Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. birthed a vision in 1946 to plant a church in North Buckhead. The congregation saw this area as a mission field and a hub of future growth on the north side of Atlanta. Second-Ponce purchased property in 1947 on Wieuca Road with the vision of starting the new church, and the first service was eventually held on May 9, 1954. Wieuca Road Baptist quickly flourished under the leadership of pastors like J.T. Ford and Bill Self. The remarkable increase in membership was mostly attributed to expansive growth in the primarily residential community, and the decision to televise their worship services around the region. However, in 1991, the church began to experience a 30-year decline in membership and participation. Opinions vary, but it seems that rapidly changing demographics, a couple of internal schisms, a national decline in church participation, and a significantly high attrition rate all played into the decline.
In recent years, the church considered a variety of options to address its dilemma, including relocation, merger with another congregation and selling the campus with proceeds to fund a missions endowment. All of these are viable options for churches consider, but Wieuca discovered another option. In 2019, as the church contemplated the call of a new pastor, they contracted with The Center for Healthy Churches to work with them in exploring their best options moving forward. Bill Wilson, executive director of CHC, served as Wieuca’s congregational coach and consultant. After months of prayer, dialogue and spiritual discernment, the congregation decided to “put everything on the table,” remain in their current location and, in the spirit of their founders, to become a mission church again.
How does a big steeple church become a mission church?
It’s not easy. In fact, it would be much easier to relocate or merge with another congregation. However, with a mindset of spiritual spunk and determination, Wieuca is on a journey to become a new kind of faith community for the neighborhood in which they were originally planted. During this season of transition, I have been invited to serve alongside the congregation at Wieuca as their pastor. Therefore, I am highly engaged in this missional work. The transformation of Wieuca is a work in progress, and there are many moving parts. Considering the global pandemic, every church needs to rethink their future and re-envision with mission. Because this journey at Wieuca began pre-pandemic, Wieuca simply has a head start.
Wieuca is working through the following steps as they activate and integrate their new sense of mission may be helpful to other churches as we all navigate emerging cultural realities and new missional opportunities.
- Revisit your history.
At the onset of the discernment process, Bill Wilson led the church in recreating a historical timeline. This process enables the church to celebrate their high moments, to own their low moments, and to dream about writing the next chapter.
- Re-evaluate your strengths and resources.
No church has all strengths, no weaknesses and unlimited resources. So, it is imperative for a congregation to analyze their human resources and their financial resources and envision their future through the lenses of those resources.
- Revise your mission statement and/or missional objectives.
Every church should update their mission statement every few years.
The Great Commission never changes, but the way a local congregation fulfills the Great Commission in their context is ever-changing. In light of the pandemic, it imperative that every church update their mission and vision.
- Re-calibrate your thinking from “surviving” to “Thriving.”
In most congregations, this requires a monumental culture shift. Such a shift in thinking does not happen instantly or easily, but over a prolonged period.
Churches can only persist in survival mode for a season. A thriving mindset requires a recalibration of attitude and action most often generated by a renewed sense of mission.
- Realign your staffing and key leadership with the new mission and vision.
Whether reassigning existing staff or commissioning new staff, the staff assignments and the staffing paradigm must correlate to the new missional objectives.
- Restructure your administrative policies and operating procedures to fit the vision.
Update your policies and procedures to empower your mission. Otherwise, the mission may be limited, restrained or derailed by outdated guidelines.
- Re-engage with your community.
Re-introduce yourself to your neighbors. Share your vision. Rather than hoping the community will come to church, discover new ways to be church to the community.
- Re-design your campus and rethink your utilization of space.
Think creatively about your stewardship of space. Re-think, right-size and retrofit your space in ways that correspond to your mission. Be prepared to gracefully acknowledge and deal with a few sacred cows along the way.
- Reconsider ancillary partnerships.
Target partnerships that invite others to utilize your campus to join your church in the mission of enriching life in the community.
Church campuses may be ideal space for workshops, college classes, community meetings and concert venues. Space-sharing also means cost-sharing, which may allow a church to spend fewer dollars on campus maintenance and more dollars on ministry and missions.
- Revitalize your approach to worship.
Prioritize engagement and participation in worship. Focus on life-transformation, not attendance. De-emphasize style and focus on a hospitality, messaging and life application. Consider weekday options and off-campus options, and interactive online options.
Throughout this adventure of refreshing the missional heartbeat of Wieuca, I am continually reminding our church family that we will encounter unexpected obstacles and opportunities. Although we have a core mission and vision to guide us, the trek is not scripted, and the outcome is not guaranteed. Therefore, we must be faithful and flexible as we navigate the twists and turns of the journey. On the most encouraging days and the most discouraging days, these words from Philippians 1:6 enhance our focus: “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”