Mesquite church enters into covenant revitalization

MESQUITE A lightning-sparked fire in 2005 sapped the strength of Galloway Avenue Baptist Church, which was already declining from its high of 500 weekly worshipers in the mid to late 1990s. 

By March of this year, the remaining attenders, about 60 who are fiercely loyal to God, longtime member Lenny Howell told the TEXAN, were willing to do whatever it took to save the church. The best option, they believed, was a revitalization program.

 “A complete restructure of the church, that’s what appealed to most people,” said Howell, chairman of the personnel committee, who was left leading the congregation after the associate pastor and deacons all resigned about nine months after the pastor resigned. “We were talking about starting from scratch, constitution and bylaws rewritten, new leadership and someone to lead us in the process of doing all that.

“When you get to a low point, there’s not much you can do but look up,” Howell continued. “I really think the people are willing to do whatever it takes for the church to get back on its feet.” 

On March 18, at the church’s request, Kenneth Priest, director of convention strategies for the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, brought a message in the morning service. At the end of the service he presented the covenant revitalization model he believed would work best for Galloway Avenue. 

The following week the church voted to commit to the program and directed the pastor search committee to seek a pastor to lead them.

In early June, Galloway Avenue called Gary Wagoner for a three-year term as revitalization pastor. Wagoner had been pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church in Jonesville, La., for 14 years when he and his wife, Nina, moved last November to the Dallas area, where their two sons and one grandson live. Once there, they waited for God’s call to their next ministry.

“I just really want to see God move and revive this church,” Wagoner told the TEXAN. “To be able to participate in the church growing and blossoming again, I want to be part of that, and to see God move in the church. I believe Jesus’ church should be alive and vibrant.”

Galloway Avenue paused for a covenant revitalization ceremony with Priest at the close of the June 17 worship service, Wagoner’s first Sunday as revitalization pastor. After he preached from Isaiah 64, the prayer of the hungry heart, Wagoner, church trustee Larry Buchanan and Priest signed the covenant.

“The covenant is a spiritual undertaking, not a legal document,” according to the document’s first line. “The pastor and the church commit themselves to a cooperative partnership for the fulfillment of this covenant as part of the church’s ministry of worship, education, fellowship, and service to others, as it seeks to proclaim the good news of God’s love in Christ.”

Galloway Avenue members met together for prayer Sunday afternoons for several weeks before Wagoner arrived, and individually they had gone through a resource, 40 Days of Prayer for Church Revitalization, which the SBTC provided.

“They’re very committed people,” Wagoner said. “They love their church; they love the Lord. That’s very evident talking with them, their passion for the church and their passion for the Lord.”

The covenant revitalization process starts with a 13-week preaching series that covers the letters to the seven churches mentioned in Revelation, with Scripture verses suggested by SBTC to address pertinent aspects of church life.

“They don’t give us the message,” Wagoner said. “We take the passages designed to teach the church particular truths, and pray the Lord will use that to open eyes and teach hearts.

“Then [after the 13 weeks] we will sit down and have a dream session,” Wagoner continued. “We’ll talk about things that are and aren’t working, things we’d like to try, and a ‘dream list’ of things we could do that people are eager to see happen. Then we’ll set in motion the wheels to accomplish the things the church needs to have done.”

Wagoner said his job isn’t to tell the congregation what to do, but rather to help facilitate thinking and discussion as the church together decides what it wants to do.

“My role,” Wagoner said, “is to lead the church in examining everything from bylaws, constitution, Sunday School, every program, and to look for ways the church can improve, ministries that can be started, and just in general to pray and seek revival in the life of the church.”

Galloway Avenue, begun in 1990 as the merger of two churches, continues in its commitment to missions and ministry. It gives 5 percent of undesignated offerings to missions through the Cooperative Program. 

This is the fifth year for Galloway Avenue to host a weeklong summer soccer camp for more than 60 young people, with the help of several volunteer leaders from First Baptist Church of Mauriceville. 

Community outreach programs for children through the sixth grade also include Vacation Bible School in the summer and a Back to School Bash for the neighborhood before school starts, providing an interactive Bible story and school supplies.

Another Galloway Avenue ministry, Hand of Hope, is a distribution site for Sharing Life Community Outreach and the North Texas Food Bank. In years past, the church offered support groups for people dealing with divorce, abortion recovery and chemical dependency.

Galloway en Español is a ministry started by a previous pastor that meets at the church with Juan Manuel Garza as pastor.

“I have found the people of Galloway Avenue to be a very loving, caring congregation,” Howell told the TEXAN. “They’re very compassionate people who love the Lord.” 

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