Mission Lab 2018

NEW LIFE: Children’s laughter music to ears of revitalized church

August 29th, 2017 / By: Bonnie Pritchett | TEXAN Correspondent / comments

NEW LIFE: Children’s laughter music to ears of revitalized church

Cameron Marcelin, 6, sat patiently as Ava Leigh Coates, 12, transformed his face into a super hero mask. Marcelin and his family joined the festivities at Cornerstone Baptist Church’s neighborhood outreach July 22. Photo by Bonnie Pritchett

Houston The on-again, off-again summer evening showers forced a dampened group of church members, volunteers and neighbors to retreat indoors just as the Cornerstone Baptist Church block party kicked off. The sound of laugher, chatter and children running in the hallway carried like music to the ears of church members (old enough to remember when running in the church was considered sinful behavior), who relished every note. 

It had been too long since such happy sounds echoed throughout the building or since the congregation had so intentionally extended the gospel message to their neighbors. Personal conflicts and financial troubles left Cornerstone with no pastor, no building and a dwindling membership these past five years. But with an SBTC revitalization covenant and Pastor Dave Cash’s arrival, the remaining congregation believes it is with good reason they held on to hope.

“I believe God knew what was in the works,” church member Bonnie Stevenson told the TEXAN. “We’re the remnant of what God wants for this church.”

What God saw “in the works:” mishandled tax filings and the resultant crushing Internal Revenue Service fine; the sale of the church to pay IRS penalty; conflicts about the church’s mission; and members fleeing.

But even a church in crisis is not without hope, said Kenneth Priest, SBTC director of convention strategies. The SBTC’s church revitalization models have been recognized nationwide as successful tools for restoring churches to spiritual health, Priest said. 

But a good plan is only as successful as a congregation’s desire to follow through on the recommended steps to recovery, Priest said. Cash and Cornerstone’s members had to agree to the three-year covenant and its accountability measures. From their first meeting, Cash said he found Cornerstone’s people willing to do what is required for restoration.

“They really felt God wasn’t done with them,” Cash said. “That, or they were stubborn. They weren’t sure.”

The 30 or so resilient members have enthusiastically poured themselves into revitalization efforts that are breathing new life into a church left for dead.

Churches in need of the SBTC revitalizations efforts are either “viable,” “sick,” or “in crisis,” Priest said. A “crisis” church like Cornerstone has no budget, no staff and probably wouldn’t exist within three years.

To resuscitate such churches and restore spiritual health, Cash, the members, and the SBTC have entered into a covenant agreement—the most “hands-on” and effective revitalization model. During the three-year commitment, the convention provides support and training for the pastor. He must also lead the church through an extended sermon series and small group Bible study provided by the convention. SBTC’s curriculum gives the Bible passages and recommended outlines for the sermon series, but the pastor studies and writes his own sermons. 

God’s grace has been evident in the midst of the difficult process at Cornerstone. Although they had to sell the church to pay the IRS fine, the buyer—Fallbrook Baptist Church, another SBTC congregation just down the road—allows Cornerstone to use the building for only a portion of the price of the utility bills.

Stevenson and fellow Cornerstone holdouts Pete Stewart, Sandra Hendon, Cheryl Jones, Doug Coleman, and Judy and Joe Celenza shared stories with the TEXAN of their beginnings at the church 30 years ago. Although damp and tired from the block party and the week’s worth of pool parties, VBS and Bible studies at neighboring apartments and a mobile home park, it’s a good kind of tired, they said. 

A large band of fifth and sixth grade volunteers from Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano helped with the week’s activities, including setting up the game and food booths on the church lawn that Friday evening.

Watching the preparation brought Cheryl Jones to tears. The neighbors wouldn’t be the only ones benefitting from the evening’s fun and games.

Cash and his family arrived in April, and while the emotional wounds are still raw, Cash said he detects no anger or bitterness.  The interim pastor, Andy Hill, did a lot to help the congregation heal the people, he said.

“The past is the past,” Cash told the TEXAN. He knows Cornerstone’s troubles are common knowledge in the community, but their recent outreach has borne fruit—they will host weekly Bible studies at two apartment complexes, the mobile home park and a retirement residence.

But while focusing on community outreach, Cash understands revitalization is not as much about growing a church as it is about the spiritual health of the church members now and going forward.

“My goal is to get in with these neighbors,” he said. “And that my people will see God working after their waiting period.”

For more information on church revitalization through SBTC, visit sbtexas.com/revitalization