What If We Revitalized 100 Churches in 30 Years?

by Spence Shelton

On Sunday, March 11th, Mercy Church will be holding its worship services at another church here in our city. I felt like it might be good to take some space to talk how we got here and what our hopes are from here.

How We Got Here: Humility, Patience, & Partnership

Mercy Church planted in the fall of 2015 and has been a mobile church since then. We reached facility capacity over a year ago and have been on the hunt for facility space in one of the lowest real estate inventory climates in Charlotte’s history. On top of that our nearby public schools have, for the moment, shut churches out from renting their spaces. So in November we began fasting and praying for God to give us humility and patience us to look for a home in places we haven’t been looking. And oh how humbling this search has been for our entire church family. We believe in the mission God has called us to, and we feel much like Israel in the wilderness not knowing when He will lead us to our home. Thanks be to God for brothers and sisters around the world reminding us not to despise the incredible gift of a facility we do have each weekend and the privilege we have to worship publicly. So we began praying and one of our pastors said to me “What if we revitalized 100 churches in Charlotte over the next 30 years?” A crazy idea…that made so much sense in our context. Close to 90% of Baptist churches in Charlotte are declining right now while overall population is booming.

A couple of weeks into praying and fasting, our local director of missions called me about a church looking for some help figuring out their next steps. (By the way, this story is not a story without a faithful brother named Bob Lowman who serves our local network of Baptist churches by helping us see partnership opportunities we would not otherwise see. To other DMs out there, you are an extremely vital piece to catalyzing what I believe is a coming awakening in cities across our country.)
We met with the leaders of Statesville Road Baptist Church and it felt like we were talking to extended family. These leaders have experienced what many churches have experienced over the last 20 years. Their neighborhood has changed and the core of their church has aged. Yet the passion of this church to see people reached with the hope of Christ remains white hot. Their desire to reach the lost has led them to a “whatever it takes” moment. After a couple of meetings we agreed that the best way forward was to enter into a year-long revitalization partnership. The goal of this partnership is to see gospel ministry revitalized from this location for this community, whatever it takes.

What if we revitalized 100 churches in Charlotte over the next 30 years? A crazy idea that made so much sense in our context.

By God’s grace he has kept Mercy flexible as a young church. Which means we can do risky, unconventional things like pick up our worship service and move it 30 minutes across town for a weekend to encourage a sister church. And that is our singular goal for this weekend. To encourage Statesville Road Baptist as we celebrate & proclaim the gospel together. I told Mercy the past two weeks that this better be our highest attended Sunday EVER. And the reason is that I want to give these faithful brothers and sisters a vision of what we hope to see one day at this location. A facility full of Christ followers, alongside seekers and skeptics all from their community, lifting high the name of Jesus in their community. Yes, the next week Mercy will be back at its temporary location (for church on the lawn!!) but God willing, a new work will be growing across town.

Where We Hope To Go From Here

I confess right now I don’t know how this revitalization will happen or what it will look like. I’ve participated in one revitalization (Homestead Heights becoming the Summit Church in Durham, NC) and learned lessons for sure but I’m no expert. None of us are. Praise God for that. We are consulting our mentors and others, but ultimately the leaders of both churches are following the Lord’s leading. Which means we’ll stumble some but we’ll also innovate as we seek to be good missionaries to this community.

So if you’ve made it this far let me ask you for two things:

1. Pray for God’s blessing on this partnership. Pray for Mercy Church to have humility to learn and glean from the years of faithfulness the SRBC family has exhibited. We are not experts. We do not have it ‘figured out.’ Pray also for the hearts of our members that God would keep us from ‘facility envy.’ Our facility search team is in the midst of several things that our members already know about, but it can still be easy to get jealous of a church building. Pray for our members to be ready and willing to serve the needs of this community as they arise. Pray we remain helpful and humble. Pray for SRBC. What a step to open themselves to the help of a sister church. Pray for their leaders to remain humble to receive the ‘whatever it takes’ leading from the Lord. From what I know about revitalization this usually means drastic changes at the most foundational levels of church life.

2. Consider joining us in this effort somehow. While we don’t know what it will look like each week, we do know it will be pioneering work in many ways. We’ll be developing partnerships with ministries in the area, we’ll be leading out in making contact with the community, and much more. If you want to be a part of it in some way, let us know by reaching out to our Pastor of Missions & Operations, John Hellams. I believe when we put ourselves out there like this we find ourselves in a Joshua 1:9 situation. Be strong and courageous for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. God is going to provide people & finances to help this partnership. Maybe you are a part of that provision. Maybe it’s someone you know.