By Ben Hale
Evangelism & Missions Pastor
“What I remember most is driving all over the Birmingham metro area and seeing empty church buildings on almost every city block.”
In 2014, as we were exploring options for our Go Love Tell mission projects, Dawson leaders traveled far and wide. We made site visits to all of our existing partners, in addition to new locations. We evaluated projects in Southeast Asia, Northeast Africa, Tanzania, Haiti, and Maine. However, my most vivid memory of all of these site visits has nothing to do with any of these distant and interesting places. What I remember most is driving all over the Birmingham metro area and seeing empty church buildings on almost every city block. You could tell at some point in their history most of these churches were growing and vibrant congregations. What might God be trying to tell us through these abandoned churches as we contemplate our next five years of Go Love Tell? Are there congregations that are currently on that same downward path that could avoid that fate if only a church like Dawson would help them regain their vision and effectiveness? We believe the answer to that question is a resounding “yes!”
What is church revitalization? Churches all over America need revitalization and are candidates to be replanted. Revitalization is a “deliberate, dedicated and protracted effort to reverse the decline of an existing church” (Mark Clifton, nAMb Church Revitalization Specialist). In a revitalization effort, a church, working with its existing pastor, leaders, and structure, moves forward with a new strategy and energy. The risk is real, but the potential reward is that the church finds a new focus in Christ, the Gospel, making disciples, and impacting their community.
Over the next five years, we anticipate that Dawson will minister together with multiple revitalization partners. Selection of these partners is ongoing. However, our first partner has been selected and approved by the Dawson Mission Team. The initial partner will be Greater St. John Baptist Church and their pastor, Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Brooks. The church, located in the Powderly Community, was established in 1910. The desire of Greater St. John is to renew their ministry efforts so they can address both the physical and spiritual needs in their community. The first phase of our partnership will involve renovation of classroom space that will be used for Sunday School and discipleship. Other initial efforts will involve the renovation of their Fellowship Hall and kitchen space to enable them to develop a food insecurity ministry, after school program, and summer camp ministry.
We anticipate that our church revitalization partners in the Birmingham metro area will require a large number of Dawson volunteers to be a part of the process. It is not too early to begin praying about how you might be a part of restoring a congregation to both physical and spiritual health.