ReFocus process leads to church’s next step: Starting a school

By Karen L. Willoughby | Apr 19, 2023

A church revitalization process begun by Quartzsite Southern Baptist Church in the fall of 2021 resulted in the church beginning a school last fall.

The Quartzsite church participated in the ReFocus process, led at the time by Keith Durham, church health facilitator with the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists. Durham accepted a position in Texas late last year, and now Don Vickers, associational mission strategist for Yuma Southern Baptist Association, guides Arizona churches through ReFocus.

Not just struggling churches, but healthy churches seeking to determine their next step, can benefit from the ReFocus process.

According to the ReFocus website (corpusvitae.org), “With the tools ReFocus provides, participants evaluate the current state of the ministry, consider how to reposition it for maximum impact, develop all the directional aspects of ministry, create a custom plan for disciple making, tailor a leadership development strategy, and build a custom plan for implementation.”

On the surface, beginning a Christian school seems to be an odd pursuit for Quartzsite Southern Baptist Church.

Not that many church members have children living with them. For the most part, the congregation consists of sun-seeking retirees.

But the small desert town’s 40-student elementary school closed during COVID-19 and its building later was condemned. Parents who didn’t want their children bused to Ehrenburg, 25 miles east on Interstate 10, were instead homeschooling with varying degrees of success.

“Google says we have over 180 homes with kids in them,” Jeff Saxton said. He’s been pastor of the church since 2018, in the town of about 3,600 permanent residents. “Our objective is to give them a shot at having a productive life, educating them and giving them the Gospel.”

Saxton said he was intrigued when he first heard about ReFocus.

Quartzsite Southern Baptist was a healthy church with several activities designed to encourage fellowship and caring — Wednesday night suppers, near-weekly 4-wheeling trail rides and ministries like “Pack a Purse” for transient women without toiletries or the means of carrying them — but the pastor wondered if the church was really doing what God had in mind when it was planted in 1994.

“We were blowing and going,” Saxton said. “But you can have a lot of activity going on at the church and still not reach your objective. Lives change by being purposeful.

“I thought ReFocus would refine our areas of attention, our focus as a ministry,” the pastor continued. “I just wanted to make sure we were doing our part to make the people’s time here more effectual.”

Through ReFocus, leaders learned Quartzsite Southern Baptist’s attributes include strong pastoral preaching/teaching that continually swirls around the meaning behind the scriptures to how that relates to people in the pews. Larry Hall, the adult Sunday School teacher, spends several hours each day, six days a week, studying for his Sunday class, he said.

“ReFocus is a pretty arduous process,” Saxton said. “It asks a lot of questions you have to think about and talk through with your leaders, about the reality of your setting, what the real needs are in your setting.

“We’re about teaching,” the pastor said. “The people who come here want to be taught. We teach because we believe the people can only do better if they know better. We want to be that source of truth and information.”

When Quartzsite Southern Baptist Church looked at its passion and gift for teaching, coupled with the community’s need for a school, “We decided, if these kids are going to have a shot at any kind of life, somebody has to do something and our passion is teaching. So that’s what we’re doing,” Saxton said.

The church hosts the school in classrooms at the back of the fellowship hall, with plans for a separate school building on the church’s five acres.

“The curriculum is Bible-based, from a Christian worldview,” Saxton said. Students have chapel every day.

“The majority of the homes that have kids are one-parent or grandparent homes,” the pastor continued. “[We’re] educating them and giving them the Gospel, so this is an evangelistic outreach as well as a good education.”

For more information about the ReFocus process, contact the Arizona Mission Network of Southern Baptists, 602-843-1030.

Karen L. Willoughby is a national correspondent for Baptist Press and a freelance writer for Portraits.

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