Eternal destiny of people must drive change in struggling churches, says Hunt
Feb 6, 2013

Photo by James A. Smith Sr.
BRANDON (FBW)—With nearly as many Southern Baptist churches being shuttered as started each year, revitalizing existing congregations must be understood to have eternal consequences, former SBC president Johnny Hunt said Jan. 29 at First Baptist Church in Brandon.

“I’ll tell you what’s at stake: our communities will perish without Jesus because ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’” is the attitude in too many churches, said Hunt, pastor of the Atlanta-area First Baptist Church in Woodstock.

Because the eternal destinies of people hang in the balance, Hunt implored 350 persons attending the Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conference to be willing to change anything in their congregations if it will result in Kingdom expansion, and for healthy churches to help their struggling sister churches.

The NAMB conference, co-sponsored by the Florida Baptist Convention, was created in response to its concern nearly 900 churches each year are closed and 72 percent of churches have stagnant or declining membership.

Recently, Plant City pastor Michael Lewis left the congregaton to serve as executive director of Church Revitalization and Pastoral Relations for NAMB.

The NAMB event has been held in three other states, with five more scheduled before the end of May and additional conferences  to take place in the fall, Jim Law, executive pastor of First Baptist Woodstock, told Florida Baptist Witness.

The NAMB conference was preceded the day before with a dialogue session led by Florida Baptist Convention staff seeking to identify Florida Baptists interested in church revitalization. Florida was the first state convention to hold such a meeting in conjunction with the NAMB event.

EXPERT Johnny Hunt speaks to Drew Tucker, pastor for missional communities and discipleship development at Tampa’s Covenant Life Church, Jan. 29 during the Send North America Church Growth and Revitalization Conference at First Baptist Church in Brandon. Justin Perry, pastor for preaching and vision at Covenant Life, joins the conversation. Photo by James A. Smith Sr.
Hunt was the primary speaker during the daylong meeting, teaching three main sessions, holding a question-and-answer session, and informally meeting with pastors, church planters, directors of missions and others concerned about church health and revitalization.

Hunt said like a doctor who sometimes must inflict temporary pain in order to heal broken bones, pastors must be willing to make difficult choices that may at first bring discomfort to the congregation but will in the long run result in a healthy church body.

“If you’re dying and [doctors] said they need to remove your hand to keep the disease from spreading and that you could live, would you let them cut your hand off?” he asked.

“Drastic measures—that’s what change is sometimes,” Hunt said.

“Don’t just try to change for change sake,” he said. “You’re changing for the express purpose to reach people. … Whatever it takes.”

When considering complaints about the pain of change, Hunt said what “bothers me even more” is the Judgment Seat of Christ. “God made quite an investment in me. … What I am going to do with it? Back off when someone says, ‘Ouch!’”

Hunt used the Exodus 18 account of Moses taking leadership advice from his father-in-law Jethro to teach why pastors should be willing to allow God to use anyone to “speak into our life.”

In two other main sessions, Hunt taught on church health that results in growth and developing lay leaders as a key to church growth. 

Hunt used his 37 years of pastoral ministry, including 26 years at Woodstock, to illustrate how God has revitalized congregations. “I feel like every church I’ve ever pastored has been a revitalization,” he said.

Moses was “pastoring a church of one million,” and yet he was willing to listen to advice from his father-in-law “who had never pastored a church in his life,” Hunt said.

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