By Hiram Rester, Pastor of the South Tacoma Adventist Fellowship
The South Tacoma Adventist Fellowship celebrated 30 precious souls making decisions for baptism, rebaptism and profession of faith in 2015. A major part of that was a series this past fall. In the course of that series and immediately following it, 24 people made decisions. People have a personal Restart at baptism. Churches can have Restarts too.
About two years ago, South Tacoma Adventist Fellowship (formerly the Tacoma Southside church) entered a pilot program for the Washington Conference called Restart. The church had been in decline for several years. The churches attendance and financial resources had dwindled to only a fraction of what they had been in the “glory years” of the past.
The Tacoma Southside church was among the 80% of churches in America that are either plateaued or declining.
Church growth experts inside and outside of Adventism tell us that it takes 8 -10 years for a pastor to lead a church in a turn-a-round. The visionary administration of the Washington Conference believed that if a church was ready, and if a pastor had a unique set of spiritual gifts, that the Lord could lead a church to return to revival and vibrancy much quicker. They began to develop the “Restart” program.
It is like a “church plant” in an existing location with the same group of people. The church returns to a church structure much like a church plant and begins a process of revitalization in worship and prayer and to rediscover their mission, vision and purpose.
How can a declining or plateaued church to growth and vibrancy? It hasn’t happened often. The focus of the church must change. Over time, churches have a tendency to become more inward focused. When the core of a church program is no longer about reaching lost souls for whom Christ died, it is only a matter of time before the church will begin to visibly plateau and decline. Once this happens, a church must rediscover the gospel commission as the only reason it should exist and choose to focus much of their time and resources on reaching lost souls for Christ. If the congregation desires to be faithful to the gospel commission more than maintain status quo, you have a really good chance of turning the church around.
Sounds simple, right? In theory, yes. When our hearts are in tune with the Lord and open to His leading, it really is.
Is “Restart” the solution for all plateaued and declining Adventist churches in America? No. Many churches that could benefit from a Restart would not be good candidates because of internal issues, power struggles, and an overwhelming desire to maintain their present course.
But I am convinced that among the plateaued and declining churches, there are those special congregations that are ready to surrender all these things to God and become focused on His mission first and rediscover their purpose for existence. For them, the Restart program has huge potential.
Evangelism is fast becoming an ongoing way of life for South Tacoma Adventist Fellowship. Attendance has gone from less than 100 to over 200 some Sabbaths and a sustained attendance of about 180 (as of the end of 2015). The church family at South Tacoma Adventist Fellowship asks that you join with them in prayer for a continued revival in our churches throughout the world.