Mergers often allow church revitalization in multi-site scenario

ARLINGTON—Multi-site ministry was nothing new to the Church at Rush Creek when the opportunity arose last year to launch a third campus in the Mansfield-Kennedale area, six miles from their original south Arlington campus. The Mira Lagos site was steadily growing to more than 300 in attendance after being launched in 2004 with 70 people.

About that same number were on hand for the first service of the Church at Rush Creek when it launched as a mission of Tate Springs Baptist Church in 1984, meeting in an elementary school.

A decade later current pastor Russ Barksdale began serving. During the interview process he remarked, “If you don’t like change, don’t ask me to lead this church.”

Barksdale had earned an undergraduate degree in petroleum land management, working for Shell Oil until 1981 when God called him into vocational ministry. After completing his master of divinity and Ph.D degrees at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Barksdale began serving at the Arlington church, guiding them to make changes that God blessed with capacity crowds three times each Sunday morning.

The most recent of those launched last spring when Rush Creek merged with Fellowship of the Metroplex in Mansfield, which has been pastored by Scott Oldenburgh since 2004. Now known as Mansfield West, Oldenburgh now serves as campus pastor and preaches from the same sermon series developed for all three campuses.

Together, the three campuses now average more than 3,200 individuals in attendance on any weekend. Barksdale lends his expertise at MultiSite Solutions, a consulting firm that helps churches develop and implement a multi-site strategy. He said the difference between launching a multi-site and merging with an existing church is “the difference between having a baby and adopting a teenager!”

Describing the third campus as more of a revitalization, Barksdale told the TEXAN, “That’s a trickier deal.” Instead of trying to pick a location for each site, he said he believes it is best when it happens organically through relationship.

Rush Creek leaders have been in dialogue about revitalizing three other churches in the last six months, but they’ve yet to decide if any would be a good fit. “DNA is important,” Barksdale said. “Do they have the desire to revitalize or do they just want us to come in and make it the way it was 20 years ago? We’re not interested in that, so their desire is critical.”

If churches have a sense of legacy, Barksdale believes they can build on that.

Committed to staying put in the same church to which God first called him, Barksdale has been around long enough to observe the death of too many churches that once had vibrant ministries.

“We know that in the Arlington-Mansfield area there are hundreds of churches that are marginal. If they’re not in ICU, they’re about to die and we’re praying that God would give us a chance to revitalize some of them,” he added. Some have already given up their buildings, he noted, but many others are surrounded by people representing ethnicities that Rush Creek hopes to reach.

Barksdale is quick to acknowledge that it’s easier said than done. “They all die for a reason. Most of them would rather die than switch, but there are some who are willing to do whatever it takes to maintain the witness of Christ in that area, build on what’s there and honor the legacy of the past that might be tied to it.”

Jim Tomberlin of MultiSite Solutions told the TEXAN that 80 percent of Protestant churches are plateaued, dead, or dying.

“Russ Barksdale has demonstrated that churches can be turned around and revitalized. He’s been there, done that and has the heart to help other churches do it.”

For the Church on Rush Creek and many other multi-site churches developed by merging with churches that are about to give up, the end result is worth one more try.

“The light in that part of God’s world is just flickering and to think about coming in and fanning the flame to see the light of Christ be stronger in the community, that ignites me a ton.

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