life support is an understatement. The reality was its slow death was only delaying being moved from the category of once-thriving congregations to just another statistic of churches that closed its doors. You’ve seen those churches. They are now community theatres, coffee shops, town hall meeting places …or bars.
But God wasn’t done with Litz Manor, and the people weren’t done with God. Founded in 1946, the Kingsport church saw steady growth through its first 25 years, but those numbers began to plateau in the 1970s. Several economic blows and the more recent collapse of the Eastman Corporation being a major employer in the area, and the church dwindled to below 60. But it wasn’t dead.
“I wanted this church to become very relevant and become a leader in our community, and not just ‘exist’ in our community,” Pastor Chris Alford told the local newspaper late in 2013. “We want to be a church that’s a catalyst. In other words, we want to be a church that not only grows itself and reaches people, but we want to be a church that helps other churches reach people.”
Enthusiastically, I can report that Litz Manor Baptist Church has new life. It’s engaging the community around it, reaching out to more closely resemble its neighbors and has seen steady growth, including among families with young children. It’s back over 180 and God’s Spirit is moving among its people.
I want to see that story repeated hundreds of times over the next several years. In fact, I want to see it repeated so much that I’ve made it the second of the Five Objectives adopted by the Executive Board of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Our mission related to revitalization is, “Making Christ known by serving churches resulting in at least 500 Tennessee Baptist churches revitalized by 2024.”
I remember sitting at my desk shortly after becoming the TBC’s executive director in 2010 and pouring over the Annual Church Profile (ACP) report. I concluded — sadly — that 450 to 550 of our Tennessee Baptist churches would die in a decade if the decline they’d been on for the last 10 to 20 years continues.
Put more starkly: That means one out of every four Southern Baptist churches currently networked through the Tennessee Baptist Convention will die.
Al Gilbert, vice president at the North American Mission Board, reported that 85 to 90 percent of SBC churches are plateaued, declining, or at risk. According to the Leavell Center for Evangelism and Church Growth, “89 percent of SBC churches are not experiencing healthy growth.”
The Tennessee Baptist Convention turns 150 in 10 years. As things stand, a high percentage of Tennessee Baptist churches could close their doors or be close to it by then. Is your church going to be one of them? I hope not. Now is the time to respond.
Bob Agee, a longtime Baptist leader and educator, recently said “I’m all for planting churches, I just don’t want to see another one die.” I passionately agree.
My plan over the next six months is to work with our Tennessee directors of missions and other leaders in the area of church revitalization. Our objective is pretty simple: (1) identify at risk churches across our state that desire new life, and (2) to develop a practical strategy and delivery system whereby healthy churches can help them realize a miraculous turnaround.
I was visiting with Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, during my first few months after becoming executive director. I appreciated Ed’s wisdom and encouragement. As we were talking about the difference between church planting and church revitalization he made this valid statement: “It’s easier to birth a baby than to raise the dead.” “Yes,” I responded, “But our God specializes in raising the dead.”
And the dying. Litz Manor Baptist Church is proof of that, and I believe over the next 10 years God is going to resurrect a lot of other “Litz Manors” in Tennessee for the glory of Christ and for the salvation of so many lost individuals across our state.
Let’s work together toward that end.