From surviving to thriving: one church’s story of revitalization

by Bonnie Shaw on February 24, 2022 in Church Health Strategy

Josh Murray felt called to accept the position of senior pastor of Canyon Creek Baptist Church in Temple three years ago when he was just 24 years old. He had been serving as the youth pastor, and after the former senior pastor stepped down, the church asked Murray to lead them. They also hired a new worship pastor and student pastor, both young adults as well.

“In two or three months, it was almost a completely new staff,” Murray explained.

Murray said that, for the first two years, which included 2020, it was all about survival and figuring out how to keep the church running. At the beginning of 2021, they were able to truly look at strategic growth strategy. It was around that same time that Murray connected with Jonathan Smith, director of Church Health Strategy. Smith held a course on church revitalization for the Pastors Common, a gathering of Texas Baptists pastors and leaders in their 20s and 30s from across Texas. At the end of his lesson, Smith asked anyone interested in developing a specific strategy for revitalization to reach out to him.

“I think I emailed him before he even finished his presentation,” Murray said.

Smith came down to Temple and spent a day with Canyon Creek, observing and learning about how they interact with visitors, to understand how he could help. Smith said he was impressed with the church’s heart for being intergenerational and embracing people in all stages of life.

“They have done a great job of presenting the Lord through worship in a way that young and old can connect with,” he said.

To help them reach even more people, Smith sat down with Murray and they created an assimilation plan.

Forming an assimilation plan, Smith explained, meant looking at everything from the website to someone becoming a leader in your congregation and analyzing the steps during that process that help people become integrated into the life and ministry of the church.

They set to work implementing two big strategies. First, Canyon Creek switched from calling to texting their first-time guests. In the text, they thanked them for attending the church and asked if they had any questions. It was an immediate success, and has gotten a 100% response rate from everyone they have reached out to. Murray explained that it was a simple switch, but that people felt more comfortable asking questions over text.

Smith echoed the sentiment, saying that texting can be less intimidating for newcomers.

“It begins a non-threatening conversation. As pastors, sometimes we forget that people are intimidated by us, whether we like it or not. So a text is personal enough that people feel recognized, but it doesn’t feel threatening,” he said.

The second thing Canyon Creek worked with Smith to establish was a two-part “discover Canyon Creek” series, where people could learn about the church and how to get involved. The goal is, that by the end of the two classes, they are members of the church, begin serving and have joined a small group. Murray explained that the classes give people a straightforward way to get plugged into the church and keep people from being forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the church.

The two strategies work hand-in-hand to keep people engaged in the church and to ensure visitors feel welcomed and valued.

“Texting has created a conversation that makes people return. And the growth track has kept people from falling through the cracks,” Murray explained.

Canyon Creek has already seen some great growth, with 40 people joining the church in their first membership class alone. A church that, three years ago, had about 70% of their attendees over the age of 70 now has a median age of about 42. Murray noted that the church was not just aimed at reaching young people, they have also had many senior adults join.

“We want the church to look like Heaven,” Murray said. “We want every person from every background, every race, every ethnicity, whether it’s a poor family or a rich family, young or old, we really want our church to be a place where everyone can feel the blessing of God."

To learn more about the Church Health Strategy ministry and how your church can benefit from its resources, go to txb.org/healthychurch.

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