By Carl Stagner
Don’t assume a declining church is destined to die. God is in the reclamation business, after all. South River Park Church of God in Fairhope, Alabama, was experiencing decline, but God had a plan. Four years later, the congregation that dipped into the thirties is now averaging over one hundred. Approximately thirty individuals have been baptized, and the church is making an observable impact on the community. What was their secret to such a turnaround? A word that excites some, and terrifies others: change.
When Pastor Wayne Anderson came to the Fairhope, Alabama, church four years ago, he brought nothing revolutionary or innovative. He did, however, bring vision, leadership, and direction. The congregation wasn’t lacking ability or heart. Average attendance had dropped, but there was a strong core that never stopped loving their community. In fact, Wayne was and is still amazed at their love for neighbor. Wayne’s leadership helped focus the church’s energy and love with the greatest impact in mind.
So when the latent missional heart of the church needed awakened and organized (as opposed to inconsistent and scattered), Pastor Wayne cast vision and inspired focus. When the church’s worship services needed intentionality (as opposed to favorite hymns chosen at random), Wayne brought in a gifted worship leader. When the Sunday school hour needed age-appropriate curriculum (as opposed to one class for elementary through high school kids), Wayne recruited teachers and expanded options. When more time and energy was required for ministry (as opposed to governance), the church adopted a new set of bylaws and organizational structure. When the pastor needed to be freed up to focus on pastoring (as opposed to administrative tasks and specialized responsibilities), the church hired a part-time secretary, youth director, and director of discipleship ministries.
“We’re just trying to be very sensitive to God’s leadership and nurture our people to think outside of the box—outside of their box,” Wayne explains. It’s working.
They’ve adopted their local elementary school, providing breakfast for parents of kindergartners on the first day of school and ensuring children receive backpacks and Christmas gifts. When the disastrous wildfires engulfed much of the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016, the church responded by sending 15 thousand pounds of supplies to those affected. A new ministry on Sunday nights, intentionally targeting millennials, attracts up to twenty young men and women, five of whom had no previous relationship with the church. Local and international missions engagement, including Church of God Ministries, is increasingly strong as the church looks for ways to love their neighbor near and far. Several other ministries now exist that reach out beyond the four walls of the church, including the Path to Peace initiative to promote racial reconciliation.
Change isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. Today South River Park Church of God is doing church on purpose. “Our purpose is to continue Christ’s mission of loving all people, helping them discover hope, and find purpose and direction in their lives,” Pastor Wayne explains.
In Fairhope, Alabama, across North America, and around the world, God is on the move in the Church of God. Join the movement. Reach our world. Donate today at give.jesusisthesubject.org.