By Brandon Elrod
ALPHARETTA, GA.—The words cut Sam Calhoun who, at the time, pastored Windsor Hills Community Church in La Mesa, Calif. A young African American man attended a block party the church organized to reach young people in their community.
“I don’t come here because this is a white church,” Calhoun recalls the young man saying when asked why he would not attend church at Windsor Hills.
The demographics of the surrounding community had changed over the decades, and the church had not done a good job of reaching the diverse groups of people who created the shift.
“I knew what the church looked like back then,” Calhoun said. “And it wasn’t the neighborhood.”
Today, more than ten years later, Windsor Hills—now called The Hills Church—is back from the brink of collapse. On August 27, 2019, during its annual Replant Summit, the North American Mission Board (NAMB) awarded Calhoun its inaugural Billy Heriford Replanter of the Year award for the turnaround the church experienced.
You can see and read more about their story of replanting here.
Sam Calhoun received the inaugural Replanter of the Year Award from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) during the annual Replant Summit. From left to right: Lu Jean Conrad, Janis Schlundt, Joyce Calhoun, Sam Calhoun, Jimmy Steele and Julie Steele. Lu Jean and Janis were members of Calhoun’s church in La Mesa, Calif., for decades before they welcomed Steele as their pastor. Now, their congregation is in the middle of the replanting process. NAMB photo by Danny Delgado.
“When this church was started in the Fifties,” said Calhoun, “they were reaching a lot of young families here. They had a great youth group, great music. They had all the classrooms full. Everybody in town knew it as ‘that church on the hill.’”
As the congregation dwindled to a faithful few, they realized that in order for the church’s best days to be in the future, they were going to need help. Faced with the reality that their days were limited unless they altered their trajectory, they did the only—and most important—thing they could.
“All we knew to do was pray,” Calhoun recalled. “So, that’s what we committed to do.”
In presenting the award, Mark Clifton, NAMB’s senior director of replanting, noted, “Sam Calhoun had the heart, the passion and the vision for the next generation and to see what God would do.”
The audience of roughly 200 pastors and spouses serving in replanting and revitalizing churches gave Calhoun a standing ovation.
“God put together the plan,” Calhoun said of the replant process. “I would love to give to you a strategy and a plan, but I don’t have one. Just follow what God is doing, and he will take care of the rest.”
Part of the answer to his congregation’s prayers came when a young church planting missionary arrived with a launch team. While Jimmy Steele, his family and his team anticipated starting a new church, a few meetings with Calhoun and conversations with the Windsor Hills congregation revealed that God wanted to do something special.
Calhoun said of the church’s new pastor, “God was at work because unbeknownst to me, He brought the best in the world to come to be my son. That’s how I look at Jimmy. I look at him as my son.”
Sam Calhoun, previously pastor of Windsor Hills Community Church in La Mesa, Calif., accepts the inaugural Replanter of the Year Award from the North American Mission Board (NAMB) during the annual Replant Summit. Calhoun received the award because of his willingness to pass on the leadership of his church to the next generation and disciple the next pastor as they re-launched the declining congregation. NAMB photo by Danny Delgado.
Billy Heriford pastored and replanted churches across rural north Missouri from the 1930s through the 1980s. The Replanter of the Year award bears Heriford’s name because of his love for the local church and his passion for raising up young leaders in ministry. Calhoun received the first award because he displayed those same qualities.
“The reason we selected Sam to get this award was because in order for the replant movement that God desires to take place, men like Sam have to be willing to do what he’s done,” Clifton said during the ceremony, “that is to let go and trust the Lord with that next generation.”
An average of 1,000 Southern Baptist churches each year are removed from the Southern Baptist Convention database. NAMB research indicates that about half of those removals are because a church has died. NAMB’s replant efforts focus on re-launching churches that have died or are near death.
NAMB hosted this year’s Replant Summit at its home offices in Alpharetta, Ga. The theme focused on worship’s role in replanting and church revitalization. Speakers included Jared Wilson, assistant professor of pastoral ministry at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Thom Rainer, immediate past president of LifeWay and director of the Revitalize Network, and Mike Harland, director of LifeWay worship.
Brandon Elrod writes for the North American Mission Board.