Tag: replanting

The Emergence of Revitalizing Ministry

Small Church vs. Mega Church

In a largely populated area only  5 miles across stands two churches. Church A sits just outside the city. Started in 1936, the church is worn and tattered, and has seen many pastors, leaders, and members come throughout the years. The church can hold up to 75, and there are stories of the past where the church could barely hold all of the people. 

Some great heroes of the faith have gone through that church, and have been  pillars in the community for years. If you were to ask anyone in the city, they have likely driven past the church a time or two. 

But throughout the years, attendance has declined. The worship style was outdated, and the church did not grow with the community. However, out of a concern with attendance, the church began a revitalizing work using outside help. They have struggled to maintain attendance, but their church has had a different mindset on church health. Worship, fellowship, biblical preaching, prayer, and missions are current highlights of the church, and they are doing all they can to be faithful to the Lord. While  they  struggle in seeing numerical growth , the church is in a much better place spiritually, and they’re dedicated to continuing the effort.

Church B was planted 5 years ago in the city. A small group of people started meeting in the living room, and began casting a vision for a new church. It created some enthusiasm in the community and at their first launch date they had over 50 people. The past couple of years have shown a tremendous increase in growth, and their church is gaining national recognition. The speaker is popular, the worship band is modern, and the church began a discipleship program a few years ago that emphasizes small groups that meet  outside of the church. Last year, they celebrated 40 baptisms and stood amazed at over 300 people on the first Sunday morning service of the new year. 

One day, a member of Church A and a member of Church B were talking in a coffee shop. After asking why they chose to go to one church over another, one commented on a larger church preference because he wanted his kids to be very involved and enjoy fellowship with other kids their age. The other said that he enjoyed a smaller, traditional worship setting where the pastor knew him by name. So, he chose that church instead.

As we think about these two very different churches, you may likely think of some in your own community that are similar. Let’s ask a few probing questions based on these two churches. 

Which church would be better to attend? 

Which church seems to have a better future?

Which church would make you more spiritually healthy?

Correcting Old Methodology

If you’ve  answered either one of the churches for the previous questions, your theology may be based off of your church methodology, and not vice versa. The truth is, depending on your family situation, your preferences, and your desires for ministry and spiritual growth, it could be equally advantageous to join either church. We may never know which church would have a better future. We also do not know which church would be a better setting for spiritual health.

Depending on your upbringing, you may have different biases about small churches, or large churches. But it’s time  we face the music and deal with our old methodology, and possibly reassess how we think of the “church size” language.

As a millennial, I have grown up in the “church growth movement.” Even at 28 years old,  I have been able to recognize both the advantages and the pitfalls of having a large, growing church. Growing up in a small church, my heart leans towards serving in a church of similar size. 

Our younger generation has been heavily influenced by technology. Every time I open up a social media app, I normally run across a sermon clip of a mega church speaker with skinny jeans and Nike Air Force ones, giving some catchy slogans about a scripture in the Bible. The catchphrases are not always bad, and are sometimes very powerful. But growing up observing that environment made me think that this type of ministry was the pinnacle of leadership. 

I mean, if your church is large and growing, that must mean you’re doing something right? , But after reading about church health, I started getting in the “cage stage” of small church preference. I used to make statements like, “Real discipleship can only happen in a smaller setting.” Or, “Having a pastor that knows your name is not just practical, it’s biblical.” But are these statements true in and of themselves? 

For the past two years, I’ve been attending (what I call) a large church. We have between 500-600 in worship attendance. No, we aren’t perfect. But my mind has really shifted. My pastor knows my name. In fact, we are very close. We have active Connect Groups where we introduce new members to the church and plug them in to small settings. I have a small Discipleship group of 6 people that I meet with once a week for a year. We are active in mission and ministry. Maybe I was wrong about large churches!

I get magazines and publications at my office all the time. One came in that said, “The Top 100 Churches in America,” and proceeded to list them all out by size, giving tidbits of information about each one. There were numerous articles about church growth, marketing strategies, and GQ model photographs of these pastors. After looking through the magazine, I promptly asked my secretary if she could unsubscribe from the magazine. Do mega churches have good advice to offer? Yes, sometimes…

But my issue is when we treat large churches as the end-all, be-all of a perfect church. Growth does not always correlate to health. A church can be growing numerically but be stagnant in spiritual vitality. It’s time to correct our old methodology of rubric churches and get back to biblical basis. The correct question we should be asking is: “How can we lead our church to be healthy?” rather than, “How do we make our church grow?”

The Emergence of Revitalizing Ministry

In the past few decades, there has been an emergence of revitalizing ministry, and rightfully so. In Ep. 173 of the podcast, Mark Clifton and Mark Hallock noted some notable changes. When I was in college, we didn’t have any classes on church revitalization, church growth, or church health. We had preaching classes, theology, worldview, missions, and a few other helpful subjects. Looking back, I wish I would have taken something additional, something more practical, in helping revitalize churches. What I wish I knew back then was that 80 to 90% of our churches have less than 200 people, and that most of the men I went to seminary with, will likely be serving in small churches, not mega churches.

Some of the best resources you can find on this topic are from Karl Vaters. He’s written much for small churches, including one familiar book called, The Grasshopper Myth. In this book, he helps us understand the danger of comparison, using the example of the spies who return back from Canaan and refer to themselves as “grasshoppers.”

More recently, Vaters published a book called, Small Church Essentials, in which he makes the following statement: 

The typical church in North America is small. Half of this continent’s approximately 320,000 Protestant churches run about 80 in weekly attendance. In addition, George writes that at the 100 mark in attendance, a church has become larger than 60 percent of its peer churches – at 140, 75 percent and at 200, 85 percent. So why are we teaching ministry students big-church skills, almost exclusively, when most of those skills may never apply to the majority of their ministry? Instead we pump small churches up with big-church principles and expectations, most of which apply in only a small percentage of the churches in existence. Then we wonder why so many pastors leave ministry burned out and disillusioned, with damaged churches in their wake.”

When I started working at the association  I knew  I needed to understand revitalization better, due to  ministering to some of the dying churches in our community. I was overwhelmed with how many resources have been put out in the past 15 years or so. This is to help address the very real issue that we see in churches all across America today. Hundreds of churches close their doors every year and we weren’t doing anything about it for a long time.

But in my generation, I’ve seen that there has been a shift in methodology. There has been an emergence of resources, speakers, and initiatives that have helped encourage young pastors to go to the church revitalization route of ministry. I’m incredibly thankful for this, because I now understand church health much better than before.

What’s Biblical?

It is not wrong to have a large church. It is not wrong to have a growing church. The problem is when we use big churches as an example for how every church ought to be. I always thought that it was impractical to see magazines about worship technology come to our small rural church in south Georgia. Our worship consisted of a bass and a piano, and occasionally an organ. The people in my church service sang with something real in their hearts, the same as I’ve heard at a large conference with a worship band. 

On the flipside, it is not wrong to have a small church. Our communities are all different, and our people have different worship preferences. In the New Testament, believers did not have the privilege of choosing out of 20 churches to go to in their small towns. They normally had one church in those early days. So that’s where they gathered.

If we try to form our methodology based on some New Testament church growth strategies, I’m afraid we will come up empty-handed. However, what we do see in the New Testament is that Jesus cares deeply about the health of his local church, no matter the size. Paul would come along and encourage those churches, giving them encouragement and instruction about how their church ought to be modeled, as one that would be honoring the Lord in all things. Paul and Apollos even acknowledge that while they planted and watered, God was the one that gave the growth.

What we see in the New Testament is an emphasis on prayer, evangelism, missions, heartfelt worship, fellowship, and other characteristics of a healthy church. Sometimes, God gives growth as a result of our healthy efforts. Other times, there could be some practical things that hinder a churches’ growth, such as their location in the community. Are we to blame God, thinking that his favor should coincide with our church’s numerical growth? I think not.

I’m thankful that we now live in a day where more young pastors are being encouraged to do the hard work of revitalizing churches, when this has not always been the case. There are now seminary classes, cohorts, training, available, and other resources to help address the need that there are dying churches in all of our communities. What are we doing about this?

As encouraging as this emergence is, we truly need more. We need more pastors being called to small churches, we need to emphasize the importance of following God’s call faithfully, instead of encouraging the “greener grass syndrome.” Am I going to be used by God? I will if I pursue a holy life, and seek his will in all things. However, God’s favor is not always measured by our church growth, and we should remember that.

On topic of Church Growth critiques, see Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, Five Views. If you’re interested in taking some classes in Church Revitalization, my alma mater, SEBTS, has an excellent M.A. program.  As always, please reach out to the Replant Team for any questions on these matters, we’re always here to encourage and help in any way we can.

Man balances on rock at sunset

The Balancing Act: How to Juggle Ministry and Family

Is it possible to balance the demands of our ministry and the needs of our family?  How can we walk the tightrope between being “on-call” for our congregation’s needs and getting rest to be able to meet those needs?  If we work 60+ hour weeks, what is left to give our family?

Bryan Dyson, the former CEO of Coca-Cola, once gave a commencement speech in which he made this analogy:

“Imagine life as a game in which you juggle some five balls in the air. You name them work, family, health, friends, and spirit and you’re keeping all of these in the air. You will soon understand that ‘work’ is a rubber ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls – family, health, friends and spirit – are made of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged or even shattered. They will never be the same. You must understand that and strive for balance in your life.”

In my own life, I have labeled the balls somewhat differently, but I certainly agree with and embrace the analogy.

Replant pastors are juggling so many balls, it may feel nearly impossible to label which ones are glass and which are rubber.  But those labels may reveal the difference between a successful juggling act and a floor full of broken glass.

man balances on tightrope

Struggling with Juggling

While identifying the balls can be helpful,  most can agree the hardest part of juggling isn’t knowing the type of balls in the air.  It’s keeping them all in the air.  While you can drop some of them, the show is certainly more successful if you can keep them going.

As pastors, there is often a feeling of immediacy to every demand– it can all feel like there is an emergency around every corner.  “I have to help this person, be at that hospital, take care of this facility need, get that bill paid, go to this event, get to that game…” The list is endless.  And that’s just it– there is always something else to do!

So how do pastors learn how to juggle?

man juggles balls in air

It’s All About the Timing

On Episode 116 of the podcast, JimBob discussed the answer to this very question and came up with eight ways to balance family and ministry. 

  1. Attend your children’s events.  No matter what your child is interested in, whether it be theater, a sporting event, or debate club, your attendance at their event is important to them.  You need to prioritize attending these events.  They will always remember looking in the stands or in the audience and seeing their biggest fan out there rooting for them.
  2. Keep dating your wife.  Date night doesn’t have to be complicated. It doesn’t have to be a lavish dinner at a swanky steakhouse.  It can be just taking a drive to a local park for lunch while the kids are in school and having a picnic of McDonald’s cheeseburgers.  It can be breakfast at a local diner on a Saturday morning. If you have small kids, find friends who have kids at similar ages and trade weekends with each other.  They watch your kids one weekend, you return the favor the next.  The important thing isn’t where you go or what you do– it’s that you take time to do it.
  3. Speaking of your wife, remember that the church hired YOU.  Your wife is like any other church member.  She should be able to choose where to serve in the church that benefits her God-given talents and abilities.  Your wife is not called to be every ministry’s lead person.  Rest assured, if you push her to be involved in everything, you will have a burnt out support partner and you will both suffer because of it.
  4. Remember to keep a Sabbath– and it won’t be Sunday.  Sunday is a work day for pastors.  You have to be diligent about creating a Sabbath on another day of the week, a day where you are off duty and can truly find rest.
  5. Take a vacation!  You need a couple of weeks AT MINIMUM to recharge and reset from church life.  Trust that God has everything under control and allow your fellow ministry leaders to handle everything while you are gone.  Be diligent about setting a boundary for your time off with your family. 
  6. Have a rhythm to your time with your family.  Carve out specific times that are solely for your family.  Be very careful not to let anything interfere with that.  Your family will know that the specific family time is important to you and they will feel honored that you have set it aside for them.
  7. Find time to do something physical.  Much of the work of pastoring and shepherding is mental and emotional.  Your brain and your spirit are occupied in this work 100% of the time.  You need to balance that with physical activity that lets your brain rest while your hands work.  Some pastors find this time at the gym, others find home improvement projects helpful.  Anything that allows you to rest your mind but engage your physical body.
  8. Most importantly, be PRESENT.  Don’t just be “there,” be fully present and engaged when you are with your family.  If you need to turn off notifications for that time, or set your phone aside, do it.  There is a myth out there that we multitask.  We can’t.  Our brain actually has to stop and start each task, which takes MORE time, not less.  You cannot be present with your family and also present with your phone and your social media.  You need to choose one– and by this time, you should realize it should be your family.

Man balances many demands

Sometimes, You Gotta Drop the Ball

The truth is, there will be times in ministry when you have to drop the balls.  You aren’t Superman, but more than that, you aren’t God. You can’t juggle the needs of your entire congregation, your facility, your other job (if you have one), your community, and your family without occasionally needing to put down everything and focus on just carrying the very fragile, very important glass ball until you are ready to start juggling again.

Church will always take as much as you are willing to give.  Church work can be a ravenous beast, and you can never feed it “enough.”  There will always be work that needs to be done and ministry that needs to be led.  But there are very rarely true emergencies that require your immediate attention, even though it may feel like it. (Marriages don’t end at 11:30 pm when they finally call you for help– that marriage will last until tomorrow when you can get to them.) You must be willing to prioritize your time and set boundaries that allow you to keep your family- and your sanity- intact.

EP 167 – STAGES IN A REPLANT Pt.5 HARVESTING

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EP 167 - STAGES IN A REPLANT Pt.5 HARVESTING
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Welcome back Bootcampers!  This is a bonus EP on the stages of Replanting is a contribution from one of our Bootcamp team members, Caleb Duncan. He serves as the Associational Missional Strategist for the West Florida Baptist Association.

In our series, we’ve looked at four stages in a replant: Plowing, Planting, Watering, and Growing.  Now we turn our attention to the last stage, Harvesting.

Harvesting – 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.

Here are some biblical examples:

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 Priscilla and Aquilla identified him as a leader, and taught him more accurately. Here are some ways he was a natural leader:
    • 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: Jesus’ intentional discipleship of Peter, James and John. These scriptures show Jesus pulling aside Peter, James, and John to minister to others, to reveal himself to them, and to teach them to pray
    • 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 a 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 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”

Here are some practical helps:

  • Keep your eyes always open –  to 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?
  • Spend time personally with those individuals.
  • Show them the way you do ministry
  • Give them opportunities to model your example
  • Delegate responsibility to them with oversight

Thanks to Caleb for the great content and for joining us on the Bootcamp.  We’ve love to hear from you, drop us a comment, email or voicemail on the Bootcamp hotline and don’t forget to leave us a review on your favorite listening platform.

 

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As promised-here’s the pic of Bob in the LSU Pajama Top

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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.

EP 166 – STAGES IN A REPLANT Pt.4 GROWING

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EP 166 - STAGES IN A REPLANT Pt.4 GROWING
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Happy Thanksgiving Week Bootcampers! We’re back with another EP on the Stages of Replanting, today’s EP focuses on the work God does of growing the church.  We’d love to hear from you, drop us a comment, email or voice mail.  Listen in and share your thoughts and don’t forget to leave us a review on your favorite listening platform.

In our series, we’ve looked at three stages in a replant: Plowing, Planting and Watering. Now we turn our attention to the last stage, Growing.

GrowingThe 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.

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)

If you are faithfully fulfilling your assignment in plowing, planting and watering, you, brother pastor, are doing what God requires. He will grow His church. It may be numerically, doctrinally, spiritually, relationally.

You may not be nominated for the church magazine’s top-growing church list; that’s OK. Don’t seek a reward from men; seek the reward that comes from faithfully fulfilling the assignment God has given you.

 

 

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EP 165 – STAGES IN A REPLANT Pt.3 WATERING

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EP 165 - STAGES IN A REPLANT Pt.3 WATERING
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Welcome back to the Bootcamp! We’re jumping back in on our series Stages in a Replant. Dial in, sit back and reflect on what success in ministry looks like!  Let us know your comments, thoughts and insights-we’d love to hear from you.

In our examination of the stages in replanting a church we began with the hard work of plowing—which prepares the ground to receive the seeds of the gospel. In the next stage, planting, we highlighted the work of embedding the gospel intof every life and activity of the church.

Today we look at the important work of watering the implanted gospel seeds.

Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 3, provides us with insights into the unique roles he an Apollos shared in the spread of the gospel.

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered… 1 Corinthians 3:5-6a

What was Apollos’ work of watering? Acts 18 may provide some insight: 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’ assignment was the clear proclamation of the gospel, rooted in the scriptures, empowered by the Spirit for the practical help and edification of believers and the defense of the faith to skeptics and doubters.

A church that has been in decline may have been lacking:

  • 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

Replanters and Revitalizers must be fundamentally committed to:

  • 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

Listen on for some practical tips on how to increase your effectiveness in watering the congregation with the word of God through preaching.

Free commentary sites mentioned:

Fun links: Bob’s Yelp Elite review of the Bill-Hillary Airport in Arkansas

 

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A man in a pew seeking to revitalize

3 Reasons Churches Don’t Revitalize- And 1 Thing You Can Do About It

When thinking about the reason our congregations are hesitant to revitalize, we often say, “They just don’t want to change.” And while that may be partly true, it isn’t the whole reason, nor is it the sole reason.

During year three of our church’s revitalization process, my husband received an email from a long-time church member.  This church member was very frustrated and disgruntled over a decision my husband made regarding small groups at our church.  Instead of calling our Sunday morning groups by their former name, “Sunday School,” he opted to encompass all of our small groups under the name, “Connect Groups.” Sunday morning, Sunday night, weekday nights, on-campus, or out of homes, they would all be under the banner of “Connect Groups.” Her email started with her main complaint, but unraveled midway through to combine all of her frustration at the changes made during the three years we had been ministering there.  For several paragraphs, this woman compared the way things had always been done against the way things were being done now.  For each change, she listed all the ways it was better before– ending the email with the statement, “I just think there’s no need to change anything. Everything needs to stay the same as it always has. There’s no reason to do things differently.”

My husband responded simply, “Thank you for your email.  I certainly enjoy being able to get quick, efficient communication from my congregation members.  Seeing as how change is so frustrating for you, I will respond via a handwritten letter.  You should receive it in several business days.”

I’m kidding, of course.

My husband has infinite patience and responded kindly and warmly and explained the necessity of the change.  Unfortunately, he did not win her over; the woman would correct anyone who used “connect group” to refer to a group that met on Sunday mornings at church until the day she left our church, still angry and frustrated.  This woman is no different than countless congregation members across all of our churches, and I’m sure each of you reading this could share your own file of “Monday Morning Uplifting” emails from sheep that bite.  So why are some churches, and some congregants, so unwilling to revitalize?

In Episode 99, Jimbo and Bob (I’m really trying to get the “Jimbob” moniker to stick but I digress) discuss three reasons why a church might not want to revitalize: a lack of self-awareness, a desire to control, and the fear of loss.

The Crack in the Ceiling

A crack in the ceiling

One of the main reasons a congregation resists revitalization is a lack of self-awareness.  The church just isn’t aware of just how bad the issues are, whether they be the facilities, the programming, or the church governance and polity. Have you ever seen the commercial for the room freshening spray where the advertiser refers to being “nose-blind” to smells?  That’s the picture of some congregations.  They don’t see the need for revitalization because things don’t seem that bad to them.  It takes an outside perspective to address the issue, because only an outsider can see it.  

A pastor I know began to look at remodeling his church’s sanctuary.  There was money in the budget to do it without going into debt, and the sanctuary’s aesthetic was dated and worn.  But more than the cosmetic reasons for the remodel, the church had serious structural issues that needed to be addressed.  There were cracks in the ceiling that were so large, swarms of wasps would swoop down from them during the service and dive-bomb members of the congregation.  The addition and subtraction of several instruments and sound equipment over the years had resulted in wires and speakers dangling precariously from the ceiling.  And yet, when faced with the decision to remodel, the church voted to refrain from doing any major remodeling.  One long time member stood up and said, “That crack in the ceiling has been there since I started here in 1960 and it’s not hurting anything!”  The pastor left the church shortly after, discouraged and demoralized by the church’s lack of awareness and vision.

Sometimes this lack of self-awareness even extends past the facilities and into the church’s reasons for decline.  “The community changed, they just aren’t the same as they used to be,” is a common refrain. “The doors are open, but they won’t come in!” These church members resent the community, and as Mark Clifton often says, “You can’t reach people you resent.”  Until your church loves their community, they will never feel the need to reach them– and reaching your community is not just a vital part of revitalization, but is also a commandment from your Creator. (Thom Rainer’s book, Anatomy of a Revived Church and Mark Clifton’s book Reclaiming Glory are both excellent resources to help your church see the connection between loving your community and reaching them with the Gospel.) Sometimes, churches will say, “The church down the street is to blame!” as though there aren’t enough lost people to go around.  Or, “The former pastor messed everything up!” But the key is the lack of awareness of their own part in the church’s decline.  There is a reluctance to admit the need to change their behavior or their surroundings.

Who is in Control Here?

Another reason churches are hesitant to revitalize is the loss of control.  Maybe a former pastor came in with a “dictator” mentality and ran people off with his authoritarian style of leadership.  Alternatively, maybe the former pastor was weak and ineffective and the church is now used to controlling its own fate and the idea of revitalizing and changing pushes against that.  

Occasionally, there are “power brokers” in a church.  These people, and sometimes whole families, have gone from being generous givers in the past to controlling congregants now.  Having a new pastor come in and give them advice to change something creates conflict between them and him.  They may even “talk” with their wallets, refusing to tithe until their demands are met.  

This struggle for control can cause pastors who deeply desire revitalization to give in and yield to those who cannot be convinced of the need to change course.  The church then continues in plateau or in a downward trajectory until it eventually dies.

Change is Scary– but Loss is the Real Fear 

A cartoon where a man protests change in church

This brings us to the third reason churches don’t revitalize: Fear.  Many pastors assume that their congregation is scared of change.  But that’s not entirely accurate.  I would imagine most of your congregation is riding around in cars with fuel injection systems and power steering, and some have even embraced such modern amenities as backup cameras, remote start, and keyless entry.  Likely, too, that they use washing machines, dishwashers, cell phones, and microwaves on occasion. Remember our friend from the introduction?  She used email, a relatively modern way to communicate, to express her disdain for change.  So it isn’t a fear of change that scares people– it’s a fear of loss.

Our culture has created a climate of comfort in all areas.  We seek, above all else, to be comfortable.  And when so much of the world changes so rapidly, sometimes our congregation just wants Sunday morning to be the one place where their friends, their pastor, their songs, and their pew stay the same.  They fear not so much the change, but the loss of that comfort zone and that feeling of safety that comes with it.  There is stability in staying the course, even if we’ve determined that the course isn’t working. 

A Spiritual Problem with a Scriptural Solution

The problem with all of these excuses against revitalization is a central one– a lack of faith in Jesus and what He can do for our churches.  This is a spiritual problem, one where the culture of a church is based around the congregation’s abilities, not the supernatural power of God.  The lack of awareness, desire for control, and the fear of loss of comfort, are all symptoms of a larger problem in which churches seek their own desires above the need to evangelize, adapt, and love the community they have been given.  

The culture of the church has to change before any revitalization strategy can ever be effective.  This is why pastors who enter into replants and revitalizations must practice holy patience.  They must be able to pray while they wait.  The pastor must be able to, as Bob says, “lead his people to understand who they are in Christ. He has to lead them to understand the mission of the church. And he asked to lead them to understand the power of Christ to accomplish that mission.”  

This is a scriptural solution to a spiritual problem.  Scripture should be our basis for revitalization, not current trends.  When we seek out what God has to say to us and to our churches, we are better able to guide our church toward Biblical Revitalization that reaches our community with the Gospel and that breathes Holy Spirit-filled life back into the dying church.

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.

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.

EP 161 – THE REVITALIZATION WINDOW

Replant Bootcamp
Replant Bootcamp
EP 161 - THE REVITALIZATION WINDOW
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Want to dive deeper? Check out this blog post

Welcome Bootcampers! Today Jimbo and Bob get down to the serious business of talking about the lifecycle of a church. 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 could lead to its eventual demise. The task of every church is to be keenly aware of where it is presently and what steps toward its future it must take.  Is it time to revitalize or replant? Today’s EP will help you know which is right for your church.

A church asks different questions in different phases of its lifecycle. Which question is your church asking?

  • The question a growing church asks: What must we do?
  • The question a plateaued church asks: How are we doing?
  • The question a declining church must ask: Why are we not growing?

A declining church often asks the wrong question.  It asks “what can we do?” rather than, “why are we dying?”

The Revitalization Window

There is a time period in the life of a church when it has the opportunity to ask the right questions, discern the answers and then chart a course in a new direction.  This is a “revitalization window.” There are perhaps one to three revitalization windows in the life of a church.

  • Revitalization Window 1 – Plateau Stage or onset decline (Change required)
  • Revitalization Window 2 – Persistent/continued decline (Significant change required)
  • Replant Window – Late/critical/significant decline. (Radical change required)

Check out the entire Windows of revitalization Bob wrote here: The Revitalization Replant Window

 

Our sponsor, One Eighty Digital, can revitalize your church’s website-contact them today and let them know you are a Bootcamp listener!

 

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