Arizona Mission Offering at Work: Quartzsite ‘refocuses’ on education

By Karen L. Willoughby | Aug 1, 2022

Quartzsite Southern Baptist Church voted last spring to start a school as part of the ReFocus process the church began in the fall of 2021.

Not that many church members had 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.”

Starting a school came out of Quartzsite Southern Baptist’s participation in the ReFocus process led by Keith Durham, church health facilitator with the Arizona Southern Baptist Mission Network.

ReFocus receives support from the Arizona Mission Offering.

The purpose of ReFocus is to “recover the church’s unique Gospel presence and impact within their local context,” Durham said. “It’s a six-step process to help established churches re-engage and renew with the mission God has called them to.”

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.”

As of this July, 23 Arizona churches have started the ReFocus process.

“We try to help the church articulate their sweet spot as a church,” Durham said. “We look at three areas: the community potential around the church, the leadership passions in the church and the church’s purpose. We find how all three converge to make up the church’s sweet spot.”

By “we,” Durham meant the church working its way through the thought questions in each of six steps, starting with an assessment of where the church thought it was, to the development of three- to five-year plans for the church.

“People think of church revitalization as for a church that’s dying or almost dead, in crisis mode,” Durham said. “But that’s not always the case. Quartzsite is a healthy church trying to figure out what’s next for them and where they go in the next five to seven years.”

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.

Saxton said he figures it will take about 18 months to complete the ReFocus process, in part because of the mid-winter revival that came near the end of step 2.

Quartzsite attracts up to a million visitors each winter, many to check out several gem-and-mineral tent events and 15 other major flea markets that take place between mid-January to mid-February. The church’s presence at the event area during revival this winter was not only to the visitors passing by the church’s stand — with water, Christian materials and conversation — but with the same, for the first time, to the many gem and mineral vendors, several of whom were from other nations.

“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.

“As we boiled it all down, we have a passion for teaching, a gift for teaching, and the community has a need for teaching,” Saxton continued.

That instructional need is not just for school-aged children.

It’s for individuals and couples learning to cope with lifestyle changes in their lives.

“And we have a lot of vets in our community,” the pastor continued. “Many of them were not getting the benefits they were entitled to.”

A Veterans Service Officer now comes to the church every week to help veterans with their benefits paperwork.
Quartzsite Southern Baptist completed the discovery (assessments) and convergence (sweet spot) steps of the ReFocus process. Yet to come, the vision pyramid, which helps the church answer six directional questions.

“All churches need to recast their vision every seven years,” Durham said. “ReFocus can help any church of any size figure out, ‘Where is God leading us next?’”

When Quartzsite Southern Baptist Church looked at its passion, purpose and 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 school starts this fall using Accelerated Christian Education –ACE — curriculum. In what’s known as “Mastery” education, a main teacher and assistant guide the students individually as they work through “paces” (chapters) in each of their studies: reading, writing, math, science and history.

If students don’t score at least 80 percent on a test after each chapter, they must retake that chapter. Entry exams show any gaps in the student’s knowledge, such as a third-grader reading at a first-grade level. The curriculum then starts them at the gap and brings them to grade level.

Volunteers from the church tutor and lead in extracurricular activities, such as sports, art and music.

The church will host 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. “They will be in the Bible every day and have chapel every day.

Because of your giving to the Arizona Mission Offering and Quartzsite Southern Baptist’s participation in ReFocus, the Gospel is being proclaimed in a new way in this small town.

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

Saxton said though the ReFocus process can take as little as six months, “I don’t care if it takes us two years if it gets us where we need to be. Probably it will take us 18 months. The refinement we’re doing is real and not just on paper.”

For more information about the ReFocus process, contact Durham at kdurham@azsbc.org.

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

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