Who are we? West Lynchburg after 116 years

In November of 1905, a group of Christ-followers stepped out in faith and started a new church. Uncertain of the future, they trusted the Lord to sustain them as a gospel influence in the west end of Lynchburg, VA. 

The first building served the purposes for a few years but needed expansion by the sixth year due to the growth of the church. By the church’s 9th anniversary, land was purchased, and a new building erected a mile down the street that provided adequate space for future growth.

Under the leadership of the church’s fifth pastor Dr. P.T. Harman, the congregation grew significantly. He led the church in 1926 to build what is presently known as the Chapel and Breezeway, providing space for worship services, office space, and classrooms. In 1950, he led the building of the Sanctuary with balcony seating and the tall steeple. The membership had increased to nearly a thousand people. Most of the members lived within walking distance of the church.
 

By 1963, the Pastor Dr. Russell Cherry led the church to add the educational wing offering a full and robust Sunday school program. Much of the growing Lynchburg community was aware of and has interacted with West Lynchburg Baptist Church. Records show that the 1960’s were the height of church involvement. There were many young families with children that filled the halls with life and vitality.

Throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, the church attendance was steady. Many of the members were beginning to move out of the local community as the city of Lynchburg expanded and new neighborhoods were developed. Rev. James Newman gave stable leadership and wonderful shepherding care during this time.

For 116 years, the church has been led by 14 faithful pastors who loved God, the church, and the community. As I begin my leadership as the 15th pastor, I stand on the shoulders of some great men who were like the men of Issachar “who had understanding of the times, to know what… to do.”

According to attendance trends provided by the Baptist General Association of Virginia[1], from the years 2000-2020, the average worship attendance dropped from just over 400 to under 200. As with most congregations, the pandemic of 2020 further decreased average weekly attendance.

As we look back and celebrate all that God has done in and through this church, we must also evaluate where we are now, understanding the times, and seek God to know what to do going forward.

In addition to experiencing a decline in attendance over the past 20 years, the Breeze Church Management Software[2] is utilized to understand the makeup of the current membership. It reveals the following age demographics:

  • 70% = 46 years and older
  • 20% = 19-45 years old
  • 10% = 0-18 years old

The database clearly shows an aging congregation, where in former decades most of the congregation was younger.

A few reasons have been discovered for why this trend has take place:

  • Longevity of membership. Many of the older members have been active in the church since they were young. They were saved, baptized, married, and raised their children at West Lynchburg.
  • Children moved away as adults. Many of the children who grew up at the church did not remain as members, either moving away from the Lynchburg area, currently attend a different church, or no longer attend any church.
  • Changing community. Many of the long-term members moved over 5 miles away from the church, though remained involved with the church. The new residents of the surrounding community either connected with a different church or did not affiliate with any church.

These are the current realities of West Lynchburg Baptist Church.

There is much to be thankful for in the116 year history of West Lynchburg. God has used this church to be a lighthouse for the gospel in this community.

But what about the next 116 years?

What does the future hold?  If the current downward trends continue, will there be another 116 years or even another 16 years?

To see a revitalization of West Lynchburg, we must…

  • Acknowledge the reality of the state of West Lynchburg and have a heightened since of urgency regarding the decline.
  • Pray and determine if we are committed to seeing West Lynchburg become effective in reaching new people and making disciples for God’s glory.
  • Understand the surrounding community and the current culture in which we must engage.
  • Search the Scriptures to discover what God’s mission and model is for His church.
  • Determine the discipleship pathway to lead people into a dynamic, growing, and reproducing relationship with Jesus Christ.
  • Establish a ministry to reach and disciple young families.
The future of West Lynchburg will be based on current decisions and the will of God. It is time to do some soul searching and spend time in prayer regarding what God would have us do to see His glory shine again through West Lynchburg.
 
Your comments and feedback are welcome.
 
Another day… Another opportunity…
 

Pastor Chris Jordan

 

[1] https://www.bgav.org/blog/demographics-and-research-studies

[2] https://www.breezechms.com/

 

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