Revitalization helps churches reach communities

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Parkwood Baptist Church, located in the Arlington area of Jacksonville, had a choice. It could move, close and lock its doors, give its property and facility to another congregation or … revitalize. The church chose revitalization.

“The church believes it can move forward and change and meet the needs of the community as well as see the gospel change people’s lives,” said Manny Keyser, Parkwood pastor. “This is why revitalization was the only option for us.”

Planted in the 1950s, Parkwood enjoyed several decades of rapid growth, which enabled faithful missions, ministries and church planting, said Keyser. Yet in the 1990s the church began to experience a steep decline as the community began transitioning to a multicultural urban area from a predominantly Anglo suburban area, he said. Average attendance plummeted from a high of about 1,500 in the 1970s to just over 100 in 2013.

Still, the faithful church members who remained – many of whom helped plant the church – “love this community and love the church. They want there to be a Parkwood for many years to come,” the pastor explained.

Through a partnership with the Florida Baptist Convention and Jacksonville Baptist Association, Parkwood began its revitalization process, which included training and coaching for Keyser as well as financial resources for key initiatives the church identified.

Over the course of the three-to four-year revitalization process, the church is seeing its attendance on the upswing. Average attendance at Parkwood, which now mirrors its multiethnic community in makeup, is 200. Also, “we have noticed a change in the spirit of the church. People are looking to meet new faces and identifying ways they can reach out into the community,” said Keyser. Again, the church is actively involved in missions, ministries and church planting.

Parkwood is one of several churches undergoing revitalization in the transitional Arlington area of Jacksonville.

Church revitalization is key in transitional communities because, as longtime residents leave these areas, they are replaced by new community residents, often of different ethnicities, who need to hear the gospel message, explained Glen Owens, who recently retired as Florida Baptists’ regional catalyst for northeast Florida.

“What will break your heart is to know there are people in these communities who need to be reached for Christ,” he said. If a church closes its doors or sells its property, then the “place” for Christian witness is gone, perhaps never to be reclaimed again.

Owens also works hand-in-hand with associational leaders to help churches in revitalization efforts throughout Jacksonville.

Because associational leaders already have built “relationships of trust” with church leaders, associations are often “first responders” when churches seek revitalization, said Rick Wheeler, lead missional strategist for Jacksonville Baptist Association.

Approximately 90 percent of churches in the Southern Baptist Convention – and a high percentage of churches in Jacksonville Baptist Association — are plateaued or declining, said Wheeler.

“We are going to need to put much more attention and leadership toward church revitalization,” he said.

He added that he has seen God work within the “fertile soil” of many churches that seek revitalization, and often God’s work is seen most clearly when churches partner with one another in the revitalization process.

By Margaret Colson, Florida Baptist Convention, January 18, 2017

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