Chitwood leads Kentucky Baptists to prioritize revitalization
Paul Chitwood believes church revitalization is as important as church planting.
“Revelation 19:7 says of the Lord’s church, ‘His Bride has made herself ready,’” said Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention (KBC). “I believe one of the primary roles of pastors, and the denominational missionaries who serve them, is to ensure the local church is healthy when Christ comes to claim her.”
During a reorganization of the KBC in 2012, Chitwood, a two-time graduate and former faculty member of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, created a church consulting and revitalization team.
“This, our largest team, consists of 21 full-time team members who work with churches toward a goal of revitalization,” Chitwood said. “On this team we have consultants who specialize in everything from children’s ministry to church finances to senior adult ministry.”
The team also includes a group of five consultants living and serving in different geographical regions of the state, whose primary ministry focus is assisting pastors with revitalization efforts.
Steve Rice, the Church Consulting and Revitalization Team leader, said revitalization work rarely leads to instant success, but several KBC churches experienced significant levels of revitalization during the past year.
One such church that benefits directly from Chitwood’s revitalization emphasis is Junction City First Baptist Church in Danville.
The church’s pastor, Choe Sergent, said: “The team assisted me in identifying our areas that we were losing members as well as developing effective strategies to both retain new members and disciple established members.”
Junction City started new member classes, increased the options for discipleship and began emphasizing missions involvement.
“But it wasn’t the program or plan that benefited me the most,” said Sergent, who plans to attend Southern in the fall. “It was the people that the KBC sent me — people who have led a church successfully. People who are servant leaders who in turn provide KBC pastors the principles of servant leadership.”
Under Chitwood’s leadership, Sergent said, the revitalization team is reviving, creating and equipping leaders who then lead their churches toward revival.
“The church revitalization team under Dr. Chitwood is exactly what KBC churches need,” Sergent said.
Chitwood’s emphasis on church revitalization may explain why KBC churches — contrary to national trends — have added new members the last two years: 27,694 in 2012 and 26,567 in 2013.
Adam W. Greenway, dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions, Evangelism and Ministry at Southern Seminary, was the first KBC president to serve a full term with Chitwood as executive director.
“I’ve had a chance to walk with him through what I can only describe as transformational leadership on display as he has refocused, right-sized and revitalized our state missions and ministry efforts, particularly honing in on our primary purposes of helping churches reach Kentucky and the world for Jesus Christ,” he said.
“I think it’s showing up in the kind of staff that he has been able to attract, the kind of programming and consulting work that is now coming from guys who are out on the field helping pastors and churches really get a sense of what it means to help their churches experience revitalization and renewal,” Greenway said.
People find Chitwood incredibly accessible, according to Greenway, and he makes changes “in the least disruptive manner possible.”
“Immanuel Baptist Church down in Corbin right now is having genuine revival,” Greenway said. “They’re seeing some significant turning of people to Christ. Chitwood and his team have rushed to see what God is doing, learn from it and are working to see it spread to other churches. I think there’s a general atmosphere now of a heightened expectancy for God to do something in the state.”
Due in large part to Chitwood’s emphasizing an increase in giving, going and witnessing, Greenway said, “I think we’re seeing pastors across the state have a greater burden for the lostness that surrounds them.”
“Having someone like Dr. Chitwood who is consistently calling our attention back to the Great Commission, the Great Commandment, proclaiming the gospel, I think that’s the kind of thing that hopefully motivates and inspires pastors and others to be about the task that matters,” Greenway said.
Chitwood, a former pastor of First Baptist Church in Mount Washington, Kentucky, earned a master of divinity degree from Southern Seminary in 1995 and a doctorate from the seminary in 2001. He then served as an assistant professor of evangelism and church growth there before becoming KBC executive director.
“I am hopeful that the next generation of gospel ministers will be trained specifically for the areas of church planting and church revitalization,” Chitwood said. “Although church planting has been emphasized in our colleges and seminaries for some time, degree programs in church revitalization are relatively new.
“I believe Southern Seminary’s new D.Min. in church revitalization will meet a tremendous need for our pastors and churches,” Chitwood said. “Another exciting development regarding the KBC and the seminary has been our ‘Seminary for a Day’ events where we utilize professors from Southern to help train KBC pastors in ministry skill areas that are essential for a leader seeking to revitalize a church.”
Given the statistical realities of the number of churches plateaued or in decline, Chitwood believes “the investment we are making in the area of church revitalization is every bit as important as the sizable investment we are making in the area of church planting.”
He said: “While the KBC will continue to serve our churches in a host of ministries, church revitalization and church planting are our primary focus as we move forward.”
Erin Roach is a correspondent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention.