This article is written specifically to churches that find themselves in the unenviable position of decline and / or stagnation.
What is a church in this position to do?
The ministry of Church Revitalization is some of the toughest work in the ministry. It is not for the faint of heart! If someone has never done this type of ministry, especially long term, it is difficult for them to fully grasp the value, or fundamental nature or requirements, of this work. They may even try to minimize its importance or value.
Do not let this unlearned sentiment deter you if you are interested in the work of revitalization, and do not let this attitude discourage you if you are in a church that is struggling, and looking for answers.
THERE ARE OPTIONS!
The First Option We Discussed Was
The Next Option We Will Discuss is
Replanting a church has the same goal as revitalization, however the process is different.
The reason why we take the time to define and discuss these different words is because the field of church revitalization is relatively new....especially for Independent Baptists. So, to define the terms and discuss the concepts helps to remove some of the mystery associated with the ideas.
For example, the concepts of revitalizing and replanting may be confused with restarting. Restarting a church would be most closely associated with Revitalization, but it is different. In a restart, the current church is not completely shutdown. It may, and usually does, close for awhile so that reorganization and restructuring may occur. But when it opens again, it is still the same church....maybe with different vision, different leadership, different programs, etc.
It is also wise to clarify these concepts because there are a number of variants that can occur in these processes. To have a firm grasp on the terminology and major concepts helps you to understand the variants better. I might also add that some terms utilized in the field of Revitalizaiton work are changing (and new ones are being added)....so it is improtant to keep up with the times in this regard. For example, Replanting a church can now be looked at in various ways.
Replanting can mean that a church completely shuts down / dissolves and then reopens with a new name, new constitution, new leadership, etc. Replanting can also be looked at as an "adoption" where the new (replanted) church becomes a satellite location of another church. This process may also be termed a merger. We will primarily look at this option from the former perspective.
Replanting involves the same basic four elements as in revitalization, but in relation to people, there is a combination of new and old:
You + New and Existing People + New Structure + Old History.
This replanting process involves the complete shutting down of the current church and the opening of a new independent autonomous church, in the same place, but with a new pastor, new and (sometimes) existing people, new constitution, bylaws, name, etc. Concerning history in a replant you ALWAYS carry the good and the bad history into the new church.
(Remember, a variant of this process may be that the new church
is a satellite location of another church
That is, the church has been adopted, or merged with another church).
This process must be prayed about and thought through intensely. When a church closes, it must be considered if there is a need to re-open it. The journey of a re-plant can be so fraught with difficulty, that it must be determined whether God truly desires that church to be re-opened. Although we find no specific instruction in the New Testament on how (or if) to re-open a closed church, we do find valuable principles related to this aspect of revitalization.
The church, and its health, was important to the Apostle Paul, therefore it should be to us. He gave the better part of his life, at the command of Christ, for the establishment and continued prosperity of local churches. If one considers the churches of the New Testament, most of them had problems. Some churches had more problems than others. The Corinthian Church was fraught with problems, and serious ones at that. The Apostle lovingly and courageously nurtured them and sought to bring them to a fuller measure of Christlikeness.
The Apostle Paul's second and third missionary journeys were largely dedicated to strengthening and equipping the previously established churches.
Furthermore, considering this matter from another angle, the churches of Revelation chapters two and three provide interesting insight. There is so much rich teaching here, but we must briefly observe that Christ was fully willing to:
"Remove” a church (“remove thy candlestick” 2:5), and
"Spue" a church, leaving it to its own devices (“spue thee out of my mouth” 3:16).
Technically these churches would be dead, separated from Christ, without a vibrant witness in this world, but potentially still existing.
When examining a struggling church, It is helpful to determine (not always easily done) which one of these two categories the church, under examination, falls into and why. Which category the church falls into ("Removed" or "Spued") will give ideas as to the approach one should take in relation to the church.
The church that has been "removed," even though it may still exist in form, has ceased to exist as a body of believers...i.e. a church. This church, at worse cannot be salvaged at all. When the language surrounding the church at Ephesus is understood (in Revelation 2) There doesn't seem to be any hope of revitalization for this group once Christ has removed them. This type of church seems to be, at best, a replant effort.
There may also be an illustrative corrollary here in Revelation 2:5 with what happened to the nation of Israel. G.K. Beale in his book on Revelation states,
"Israel in the OT, experienced this 'removal' as well. Israel had been symbolized by the lampstand emblem (e.g., Zechariah 4), but when successive generations renounced their calling to be a light to the nations (Isa. 42:6–7; 49:6), God removed them as his light-bearing people...."
It is to be understood, however, that one day in the future, God himself will revive Israel in her Covenant relationship, and continue / finish the work He began with her. So there is this glimmer of hope for a church ("Candlestick") that has been "removed."
Similarly a replant effort, in relation to a church, must be clearly desired and guided by God. The value and utility of replanting a church that Christ has removed should be carefully considered, before initiating it. If one attempts to replant a church that Christ has removed (or forsaken), it can be a very destructive and debilitating lesson. It must be done very carefully and wisely.
The second church, the one that has been "spued" out of Christ's mouth, is primarily a revitalization work. This church has not been removed, but this church too has been separated from Christ. Christ is on the outside, looking in. This church, although distanced from Christ, has the added hope of Revelation 3:20. There is always the potential that Christ can return and bring healing to that individual body (Revelation 3:20).
Revitalizers must be exceedingly wise.
In a replant, there are number of elements which are useful for the success of the new work:
Mothering (fostering) Church - Although this idea is not always possible, another church (we shall call it the mothering, or fostering, church) should oversee the replanting effort and also stay engaged with the new church to assist in any way necessary to ensure the success of the new church. If possible, it is good to have this replant relationship in place before the original church closes rather than close and try to find a church to help re-open. If this "mothering / fostering" church can be relatively close, that is wonderful.
This church should be available to help in every way possible. This help may involve financial assistance, building and maintenance assistance, etc. The "mothering church" should provide new and / or updated constitution, by-laws, and organizational restructuring. The mothering church should even be willing to provide new membership and leadership to this replant to give it a solid foundation from the start.
Revitalization Pastor - It is an ideal situation if the replant pastor can come out of the church that is going to "mother / foster" the new church. This is not always possible, but it helps immensely. This replant pastor needs to have special preparation and training to engage this challenging ministry. He definitely does not need to be a novice. A novice in a pastoral role is anti-biblical, but a novice as a replant pastor, is a disaster waiting to happen. This should never be done! This is no time to "learn" the pastoral ministry, making a bunch of mistakes and then handing all of the problems his inexperience caused, to another pastor. The new church needs a man that is seasoned and Spirit-filled having proving himself, somewhat, in ministry before ever taking the reins of a replant. This man needs an understanding of the challenges that lay ahead of him and an ability to meet them. This is no time for zealous, well-intentioned, but unprepared men to "try, and see what happens."
Just a word here about "team effort." In a revitalization, as well as a replant, a team approach to the effort should be strongly considered. I am not speaking here about a "committee" to run the effort. Nor am I talking about the new pastor and current church leadership as a team. I am talking about a specially prepared and chosen team of pastors (at least two) to lead the replant effort (or the revitalizaiton effort). There are many valuable principles in the Bible about teamwork, but beyond those, there is direct reference to a plurality of elders (pastors) in each church, to shepherd that one flock. More on that later, in other articles.
Healing The Heart of Your Church - This is a unique ministry program that has utility in both revitalization as well as replant works. The underlying premise of this program is that if you don't throughly deal with the destructive / sinful tendencies that brought a church to near death or death, then the new work (revitalization or replant) is bound to fall into the same patterns, especially when there is old (previous) membership coming into the new church.
Although there is too much to be said here concerning this matter, suffice it to say that if you are replanting a church, it would be best to take the remaining membership that will be coming into the new church through this program. Taking that carry over membership through this program ensures that situations, issues, problems, etc can be thoroughly dealt with, and repented of, before the new church is constituted. You may also discover that some "carryovers" should not be welcomed into the new church.
Stayed tuned for the next exciting and helpful article on the
"Options for a Struggling Church."
Reference work - Hallock, Mark. Replant Roadmap. Littleton, CO: Acoma Press, 2017
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 231.