Author: Caleb Duncan

Blog Contributor

Stages in a Replant: Harvesting

What Comes Next?

Looking back at your time in ministry, if you’ve worked through the 4 stages of a Replant, here are some things that you’ve been doing.

  1. You’ve plowed the ground by continual prayer and preaching of the gospel. 
  2. You’ve planted gospel seeds by infusing the gospel into every ministry, every sermon/teaching, every member you have.
  3. You’ve watered those seeds by focusing on intentional discipleship in your congregation and the growth of your people.
  4. You’ve witnessed how God is working through growth: whether that be through the spiritual growth of your congregation or the physical growth of new people coming through community engagement.

This is it. You’re doing the work of ministry. It’s effective. But while there are many moving pieces included with all of this work, there is one thing that we should be careful not to forget: just as disciples should be making disciples, leaders should be developing leaders.

The Necessity of Leadership Development

Our team has developed a 5th stage of a Replant due to how crucial it is for the future of your church: Harvesting. What is Harvesting? In Episode 167 of the podcast, we said that harvesting is the process of identifying, training, and utilizing leaders from your congregation to assist and carry on the work of the ministry. As spiritual growth occurs, leaders are actively engaged in intentionally discipling and raising up new leaders. The term “Harvesting” could be compared to gathering the crop together and putting it to use right away.

As leaders ourselves, we cannot neglect the work of developing new leaders to carry on the work of the ministry. I’m sure you’ve heard the statement: “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” John Maxwell says, “When you raise up and train leaders, you impact yourself, your organization (church), the people you develop, and all the people their lives touch.” If we put that statement in the setting of a local church, here’s what we would say:

When you, as a pastor, raise up leaders in your congregation, you impact yourself, your church structure, your congregants, and all the people who your congregants will encounter. 

Many Problems Stem from Lack of Leadership

One of the most common requests for pastors and leaders is their need for more leaders, more workers, more servants, more helpers. As a Replant or Revitalization Pastor, you may do everything you can possibly do alone, but you’ll fall apart in the process. You need people to pick up the baton when you need a break or when you leave. You also need people in the everyday work of ministry who can lead in your weak areas. Leaders are not perfect and we are not superman. We need others who can lead alongside us.

Here are some scenarios: You fall ill. You move on to the next assignment the Lord has for you. You pass away. You take a leave of absence. Whatever the case is, think about this: what happens to all the plowing, planting, watering, and growing that has happened? If leaders are not in place to continue that work, the church can fall back into the same place they were. Our ultimate goal is not to build our own kingdom, but God’s kingdom. That’s why we must develop leaders from the congregation. If we aren’t identifying and raising up leaders to carry on, we are missing the joy of a multiplying congregation and the blessing of obedience.

Practical Ways to Identify and Develop Leaders: 

  1. Keep your eyes always open — watch and see how people interact with you and with others. Who are the people that your church members talk about on a regular basis? Who do people go to for advice and biblical questions? Lou Holtz, former Notre Dame football coach, once said, “You’ve got to have good athletes to win, I don’t care who the coach is.” Our work looks a little bit differently than recruiting college football athletes, but we must also keep our eyes open to see who could be developed as a leader. A leader is not always an extrovert. Many personality traits are helpful for different situations. While I can’t give an exhaustive list here, see the last paragraph for a list of resources and articles on the character traits of a leader.
  2. Spend time personally with those individuals. Provide opportunities where you can watch and see how they lead. Though some people have natural leadership abilities, they may need some training and oversight. 
  3. Show them the way you do ministry and model an example for them to follow. Deliver knowledge and coaching to them. Use a resource to work through with them. Provide them with the space to ask questions and be intentional in the process. The three ways that leaders are developed are through experience, knowledge, and coaching (not necessarily in that order).
  4. Delegate responsibility to them with oversight. Watch them lead – with a caveat. Bob recommended in the recent podcast to wait until you have a disagreement or conflict resolution with the person. If you are unable to come to a resolution with someone you are trying to develop, it may be time to slow down and give some more training.

The Biblical Rationale:

  • Apollos

To use the example of Apollos in Acts 18:24-28, Apollos was instructed in the way of the Lord. He already had some background being trained as a leader…but Apollos’ theology was not complete. He was well studied in the scriptures, but he only knew the Baptism of John. Apollos was probably teaching people how to repent and turn from their sin, but he was missing the other side of repentance: faith in Christ Jesus. But when Priscilla and Aquilla met Apollos, they identified him as a leader, and taught him more accurately. Here are some ways he was a natural leader, and some traits we need to seek out in identifying leaders.

Competent in the Scriptures: Spoke and Taught accurately (v. 24-25)

Fervent in Spirit: speaking boldly (v. 25-26)

Greatly Useful to Ministry: (v. 27)

  • Jesus’ Inner Circle

Next, we could look at the life of Jesus. Jesus chose 12 disciples to follow him and spent every day with them for three years, discipling and pouring into them. But Jesus intentionally discipled Peter, James and John out of that twelve. The following scriptures show Jesus pulling aside Peter, James, and John to minister to others, to reveal himself to them, and to teach them to do the work of ministry:

Healing of Peter’s mother in law: Mark 1:29-31

Healing of Jairus’ daughter: Mark 5:21-43

Mount of Transfiguration: Mark 9:2

Garden of Gethsemane: Mark 14:32-33

When you read the book of Acts, the only disciples mentioned by name out of the original twelve are Peter, James, and John. They took leadership responsibility. Peter preaches, Peter and John heal a lame beggar, Peter and John are brought before the council, Peter and John were sent to the Samaritans, James – pastor of the church in Jerusalem, is martyred for his faith. 

  •  Paul’s development of leaders 

Next we could look at the example of Paul, who sought to develop leaders like Titus and Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:1-2, “You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, 2 and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.

Titus 1:5 “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”

There are numerous examples in scripture of leaders being developed, but these are just a few that give us the necessity as it relates to the local church.

Final Thoughts:

In his book called, “Designed to Lead,” Eric Geiger argues that the church is the most important place that leadership development can happen. He says:

“Notice that we are NOT saying that the locus of the Church is leadership development, but that the locus of leadership development is the church. Please do not miss the difference. The locus of the Church is and must be Jesus and His finished work for us…The center of the Church is the gospel, but the center of leadership development must be the Church – meaning, that the leaders who will ultimately transform communities and change the world come from the Church.. These leaders carry with them, into all spheres of life and culture, the conviction of people who…have been brought from death to life through Jesus. These leaders are designed to serve others, because they have been first served by Christ. God has designed his people to lead.”

If we truly believe that the purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel to the world as an assembly of called-out believers, how can we do so if we are not developing leaders within? 

For more information, see the following resources on leadership and leadership development: Designed to Lead, Building your Leadership Resume, The 360 Degree Leader, The Marks of a Spiritual Leader, and the Character of Leadership. 

 

Stages in a Replant: Growing

THIS BLOG POST IS PART 4 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Cor. 3:5-7)

The Beautiful Tale of Two Churches

What makes a church grow? Is it our clever tactics and ideas? Is it our sheer willpower and dedication? How about that new Revitalization book you picked up? While all these components are helpful, none of these actually cause growth in a church.

It’s best if we give credit where it is due. We may never realize how God is working behind the scenes in people’s lives, and how he uses the church to accomplish his purposes on Earth. But one thing is for certain: God causes the growth.

Two churches in our association have seen unexpected, beautiful growth. When I started as an AMS about a year ago, one of our churches was very close to shutting down. They could only afford to pay their pastor a meager salary of less than $50 a week, their numbers had shrunk to less than 10, and they were in danger of closing. When I heard their pastor left, I knew this church had to have some attention and encouragement.

I got sucked into work very quickly and for my first month, I wasn’t able to go visit them or meet with their leadership. That is, until one day, one of their congregants came to see me. Here’s how the conversation went. (I’ll blank out the name of the person and church).

“Hi, Caleb. I’m ________ and I’m from __________ Baptist Church. I’m sure you’ve heard what’s been going on by now.”

“Yessir. I have heard. I have to apologize. I’m new here and I haven’t got around to visiting yet. I’m so saddened to hear about the church and I want to let you know that I’m going to do everything I can to help.”

“Help? I mean we would love for you to visit, but I don’t think we need help at this point. I just wanted to come by and meet you.”

I looked at him, confused. “Sir, I thought your church was in danger of closing.”

He continued: “We were nervous a few weeks ago, but I think we’re okay now. There’s a young man from a neighboring church who has felt a call to ministry. He came to fill in a few weeks ago for us, and we love him! Several of our members have come back, and he’s started a new kids and youth program. Last Wednesday, we had 15 kids! That’s more than we’ve had in a long time!” 

I was stunned, relieved, excited, and hopeful for the future, all at the same time. And guess what? I didn’t lift a finger. There was nothing I could feel pride in with my own work, because I did nothing. But I boast in Christ. I know he cares about his church, and if He wants to cause its growth, He will.

Church number 2 is another beautiful story that’s still in the works. One day, I had a phone call and an email from someone sending in their ministry resume. It was a retired pastor who moved down to the beach, and wanted to do an interim ministry close by his beach home. 

Shortly after I received his resume, another struggling church in our association lost a pastor. This is another church that has about 15 regular members. When the pastor left, I went to work and met with their chairman of deacons. I handed the resume for the retired pastor, and told him to give him a call. 

Three weeks later, the church had 54 on a Sunday morning!! I’m blown away at the gracious hand of God. His power, and His kindness are evident in this church. Was it something I did? Was it my amazing pass-off of that resume that did the trick? Was it my driving skills in the parking lot of their church??

How can we explain this?

Unexpected Growth often means God is at Work

Isn’t it just like our God to do the unthinkable, the unexpected, and the extraordinary? When Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 3, we must realize the type of prolific apostle that Paul was. The apostle Paul was an apostle, a missionary, a preacher, a church planter, and a passionate minister for Christ. He was one of the most important and influential figures in the New Testament. If there is anyone who could have written books on church growth and church health, it was Paul. Other of Paul’s writings describe the work of ministry he did. It included evangelism, preaching, teaching, caring, and so many other roles. But Paul never took credit for the work of God in growing a congregation.

Even Paul would only call himself a planter, who planted seeds for God’s glory. Apollos was just a waterer. But the growth did not come from Paul or Apollos, but God and God alone. 

In Episode 166 of the podcast, Bob and Jimbo give us a good definition for the “growing stage.” Growing is when the fully developed seed of the gospel springs up and is evident in the life of those inside the church. It is marked by changed thinking and living, and is evidence of God’s work in the lives of the people – spiritual growth.

So, What Do We Do?

If God causes growth, and sometimes it is unexpected, why should we do anything? Why should we continue to labor and strive in a very difficult ministry? Because God uses his people to accomplish his purposes. He uses his gospel to motivate us to obedience. He uses his people, sharing His word and preaching His truth, and seeking his face in prayer,  to bring new life to a dying congregation.

Our role is in the grueling work of planting, watering, planting, and watering. Sometimes, the seeds will sprout up, build strong roots, and grow. In Mark 4, Jesus gives a parable about a sower who goes out and scatters the seeds. Some of the seeds don’t take root, and they wither and die. Some of them grow up, but get choked out by the world. And others take root and grow into a strong plant. The sower must first cast the seed for anything to happen with the seed. If we sit back and do nothing, rest assured that no growth will happen.

Even if we use my example of Church 1, God was working in a young man’s heart, calling him to ministry while he was being mentored by his personal pastor, and he was sent out to get “pulpit experience,” in this neighboring church. If God wasn’t in that, who was? Growth happens in the church when God chooses to respond to two things: our cry for help and our faithfulness in sowing and watering the seeds.

Don’t Be Discouraged, Pastor

“Okay. What gives? You said that God causes growth. Well my church isn’t growing, and I’ve been at this work for a while now. What now? Is it me? Is there something spiritually wrong happening?”

I’m not sure any of us can answer those questions. We can’t be sure of reasons why you haven’t seen the growth you desire. But here are a few encouraging words to keep in mind as you keep working in this ministry:

  1. Be Patient. Remember the missionary Adoniram Judson. Judson was in Burma for 6 years before seeing a single convert. It took 12 years to see 18 converts. Judson served in Burma for 34 years. Afterwards, a survey in Burma reported over 200,000 Burmese were Christians. God may never show you the results of your labor in this lifetime. But if you get to see growth in your tenure, know that it is a blessing from God. 
  2. Be Faithful. Be faithful to plant gospel seeds. Be faithful to water those seeds with discipleship. Love people, care for your congregation, preach the word in season and out of season, keep on running the engine, and take breaks when you can. God will honor your faithfulness to this work.
  3. Look to Christ daily. If you look to your own efforts, you will be prone to be discouraged or prideful. Discouragement comes when you don’t see growth. Pride emerges when you do see growth, but you are taking the credit for your work. Look to Christ, acknowledging that only he can keep you both encouraged and humble.
  4. Address spiritual concerns regularly. If growth is a work of God, it would make sense to make everything we do a matter of spiritual significance. Address conflict and sin in the church. Lead your church to pray. Teach on church health. Regularly talk about being a Kingdom-minded Christian. Teach how the gospel applies to life. Let your congregation see the God of the Bible. When you do this, even your congregation will see that this growth really does come from God alone.

A tremendous resource on these topics would be Johnathan Leeman’s A Word Centered Church. Also see Gary Macintosh in Biblical Church Growth. I’ve always been intrigued reading John Piper’s responses to questions on Desiring God, so here is a great article on this topic. 

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

Stages in a Replant: Watering

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 3 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT.

Replanters and Revitalizers Must Water Seeds Faithfully

In our series, we have looked at 1 Corinthians 3:5-9 each week. This week, we will focus on the work of Apollos in verse 6: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.” What was the work of Apollos? What did it mean that he watered? Let’s see what the scriptures tell us about Apollos in Acts 18:24-28:

“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in (the) spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus… he greatly helped those who through grace had believed,  for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.”

Apollos’ work was primarily in the work of discipleship. He was learned in the scriptures as he had been instructed in the ways of the Lord. Simply put, he had been discipled. This created a passion in him to also disciple others, as the word says he “helped” those who believed. Apollos proclaimed the gospel and was empowered by the Spirit for the help and edification of believers and the defense of the faith to skeptics and doubters. He performed that role intentionally – watering the gospel seeds that had been planted.

If a church is not watering these gospel seeds, the church will remain at surface level, with no real growth or movement. And just like a seed that has taken root, if not nourished, the seed  will eventually die. Both in Bob’s article and in Ep. 165 of the podcast, Replant Bootcamp talks about some components that may be absent from a declining church: 

  • Consistent and clear communication of the gospel message
  • Exegetical teaching from God’s word
  • Spirit empowered preaching
  • Practical application of God’s truth to everyday life
  • A powerful apologetic for Jesus in the culture

If we truly want to see growth in our work of ministry, we will have to commit to long-term, continual watering.

We have to be committed to the following: 

  • Sermon preparation and evaluation
  • The centrality of the Gospel in their teaching
  • The devotion to and reliance upon The Spirit in all of the processes involved in preaching (Prayer, Planning, Preparation and Proclamation)
  • Equipping and challenging the congregation to respond in obedience in everyday life

Commitment and Consistency

Replanting and Revitalizing churches is not for quitters or “greener grass syndrome.” Once you start, you truly do have to be committed for the long-haul. 

It takes the average person 7 times hearing the gospel before a conversion. It takes the average church replant

5-7 years to be self-sustaining. It takes explaining a vision for ministry again, and again, and again before a church finally sees what you see. Replants must have consistent leaders who will be faithful to the calling on their lives.

When farmers plant their seeds, it takes long, consistent work for the fields to bring a harvest. Sometimes there are cycles – years when crops produce and years where they don’t. You can’t let the difficult seasons turn you away quickly. There is a sense in which replanters and revitalization must have “thick skin” and bear the complaints of some to endure and produce a harvest for later.

The Grueling, Dirty, but Necessary Work of Discipleship

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to finally lead a friend to Christ. We had an encounter months ago that was a divine appointment from God. It began a friendship over several months that resulted in him making a profession of faith and getting baptized alongside his partner. We had spent so much time together and I was witnessing a dramatic change in this young man’s life. And then, life got busy.

 

Life got busy for both of us, and everytime we tried to find time to hang out, we struggled to connect. After a while, I started noticing that our friendship was drifting, and he was falling out of regular fellowship with the church. But in God’s own time and in his own way, he’s brought us together again. When I had the chance to lead him to Christ, I told myself, “My life is committed to this brother. And the calling God’s given me is to disciple him.”

Where did this discipleship-mentality come from? It came from an elderly man named Cleo. During my freshman year of college, I began visiting a church. Cleo decided that for a year, he would pour his life and soul into me, and teach me how to obey Christ. Cleo helped me understand that discipleship was woven into the fabric of scripture. He taught me what Christ meant when he said, “Follow me,” and, “…teach them to observe everything I’ve commanded.” The impact he made in my life has been an eternal impact. Because of him, I want to pour my life and soul into others.

Disciple-Making 101

In the past decade, there has been a major uptick in the work of disciple-making. In a previous generation of Christian living, much of the emphasis on Christian responsibility has been in the world of evangelism. But these two worlds should never have been disconnected, for in the Great Commission, Jesus explains how a disciple is made.

Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded.” (Matthew 28:19)

Most scholars will agree that the main focus of this passage is on the Greek word mattetuous or make disciples. If this is true, we should find in the text an answer to this question: How is a disciple made? Jesus explains that it is by going, baptizing, and teaching. Going is related to Evangelism, and teaching all things is related to the word Discipleship. 

Simply put, here’s how a disciple is made: Go to them with the gospel. When they convert, baptize them as a public declaration of their new identity. Then, start the hard work of teaching them to obey Christ. Therefore, the work of making disciples includes both evangelism and discipleship, not one without the other. 

Let’s say you and your spouse have news of pregnancy. You might “prepare the ground” by getting ready to have a child: you buy a bassinet, decorate a bedroom, and purchase diapers and wipes. Then, that child comes into the world. When you bring the baby back home, what happens next? Do you leave it alone, hoping it will find its way in this world? In the words of Paul, “God forbid!” You would take care of that child by nurturing, caring, feeding, giving it safety, as he or she grows and matures year after year.

Even then, we never finish the process. In his book Multiply, Francis Chan says, “It’s much like raising a child: though there comes a day when she is ready to be on her own, the relationship doesn’t end. The friendship continues, and there will always be times when guidance and encouragement are still needed. In addition to that, God continually brings new people into our path, giving us fresh opportunities to start discipleship all over again.”

Water is Needed for Survival

Human beings cannot survive 3 days without water. Plants can shrivel up and die if they aren’t given enough water. And just like seeds have to be cultivated with water to grow, so do we. Except our spiritual nourishment does not come from Dasani or Aquafina. Our spiritual nourishment comes from continually feeding and drinking in the word of God as others teach and share with us. 

When we are connected to the written word, we are connected to the Living Word. In the words of Jesus, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)


If you’re looking for the perfect model of watering seeds in discipleship, look no further than the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus spent nearly three years with his followers, teaching them, feeding them the word, explaining to them, being patient with them, and leading them. It was a difficult work. The disciples often fell into pride and sin, but Jesus did not give up on them. And we cannot give up on watering seeds and investing into the lives of others around us. If God uses his church as a vehicle to reach the lost, he uses his followers to disciple others in the faith. 

For more information on watering seeds, discipleship, and growth in the faith, check out the following resources: Multiply, Growing Up, Rediscovering Discipleship, Discipleship Essentials, Transforming Discipleship, and The Master Plan of Discipleship. Among the plethora of others, The Navigators have great discipleship resources, as well as TGC.

Stages in a Replant: Planting

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 2 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT.

Fellow Workers in God’s Field

Have you ever planted a seed? Maybe you are active in gardening every spring and cultivate your own seeds. Maybe you have only planted in an Agricultural class as a student in High School. But if you have ever carefully placed that seed in fertile soil, you know the experience of placing hope

You may be burying that seed in 2 inches of dirt, but once you place it there, it is outside your control. Sure, you may water that seed, or place a pot in the sunshine. But the forces of nature that cause it to grow are completely outside of your control. 

When we sow seeds in the lives of others, we are placing hope in God: that He will give growth to our efforts. The passage of scripture we looked at last week gives the premise for the four stages of a Replant. Again, it’s found in 1 Corinthians 3:6-9:

I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

Last week we focused on plowing: which is primarily the work of God as we are seeking Him in prayer and preaching the word. But this week, we are looking at the work of planting seeds.

What Kind of Seeds are These?

When we talk about planting seeds, we are talking about sowing the Gospel into the lives of others. In Episode 164 of the podcast, Bob said, “The planting stage is the work of the pastors and leaders to faithfully cast or sow the seed of the gospel into the lives of the people and the culture of your church.”

This does not simply mean articulating the gospel behind the pulpit every Sunday, although that is extremely important. It means that every ministry, every meeting, every service, team, and event is saturated by the gospel. Many think the gospel stops at message of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, and this message doesn’t carry into our daily lives. But while the gospel message is simple, its implications for daily life are profound.  The gospel even impacts the way we manage our ministry on an operational level.

Seeing Things Through the Lens of the Gospel

For example, churches can get caught in routine, continuing programs and functions for the wrong reasons. They think if they stop that program or function, they’ll feel guilty for stopping what once brought success in the past. However, the gospel frees us from trying to please God with our works. Christ has accomplished the work for us. Instead, we are now motivated to serve the Lord with gladness. Not out of obligation, but out of gratitude. 

In Creature of the Word, Geiger, Chandler and Patterson offer this helpful insight on how the gospel impacts even programming:

“Because church programs communicate, we must consciously bring the gospel to bear on them. Perhaps in analyzing your programs, you’ll discover that you schedule activities or programs because of guilty obligation. The gospel, on the other hand, frees us from feverish attempts to appease God with religious activities. The gospel frees us to say no and to rest from our work because we trust His finished work.”

God’s people will find so much more joy in their service when they recognize that it’s the gospel that compels them to joyful obedience.

Daily Application of the Gospel Transforms Us

Our whole hope is in the gospel, and our dependence is in its power for our lives and the life of our church.

Consider this quote from Thune and Walker’s book The Gospel Centered Life:

Many Christians live with a truncated view of the gospel…(the gospel) is not just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation. It is not simply the deliverance from sin’s penalty, but the release from sin’s power. The gospel is what makes us right with God (justification) and it is also what frees us to delight in God (sanctification).”

There could be many reasons behind a church’s decline. It can be multi-layered and complex. But most decline comes as a result of a lack of understanding and growth in the gospel. We must do the hard work of planting the gospel seeds in every member, process, program and policy of the church.

In Jerry Bridge’s book The Discipline of Grace, he provides commentary on Romans 3:19-26, and then gives us his conclusion: we must daily preach the gospel to ourselves. In a Replant situation, leaders must teach and equip their congregation to do this very thing. He says this:

“To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.”

The gospel is not just a message that saves us, it’s a message that continues to work in us.

Practical Gospel Orientation

We must look at Gospel orientation as a filter. If you read any business or leadership books, they talk about how a vision statement must filter and guide everything you do, every decision you make. In a church, the gospel is the filter by which we do everything.

The gospel impacts the way we do children’s ministry, youth ministry, disciple-making, and even the financial team! If the gospel is our lens through which we view giving, we recognize that we can demonstrate the same type of outrageous generosity that God has shown us in our giving.

One rule of thumb would be to ask the question: How would Jesus do this, if we led this ministry? If he led this part of our church? Do our programs and events demonstrate that the gospel has the power to save? Or do they conclude that we are trusting in something else?

Our ingenuity and cleverness is not enough to make an impact and initiate change. We need the gospel to give life to the things we do, dedicating time and energy to personal relationships. This is  sowing the gospel into lives of others.

What Does This Look Like?

  1. Faithfully proclaiming the gospel from God’s word. According to Romans 1:16, the gospel is the power of salvation. We must be intentional if we are preaching God’s word to tie things back in with the gospel. God’s story of redemption is woven through all of scripture, so let it speak for itself and never forget to tie your sermon back into the accomplished work of Christ for us. 
  2. Dedicating time and energy to disciple-making via personal relationships. The gospel changes the way we maintain relationships. We should be practicing the discipline of helping others grow in the gospel that they have received. This is what Jesus said when he says, “…and teach them to observe everything I have commanded you.”
  3. Examining and evaluating all aspects of church life in light of the gospel. Are programs duty-based or grace-based? Is your ministry focused on simply showing kindness to people, or proclaiming the truth of the gospel to them?
  4. Extending the gospel message beyond the walls of the church through empowering its members to love and serve their community by demonstrating and declaring the hope we have in Christ. 

Leader, Pastor, Replanter: do not ever underestimate the power of the gospel in your church. Remember, you are a fellow worker with God as you are casting seeds of the gospel in everything you do. “and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”

For more information on the work of plowing, see Bob Bickford’s article on NAMB’s website or listen to Ep. 164 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. See some of my favorite books on Gospel Integration in your church: What is the Gospel?, Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary, and the Explicit Gospel. Next on my list is Darryl Dash’s book, How to Grow: Applying the Gospel to Everyday Life

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

Stages in a Replant: Plowing

NOTE: THIS BLOG POST IS PART 1 IN A FIVE-PART SERIES ON THE STAGES OF A REPLANT. 

Potential Change on the Horizon

There is something to be said for churches who have chosen the Replant option. For churches who are ready to change, it requires boldness and energy mixed with a soft and willing heart. 

Replanting has a high risk, but a high reward. It requires patience, stability, regularity, prolonged unity, and a leadership team that is “all in.” While there exists the possibility of conflict, frustration, and spiritual warfare, the end result of a replant can be a new, vibrant church that is focused on discipleship, mission, and community. 

There are surface changes we may do in Replant, but there are some underlying, primary things that give a structure to Replanting. In his work with NAMB, Bob has done a great job in developing the four stages of a Replant. The focus on this blog is the first stage: Plowing.

Who Will Give the Growth?

 

In 1 Corinthians 3:5-9, Paul gives an agricultural illustration of the result of a fruitful ministry: 

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to this labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.”

When it comes to the work of ministry, we may do all we can to implement strategies, ideas, and plant seeds. We may have others that come along with us and help water those seeds. But at the end of the day, God is the one who causes the growth. If this is threatening rather than reassuring, you may need to pause for a moment and reflect. See if there is any pride in you. The growth of a church does not depend on your clever tactics. It depends on God. This should be a comforting thought, as we realize that God alone can bring new life.

Fellow Workers, Plowing in God’s Field

Paul still recognizes that even though this is God’s field, we are his fellow workers. We still have a part to play! But our role is primarily in preparing and creating space for God to work. In the first stage of Replanting, we find ourselves Plowing. In order for new Gospel seeds to take root—the hard ground must be plowed, broken up and turned over.

Plowing is the work of God in preparing the ground through prayer and preaching. When we pray, we are expressing our dependence on God. When God’s people pray, God moves! When we preach the Gospel with the power and conviction of the Holy Spirit, God works in the hearts of His people. During this first stage, we are mainly focusing our church spiritually by prayer and  faithful preaching of the word.

There are also some practical ways that we can “prepare the ground” and create space for God to move. Outside of regular prayer and preaching, what does the work of “plowing” look like in a Church Replant?

  • The Cessation of the “Well Worn”: Plowing breaks up what was in order to do what’s next. Sometimes this takes place by rethinking a favorite program, a music style, a favorite fellowship, or a message on the sign outside. In seeking to find what’s next—the congregation, Pastor and leaders must pray and plan together, relying on God to lead the way.
  • Disruptive Force: as a plow breaks into the ground it cuts, separates, lifts and turns over. Hard ground is transformed more and more into soft earth as the steel edge of the plow repetitively breaks into the ground. God’s word regularly and rightly proclaimed while empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the disruptive force that breaks into the hearts of people. The Word of God proclaimed in the power of the Spirit will serve to disrupt and dislodge the hard ground covering fertile soil.
  • Persistent Plodding: The hard places won’t be softened with one message, one prayer, or one strategic action list. Plowing is the regular, constant work of prayer and preaching. It takes faithfulness and consistency, because it takes time for hearts to be softened.
  • A Christ Centered Commitment: Jesus admonished his followers by saying that anyone who put their hand to the plow and then quit—is not worthy of his kingdom. Revitalization and Replanting Pastors know that turnarounds are never short—many experts believe it takes between 5-7 years for a once in decline or nearly dead church to come back to life.

John and the 70

The work of plowing takes selfless individuals who are passionate about the gospel. When I think of a Biblical Example of “Plowing,” I can’t help but think of John the Baptist. When John was born of Elizabeth and Zechariah, Zechariah prophesied, saying, “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sin…” (Luke 1:76-77).

John the Baptist came preaching repentance and preparing the way of the Lord, by “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin,” (Luke 3:3). He was doing the work of plowing. Through years of silence and awaiting the promised Messiah, the ground had become hard and difficult. So much so, that many were unwilling to believe that Christ was the Messiah. But many hearts were prepared and ready to follow Jesus due to John’s work in ministry.

Lastly, the work of plowing takes a team. In Luke 10:1-3, Jesus sets his face toward Jerusalem. He appoints 70 of his followers (or 72 depending on translation) to go into every town and village where he is about to go. Their message was to proclaim that “the kingdom of God has come near,” (v. 9, 11). The 70 appointed followers were sent out by Christ to plow the ground, to prepare the way of the Lord. 

Before they were sent out to all the towns and villages, he made a statement that gives life to our agricultural illustration: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.”

I truly believe that the work of Replanting involves a right understanding of our mission field. Do we believe that the harvest is plentiful around us? What God wants us to do in this work is to create opportunities for Him to work on people’s hearts. In doing so, we will be preparing the way of the Lord.

For more information on the work of plowing, see Bob Bickford’s article on NAMB’s website or listen to Ep. 163 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. While resources on prayer and preaching are abundant, here are a few of my personal favorites: Faithful Preaching, The Supremacy of God in Preaching, Preaching by the Book, Preaching for God’s Glory, Power Through Prayer, Prayer, and Prayer

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

Spiritually and Organizationally Healthy

What Measures a Healthy Church?

When someone says, “We have a pretty healthy church,” what do they mean? For some, this could mean they have an increasing average attendance in their weekly worship. For others, their finances are in pretty good shape and they have plenty of money to remain open. But if we think much deeper, and we look to the word of God, we will find that attendance and giving are not the only rubrics for church health.

And while attendance, finances, and facilities are important, we cannot use them alone to identify a healthy church. A church can have great attendance and wonderful giving, but be spiritually filled with sinful behavior, disunity, and immaturity. How, then, do we gauge what a healthy church looks like?

Spiritual Health vs. Organizational Health

In many of Paul’s epistles, he does not give advice on numerical change, suggest input on budget outflow, or concern himself with a church’s number of events and ministries. Although these things are important, Paul is much more concerned with the overall spiritual health of their congregation. In 2 Corinthians 13:11, Paul concludes his letter by saying, “Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.” 

Again in Philippians 2:1-2, Paul says this: “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

These scriptures, among several others, teach us that the spiritual markers of a church’s health are Love, Unity, and Maturity. Read the following passages of scripture, and evaluate their context: Romans 12:9-13, 1 Cor. 16:13, Galatians 6:1-5, Ephesians 4:1-7, 1 Thess. 4:9-12, Colossians 2:12-17. In these passages, Paul was not addressing one certain individual, but he was addressing the church as a whole. When writing his epistles to Corinth, Philippi, Colossae, or Ephesus, Paul wanted the church to be unified, loving, mature, and living holy lives for God’s glory. 

If we evaluate Paul’s epistles, Jesus’ interaction with the Temple in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:12-16) or Jesus’ letters to the churches in Revelation 1-3, we find a common theme: Jesus cares deeply about the health of His church, and his concerns are primarily spiritual.

Should we just forget about attendance and giving?

While health concerns of a church are primarily spiritual, that does not mean that other factors are unhelpful to observe. Spiritual Health is of first importance, but Organizational Health is also helpful and necessary. 

Organizational factors are unavoidable. If you are in a building, if you draw a salary, then you are in an institutional church. And if you want that organization to be healthy, there are different markers to help gauge that just like there are to the people of God inside the church. A church will have difficulty succeeding if they have troubles with their finances, attendance, or facilities.

Markers of Organizational Health

In Ep. 144 of the podcast, Jimbo and Bob talked about three major ways we can understand a church’s organizational health:

Decentralized Leadership means that the responsibility of leadership does not all rest on one person. The importance of team leadership is invaluable in a church setting. When leadership is done by a team, better accountability exists. Ideas are more thought-out and sustainable when working together to understand the best models for ministry. God can use different experiences, personalities, and leadership styles to move a church forward together.

Next, a church needs Dependable Resources. Having dependable resources means finances are reliable, vital staff members are paid well, facilities are dependable, and church policies and processes ensure that ministry runs effectively. In Revitalization, many churches get hung up on this particular topic. But, if spiritual health is the primary concern, the outflow will contribute to these factors as well. For example, if a church talks about the heart of giving, sacrifice, and ministry, they will contribute more to the kingdom of God. Or if a church captures the heart of evangelism and disciple-making, higher attendance is a result.

Lastly, a church needs De-Personified Alignment. This means that the mission, vision, and ministry philosophy does not all come from one person. When the whole church gets behind their mission, and they are unified in their ministry, they are much more likely to be about the work of the ministry. However, personality conflict with one leader can derail a church’s mission. They must be all together. 

Both Trellis and Vine

When we talk about the health of a church, we have to ask the right questions: are we talking about the organization? Or are we talking about the body of believers? In organizational health, we must recognize some common concerns when the church is in decline. We have fewer in attendance, fewer people giving, and our facilities are falling apart. Some people might say, “Let’s just not worry about numbers.” Saying that would ignore very important aspects of organizational health. Why are we declining in attendance? This question must be asked.

The organization is only the scaffolding or trellis for the vine. While they are both important, spiritual health should drive organizational health, not vice versa. In a book called The Trellis and the Vine, Colin Marshall says, 

“…most churches are a mixture of trellis and vine. The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel. That’s the work of planting, watering, fertilizing, and tending the vine. However…Christian ministries also need some structure and support. All christian churches, fellowships or ministries have some kind of trellis that gives shape and support to the work of the ministry. Management, finances, infrastructure, organization, and governance all become more important and more complex as the vine grows.”

Putting it All Together

We are responsible to steward well what we have been given. We can’t focus on one aspect of this to the neglect of the other. If we just focus on organizational health, the body will be there just to serve and sustain the organization. Unfortunately, that’s the attitude of a lot of dying churches. Their major concerns are those things. We also can not neglect organizational health and only focus on spiritual health. If we do this, we will have no structure, there will be confusion and chaos. Being a health and balanced church means that we are focused on both spiritual health and organizational health.

For more information on church health, see the following resources: Ep. 144 and Ep. 136 of the Replant Bootcamp Podcast. 12 Healthy Characteristics of a Healthy Church, a resource developed by Brian Nall in Pensacola Bay Baptist Association. Pick up Mark Dever’s well-known book on church health, or Bill Henard’s helpful book on understanding why churches decline. If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

The Windows of Revitalization, Explained

Is it ever too late to Revitalize or Replant a church? For churches facing imminent closure, it may be possible that they’ve missed the opportunity to see church renewal. When finances are scarce, laborers are few, and ministry opportunities are thin, the options begin to narrow. But if those windows are acknowledged, a church can pause, ask the right questions, and determine a roadmap for church renewal.

Life Cycles in a Church

When we met with our first church to explore why they had lost 100 members in 20 years, we tried to find out what were the factors of their decline. Was there a major split? Deacons fighting in the parking lot? Did one bad pastor drive everyone out? No, it was none of those things. When we looked at their church’s trends over the past 20 years, we found that the decline had been a slow and gradual one.

The factors of decline involved spiritual warfare, arguing about secondary theological matters, and multiple changes in leadership. The pastor explained it as a slow, gradual loss. It wasn’t a church split that caused members to leave, it was gradual loss of mission and a disconnection from their community ministry. For twenty years, the church had been doing, “business as usual,” without asking the question: “Why are we declining?” 

Fortunately, this church has a high receptivity to change. They have now begun to address those declining factors and started a Revitalization process. They have a great mission field ahead of them, and are seeking out ways they can bless their community while they refocus their church spiritually. 

Churches experiencing decline have windows of opportunity in which they can address decline and see a turnaround. If they fail to address the underlying issues of decline, they could miss the window and head toward irreversible decline and eventual closure. As Bob and Jimbo mentioned in Ep. 161 of the podcast, there are predictive patterns and life cycles in Churches with predictable success or failure.

Seasons of growth, plateau, and decline are present in almost every church at some point in its history. For some churches, a season of decline can lead to eventual closure. The task of every church is to be keenly aware of where it is presently and what steps toward its future it must take.

Asking the Right Questions

When you go to the doctor, you may tell them all of your symptoms. A wise doctor will not ask the question, “How can we treat your symptoms?” unless they first ask, “What sickness do you have?” Once the sickness is identified, the appropriate course of treatment can be prescribed. A foolish doctor might simply give you Tylenol and send you on your way, instead of treating your sickness at its root.

One of the most critical issues facing the church is a failure to ask the right questions. Churches that are facing imminent closure often ask, “What can we do?” Instead, they should be asking, “Why are we declining?” This type of question gets to the root of a church’s decline, whereas the first question deals more with the symptoms than the actual cause. 

A growing church asks, “What must we do?” A plateaued church asks, “How are we doing?” And a declining church must ask, “Why are we not growing?” Every church should evaluate their present condition, take the time to ask the right questions, discern the answers, and once they have gained insight and wisdom from God and others,  chart a course in a new direction. 

Understanding the Windows

No example is perfect, but we’ve found the Windows of Revitalization very helpful in identifying where a church is in their life cycle. For a detailed explanation of each window, see Bob Bickford’s work here.

Revitalization Window 1 – Plateau stage or onset decline (change required)

During this stage, you begin to see symptoms of decline in your church. Some families begin to leave, you see a few less people in youth or children. Giving is down by 5-10%. During this first window, change is needed. There is a small difference, but it’s not very noticeable. 

You then need to begin a prayerful effort and ask what are the changes that need to be looked at. We often miss it because we aren’t looking close enough. During this stage, the missional and ministry efforts of a church begin to wane, leadership becomes exhausted, and conflicts in the church go unresolved. If those things are left unchecked, it can result in a quick change of your church atmosphere. While the issues may not seem urgent, they can grow quickly.

Revitalization Window 2 – Persistent / continued decline (significant change required)

During this window, issues and conflict persist. The loss of missional vitality becomes evident, and the church begins losing touch with their community. They may seek to blame their decline by saying, “The community is changing,” or “We just need a new pastor.” There is a growing number of losses, and at the end of the second window there is an exodus of key members and mission leaders. 

At this point, full time staff may become part time staff or giving starts to drop drastically. The church may adopt a “play it safe mentality” – most people resist significant change, because significant change could lead to loss. People become increasingly more opinionated about how they like church, and they become more selfish with their giving. 

When a church fails to pause and ask critical questions to address concerns, these windows begin closing. And while Revitalization is possible, it’s not always probable. The longer the decline, the more radical changes are necessary to reverse the church’s trajectory.

The Replant Window – Late / critical / significant decline (radical change required)

In the last window, a church desperately needs outside help and perspective. The options to see the church thriving again is very narrow and improbable. The church can no longer do it by themselves as they’ve missed the time of change when renewal was likely. A church facing this stage is likely facing imminent closure within the next 1-3 years, and radical change is necessary. 

Think of a frozen computer screen. It’s sitting there, not producing any work or being used for any good reason. You’ve tried different methods like hitting “escape.” You’ve tried ctrl+alt+delete. But, it still stays frozen on that same screen. You may have to do a whole system reboot to get the computer up and running again. 

A church facing imminent closure has likely disconnected entirely from their community and work of ministry. Leadership is scarce, finances are slim, and hope is wearing out. The church is in survival mode, and are not concerned with reaching lost people for Christ. They may be aged, unable, or unwilling to engage the unchurched in the community.

Thankfully, in Replanting, there are different ways to address these issues. A partnership replant is a helpful option for churches facing possible closure. This can look like a merge/marriage, church fostering, family network churches, or other partnership replants. Replanting from within is also an option if there is still a healthy leadership team that exists.  

Hope for the Future

All of these changes require hard work. And that is why outside help is needed. While a Replant can occur from within, It is often a difficult road. But with the grace of God, we are seeing more and more congregations go through replants and revitalizations for God’s glory and seeing their churches turnaround.

Jesus cares deeply about the health of His local church. When a church recognizes where it needs to change, and begins to seek the face of God, it’s amazing how God can turn a situation around for His glory. We must remember that the church does not belong to us, it belongs to Christ. And He alone can bring renewal if we are seeking Him. How are you stewarding the time God has given you at your church? Are there concerns that need to be addressed?

For more info about the life cycles of a church, see Bill Henard’s book, ReClaimed Church, or Mark Hallock’s book, “God’s Not Done with Your Church.” If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

Should we Revitalize or Replant?

Is there a one-size-fits-all approach to helping a dying church gain new life again? Or an instant formula that works every time? Unfortunately, no book you read on these topics will give you a predictable outcome for every situation. There are simply too many variables for a church’s factors of decline. And no two Revitalizations or Replants will be identical.

Conflict arises, culture changes, bad leadership exists, and churches sometimes fall out of touch with their community. Every church has glory days and difficult days. But if you’re reading this right now, it’s probable that you might be considering options for your church, or curious on what might be the best approach.

The Need for Church Renewal

When I first started working with dying or plateaued churches, I was overwhelmed at how many resources there were. In the past few decades, the need has become increasingly great for revitalization, because of the multitude of churches closing their doors.

The need for church renewal is urgent, and perhaps that’s why so many have turned to outside help for keeping their church alive. But there can be confusion on the language of so many books, programs, and resources. While revitalization is sometimes helpful, it’s not likely to work in every situation. 

With a huge stack of books on my desk, I started getting overwhelmed. I am still new to Associational work and needed some training on what to do with some of our churches who were facing closure and looking for answers. So, I attended a Replant training by NAMB earlier this year. Now, in a very rural setting with only 15 churches in our association, we have one church in Revitalization, one church in a Partnership Replant, and one church seeking to plant a church that died almost 10 years ago. 

There’s been confusion on the difference between Replanting and Revitalization. While there is some overlap, they are two different processes. Replanting is a form of Revitalization, but not every Revitalization is a Replant. So, what’s the difference?

Revitalization Defined

Church Revitalization is a deliberate, dedicated and protracted effort to reverse the decline or death of an existing church. Revitalization uses an existing church, with existing leadership, structures and history, but gives a renewed effort by addressing critical issues. 

Many choose this approach because it requires less change up front, and seems to be less invasive than other options. When church members are not ready for drastic change, they opt for this approach (if they opt for any at all). It can use an existing pastor and the pace of change is normally slow.

But there is some caution to Church Revitalizations. They’re less likely to lead to lasting change and more likely to be a continuation of the same, and for churches who are facing imminent closure, success is slim to none. In this situation, Revitalization may be possible, but it’s not probable.

However, God is more than able to do anything with any church for his glory. Some churches have experienced great success with Revitalization. 

How Revitalization Plays Out

After some conversations within a church, a church leader may either seek to be revitalized using their own congregation by suggesting a number of changes over a period of time to regain missional vitality and growth. The Church may address symptoms of the issues, but not causes. Sometimes, churches use outside help like a local Association or another ministry leader or team. 

In a traditional church, those suggestions normally go through teams or committees and need to be agreed on by the majority of the congregation. More organizational approaches see timelines and financial costs involved. A church leader may try a new methodology to doing ministry, but it sometimes gets pushback. 

According to a study by Thom Rainer, the estimated success rate of this type of revitalization is only 2%. But if there is a spiritually-binding covenant of agreement involved, its success rate is much higher. For churches facing closure, a more drastic approach may be needed to survive. As Bob mentioned in Ep. 1 of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, some churches have gone so far, they need a whole system reboot.

RePlanting

Replanting is a decision to close an existing church and re-launch as a new church, with new leadership (pastor), new name, new identity, new governance, new ministry approach and overall new philosophy of ministry. In some cases, it is not necessary to adopt a new name but simply to adjust it.

Replanting builds on the history of the previous church, but requires new leadership. A new identity can create enthusiasm and interest in the surrounding community. So a church that needs to Replant is one that does not have the time, energy, or resources to continue as their same church. 

Under this umbrella term, a RePlant can be done a few different ways: 

  • Replant Within: A Replant team is chosen out of the congregation under a Replant Pastor, and that team works together to relaunch as a new church.
  • Assisted Replant: Another healthy church partners with a dying church to provide leadership, accountability, and structure to Replant a Church.

Example

Thirty years ago, (Name) Baptist Church used to have about 200 in average worship attendance. They had an active Brotherhood, a WMU, children and youth programs, and lively worship. As they began to outgrow their facility, they decided to use their budget to begin building a larger sanctuary.

Through multiple conflicts involving prominent families and infighting about theological disputes, a group inside the church felt that their ministry staff wasn’t leading well. A large group of them wanted to separate and join another church. Others wanted to start a church of their own in a different location.

A large split happened. As a result, thirty years later a group of older members had done all they could to keep their church surviving. But without the giving they once had, their finances were quickly dwindling, and nothing they tried could reach a younger audience. Their reputation in the community was broken.

They grew tired of ministering, serving, and sharing the gospel after working so hard for so long. To make it worse, they couldn’t afford to pay a pastor anymore, so he eventually left. A long-time deacon went to the local association for help and their leader helped them consider some options.

All Things New

Another church closer to town wanted to help the church by restarting a new church in that location. Seeing that there was no way to remain open, the congregants decided to close as (Name) Baptist Church. They worked with another church’s leadership as they watched the church they once knew relaunch as a new church. 

During that time of closure, a new worship team and Replant pastor were introduced, a new mission and vision for ministry was birthed, new documents involving governance and membership were printed, and a new direction for the church on the horizon. 

Now, (New) Baptist Church has a different mission field. As they began to grow, baptisms and giving have increased, and they have plenty of space to meet in their sanctuary.  Their reputation in the community is restored, and their identity has changed.

Similarities in Need

This may sound like an awesome example. But it’s just that, an example. While many churches have experienced new growth and success with Replanting, it can’t always be guaranteed. But whether your church decides on Revitalization or Replanting, both have similar needs:

  • Both require time, energy, and effort
  • Both require a renewed spiritual commitment
  • Both require a high receptivity of change

As a final word of encouragement, Remember that God is “able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Ephesians 3:20). We need that confident assurance during this type of work. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your local Association, Convention, or NAMB for help with leadership, advice, counsel and care. Doing the task of Replanting or Revitalizing alone can be a lonely road. But Jesus cares deeply about the health of his local church.

If you think your church is in danger of closing, take this church health assessment. This self-assessment is meant to help assist you in determining the current state of your local church. Another way to get started is by taking an introductory course that will help anyone understand what church replanting is and how it provides hope for dying churches.

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