By Justin Pollock
Brad Patterson knew he wanted to plant churches from the earliest days of his call to ministry.
His motivation? Rebellion. He admits he didn’t like how his church operated and thought he could do it better.
Patterson noticed that a lack of discipleship and gospel urgency permeated the churches in his circles. For him, planting new, vibrant churches to displace the stagnant ones represented the Church’s only hope.
He recalls that he became aware of this arrogance during his undergraduate training at Criswell College. “By the time I graduated from Criswell, I realized I needed some more training and that planting a church right away would’ve been disastrous,” Patterson says.
As he came to terms with his early pride, Patterson’s passion for planting churches grew as he studied at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Ultimately, the northeast called his name.
Patterson met with church planters, prepared himself through a track specifically designed for church planting, and sought mentor relationships to support and encourage his growing desire. But as Patterson approached graduation, the Lord changed his heart.
Patterson noticed the trend of migration from the west and northeast—the two most unchurched regions in America.
“The Northeast came here to Texas,” he says. “The healthy economy attracted people from these two regions.”
All around the Dallas metroplex, housing developments exploded. Urban sprawl had set in, and for the first time in generations, the city of Dallas needed healthy churches.
“I realized having a passion to plant churches didn’t mean I had to be the church planter,” Patterson says. “God could use an established church to plant churches.”
Patterson began to search for opportunities to minister in an established church that had church-planting potential in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Not long after this, God opened the door for him to pastor First Baptist Lavon, located in the metroplex’s northeastern quadrant.
Patterson thought he and his young family would walk into a healthy church situation in a growing area brimming with gospel advancement opportunities.
Reality blindsided them in that first year.
Remembering his expectations of what a healthy church would look like, Patterson did some quick calculations about his new church.
“They had the same pastor for 30 years, so that means they don’t fire pastors quickly,” he thought. “They give 10 percent to the Cooperative Program, so that must mean they’re involved in missions.”
Patterson didn’t anticipate the need for revitalization. Yet, within the earliest days of his new post, he uncovered unsettling issues in the church.
He knew the church needed deep revitalization when, “In the first few months of pastoring, I had a conversation with an important church member who made it clear they had no desire for the church to grow.”
At that moment, Patterson realized he wouldn’t achieve his goals for First Baptist Lavon as easily as he had anticipated.
Patterson inherited the very church culture he’d rebelled against.
The situation grew dire when Patterson discovered the bad reputation his new church had developed in the community. The advice he’d received from mentors to, “preach, pray, and stay” rested heavily on him during his first year.
Patterson decided to commit to the long haul, laboring in prayer and in the Word, and building up the body in revitalization to become a church-planting church.
He recalls the next three years as some of the hardest of his life. Fifteen months in, Patterson discovered that a group of supposed friends sought to remove him from the pastorate.
Even as he and his wife slumped to the floor of their living room, tears running down their faces, they remained confident in the face of opposition.
Between tense business meetings and targeted attacks on his family, they continued the hard work of revitalization. Some people left. Many more came.
The church repaired its relationship with the community and the Lord restored His church.
“No church ever begins to end,” Patterson says. “Every church has this idea that when we start, we’ll reach people for Jesus.” Yet, First Baptist Lavon hadn’t baptized anyone in three years.
That tragic reality fueled the revitalization process.
In the three years that followed, God saved dozens through the ministry of the church. God grew the congregation from the seventy-five people who voted Patterson in to two hundred people.
Patterson describes the nature of revitalization as redemptive as the community “responded to God after so much negativity.”
January 2019 marked the church’s first successful church-planting endeavor—Keystone Church in Denver, Colorado, which the church supported for one year.
Patterson defines church revitalization as God breathing life back into a church that has lost track of its mission. Those stagnant churches which incited rebellion in his youth, now present an opportunity for him.
“I’d encourage any aspiring pastor to consider revitalizing over planting if you can,” he says. “We need young people to invest their lives in our old churches.”
JUSTIN POLLOCK is the pastor of students and worship at First Baptist Church, Lavon, Texas.