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Planning helps build up Falkville church membershipcomment (0)

June 9, 2005

By Martine G. Bates

What does a church do when the majority of the families are senior citizens and membership is declining? Last year, Lebanon Baptist Church, Falkville, was faced with that question.
Twenty years ago, the church consistently had about 200 people in Sunday School. But through the years children of families attending the church grew up and moved away, said Pastor Randy Ashley. Sunday School attendance dwindled to 75.  
Even with a declining attendance in 2000, Lebanon’s congregation paid for $200,000 in renovations in three years. And most of the congregation lived on fixed incomes, Ashley noted.
Missions never suffered either. Even as members raised money for their own renovations, they set aside 10 percent as an offering for the Spanish congregation with which they had partnered  since 1996. In the end, they were able to send $20,000 to help build a new church in Spain.
In spite of the sacrificial giving and the renovated facilities, the church, which celebrates it 155th anniversary this year, still faced declining attendance. “We sat down together in a series of ‘town meetings,’ and took a look at where we were going and where we wanted to be,” Ashley said.
Calling the planning process “Focus on the Future,” the church formed a leadership team to guide the development of a long-range plan. Now in the second year of the plan, the church is already seeing results.
“In 2004, we had three new families join. In 2005, we have already had 10 new families and have eight to 10 families visiting,” Ashley said. “We have over 100 attending Sunday School.
“We needed to look down the road at where we were headed. We looked at what the church valued to set a mission and a vision. We asked ourselves what we are supposed to be about as a church.”
Once the plan was complete, the church members enthusiastically joined the effort, starting a GROW ministry and a welcome team, adding a children and youth ministry and promoting Vacation Bible School in the community. 
“We are taking a ‘side door’ approach to reaching people,” Ashley said. “It’s hard to get people in the front door of the church, so we are trying to get them in (the) side door.”
So far, the church has met and exceeded its goal of 10 percent growth per year, but Ashley pointed out that numbers are only part of the story. “Goals help people see that we are making a difference in the kingdom of God.”
The congregation is energized, already talking about adding space for the new members who are joining.  “This has opened up their eyes to what can happen (when) we get serious,” Ashley noted. “It’s exciting to see the Lord working.”

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