What ‘new banner’ do you mean?

Perusing the Faith and Values section of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, I came across a little story — 335 words — about a little church — Sunday attendance of 15 — that decided to disband and start over.

Folks at the First Baptist Church of Valmeyer, Ill. — soon to be called GraceRidge — are extremely open about where they think they went wrong:

“In the past, we may have unintentionally alienated ourselves from the community and possibly focused too heavily on nonessential issues,” said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Rob Gion Jr.

The church opened in the 1950s but somehow lost its mission along the way, he said. …

In a recent letter to church members, Gion said the church in the past may have displayed a message of condemnation rather than grace, made people think that church’s members are better than others, and been narrow-minded about issues like drinking and dancing.

Gion said members stayed away from an annual picnic of churches in Valmeyer because alcohol was served, for example.

Church member Darlene Kettler, 57, said they gained “a bad reputation” and that something had to be done.

“We’ve done an awful lot of prayer on this,” she said.

The online version of the story links to a letter sent to neighbors.

Readers learn that the church plans to remain affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention while making a fresh start:

Gion said members came together to reflect on the role of the church and the message they were preaching.

“We looked at where the church is at now and the history, and we didn’t feel like we are or have been all that God would want this church to be,” he said.

The problem with the story?

It is so utterly vague as to what, if anything, this little church still believes or plans to preach in the future. What does God want this church to be? I have absolutely no idea after reading this story.

My suspicion is that this piece was written by an overworked suburban writer filing stories in the same day from the local police blotter, fire department reports, the zoning commission and, yes, this little Baptist church.

That said, in a perfect world, a “slice of life” like this could be developed into so much more.

Neighbors could be interviewed about their perceptions of the church and their reactions to the planned changes. Members could go into more detail about their faith and how it’s evolved (specifics, please).

Context could be added about other Baptist churches (and United Methodist Churches and Churches of Christ and so on) eschewing name-brand labels in a non-denominational age. Background could be offered on whether there’s any evidence that a dying church filled with older members can remake itself at this stage.

The headline on the story proclaims:

Valmeyer church regroups under new banner

I’d sure love to know what that banner is.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    Um, Southern Baptist? It says so in the article.

    I found another story from the Belleville News-Democrat, for what it’s worth. Maybe it says a bit more, maybe not. I think the problem really is that perhaps there isn’t much to be said that’s concrete. It doesn’t appear that doctrinal issues, which seem to be what turn people on here, are involved in the change, for instance, but there does seem to be some intent to get out from under the branding stigma of being called Baptist.

  • Julia

    The Belleville News Democrat is my hometown paper. I didn’t get what was going on either.

    I thought it was just time for the church to move up the bluff and join the folks who had been flooded out in the big one in 1994.

  • Paul Ellis

    I live in Monroe County, where this congregation is located, and have read several versions of this piece–they’re all similar enough for me to believe that the church leaders, not the media, are the source of the vagueness. Speaking of context, the photo accompanying this post is not from around here, is it?

  • Paul Ellis

    By the way, the really big news story in Monroe County this month has been the trial of Chris Coleman, a pastor’s kid who–allegedly to prevent his being dismissed from employment at a large ministry for adultery–strangled his kids and wife. Lots of religion in that story! How do you think that was handled?

  • http://getreligion.org Bobby

    Speaking of context, the photo accompanying this post is not from around here, is it?

    No, it’s a Wikimedia image that came up when I searched for “new banners.” In the “context” of GetReligion, most readers know that we try to illustrate every post with an image or video. Certainly, we love to have images that actually are of the subject of the post itself. But since we err on the side of not violating copyright, we sometimes have to stretch it, as in this case.

    Concerning the trial of Chris Coleman, I reviewed some of the coverage a week or so ago but didn’t post on it. I didn’t find it particularly good or bad, and since it was an ongoing story, I didn’t feel like I knew enough about what had been reported to say much intelligently in a GR post (not that I always let that concern get in my way!).

    How do you think it was handled, given that you live in the area and probably are much more versed on it?

  • Dave

    What baffles me is: How is this reorganization supposed to correct a self-perceived collective bad attitude?