September 1, 2014


KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP) -- Dying churches used to haunt John Mark Clifton. They seemed to be everywhere.

Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church Woodstock, Ga., leads a Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conference, a one-day event intended to help churches infuse new life into their congregations. NAMB photo by John Swain
Churches that once experienced 200 to 300 people in weekly worship when Clifton was a teenager, eventually struggled with fewer than 30 people attending each Sunday. Often the churches had large but empty buildings and could barely pay their facility costs.

"I had been in denominational missions a long time," Clifton, a veteran Southern Baptist church planter and former associate director of missions at the Blue River-Kansas City Association, said. "I had always been taught -- and experience had shown me -- that you never touch a dying church. If you did, you'd lose all of your money, all your energy. You just stay away from them. You let them die."

Unsettled by this option, Clifton wondered how God gets any glory when a church closes. He concluded that God gets the glory when a church dies so another can be born.

A group of older ladies from the city's once large and prominent Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., approached Clifton in 2004 about their dying church. Relying on his 25 years of church planting experience, Clifton decided to help turn the once-thriving church around.

Beginning with 18 people, the church now averages about 140 in attendance most weekends. The community also has taken more ownership of the church, Clifton said.

"They'd realize that we can't let this church close,” said Clifton, lead pastor of Wornall Road. “It's an important part of our neighborhood. It feeds the kids on the football team. It feeds the kids in the elementary school. It serves our neighbors in an important way. We're sort of the go-to church if there's any need in the community."

Wornall Road's story is an example of what the North American Mission Board hopes will be a growing movement within the Southern Baptist Convention. Clifton is now working with NAMB to develop a strategy to help Southern Baptists breathe new life into dying churches, much like he did at Wornall Road. Read More

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