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Florence’s Highland, Broadway Baptist churches merge, set for growthcomment (0)

May 16, 2013

By Neisha Fuson

Florence’s Highland, Broadway Baptist churches merge, set for growth

More than 70 percent of Southern Baptist churches in the United States are plateaued or declining in membership.

The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions (SBOM) suggests one way to help reverse these statistics is through a church revitalization strategy — a way to equip hurting churches with tools to infuse new life into their church and return a focus to the church’s mission.

Because revitalization can be sought out in several ways, the SBOM assigns a trained coach to churches seeking help. For one year the coach serves to identify specific areas needing improvement, helps choose a strategic revitalization plan and assists in the implementation of that plan — such as improved music ministry, effective senior adult ministry or theologically sound Sunday School ministry. 

Church revitalization also can be a way for healthy, growing churches to do missions in their local area. That type of ministry was something Highland Baptist Church, Florence, wanted to be a part of. In its case the ministry took the form of a church merger.  

What it didn’t expect was to merge with a “long-lost friend.” 

The story’s start goes back to 1947 when Highland Baptist planted a mission church just minutes away from its own building. The plant, Weedon Heights Baptist Church, became its own self-sustaining church in 1948, later changing its name to Broadway Baptist Church in the 1990s.

After more than 60 years and several shifts in leadership and community demographics, members of Broadway Baptist found themselves in a tight spot. They were without a pastor, shrinking in size, in a deteriorating building and seemingly unable to reach their neighbors with the gospel. But they were not going to give up without a fight and felt God leading them to seek help.

In the fall of 2012, Broadway’s leadership contacted Eddy Garner, director of missions for Colbert-Lauderdale Baptist Association, and Sammy Gilbreath, director of the office of evangelism for the SBOM, to ask for help. The church became part of the SBOM’s church revitalization strategy with Gilbreath as its coach.

Around that same time period, John Brock, pastor of Highland Baptist, also had contacted Garner to share the church’s vision and prayer to reach the community in a new way. He found his answer.

Broadway was in need and Highland was poised and ready to help.

“God was bringing it all together in the details,” Garner said.

Planning and voting meetings ensued between Gilbreath, Brock, Garner and Broadway and Highland members. All parties agreed merging the two churches was “a marvelous plan (to revitalize Broadway and reach the community),” Gilbreath said. 

Highland members began working in February on Broadway’s building to redo the sanctuary and install new carpet and windows. Volunteers from both churches also renovated the first floor of the educational space that includes the fellowship hall and Sunday School classes. One large room on the third floor also was renovated to house the children’s ministry. 

By April 1, the two churches were a legal merger — one church, two campuses — and Broadway then became Highland Baptist Church Broadway Fellowship (HBCBF). 

In an effort to introduce itself and get to know its neighbors as HBCBF, the church held what it called a “community party.”

More than 175 volunteers from HBCBF; Lindsay Lane Baptist Church, Athens; and T.I.M.E. (Training In Mission Evangelism) Ministries served at the April 13 event.

T.I.M.E. Ministries shared a gospel presentation with more than 500 attendees and 37 people indicated they prayed to receive Christ. 

Garner believes the church merger has “brought new life to (the former) Broadway” and “invigorated Highland Baptist Church.”

He encourages smaller churches not to be afraid to ask for help and for larger churches to “not be so focused on themselves” but to look for ways to help other churches in their area.

Highland’s merger and outreach is “a good reminder that missions and ministry begins right here in our community.”

Churches interested in a church merger or church revitalization should contact Dale Huff, director of the office of LeaderCare and church administration of the SBOM, at 1-800-264-1225, ext. 263. 

The Church Growth and Revitalization Conference hosted by the SBOM will be held at Taylor Road Baptist Church, Montgomery, with Johnny Hunt, pastor of First Baptist Church, Woodstock, Ga., on May 21 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visit www.alsbom.org/upcoming-events/church-revitalization-conference or call 1-800-264-1225, ext. 258 for more information. 

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