Tag: revitalization

road sign reads change ahead

The Emotional Cycle of Change

“A pastor goes into it thinking he’s going to change the world… He gets fired for changing the bulletin.” Yikes…  That is one of those tough sayings that rings true for far too many pastors that I know.  They had high hopes of replanting a struggling church but realized quickly that change is hard.  

But here’s some good news: change follows a fairly predictable pattern. And if you can exercise tactical patience, you really CAN change the world– or, at least, your church.

Stage One: Uninformed Optimism

Oh man.  This stage is absolutely great… while it lasts.  Unfortunately, that’s not very long.  At this stage, everyone is excited about the change.  They’re “ready for change,” they’re “eager for a new direction” and “looking forward to some new ideas.” The optimism is contagious, and there’s a good wave of momentum.  This is the stage when a pastor starts planning out some necessary changes and begins talking about them with key people who are mostly supportive.

On the Replant Bootcamp podcast, the guys compared this stage to the Israelites coming out of Egypt.  There was joy as they celebrated the First Passover and began to follow God’s direction.  They were led by God in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, and they were ready to take hold of the Promised Land God had pledged to them (Exodus 13).  

But just like Moses, pastors will discover that after the initial excitement wears off, the congregation will start into the negative Stage Two.

curvy road sign

Stage Two: Informed Pessimism

One of the most important things a pastor can do when implementing changes is to communicate.  You can’t over-communicate when you are making changes.  Your congregation needs to know the what, when, how, and especially why changes are being made. There is a temptation here for most pastors, because once change is communicated, then the protests start.  “We’ve done it this way for years– why change now?” “That sounds expensive and like a lot of work.  We don’t have the resources for that.”  “We don’t want to do something new.  We like it this way.”

In this stage, the benefits of change don’t feel immediate and sometimes the wait can make them seem unimportant. You might forget why you felt so strongly about the changes you were called to make.  The cost associated with the change becomes apparent, and the grumbling starts to wear you down.

Again, we can look to the Israelites and see the parallel.  In Exodus 14, as the Egyptians are racing toward them, the Israelites look at Moses and say, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11) Funny isn’t it? The same Israelites who were just a chapter before praising God for His deliverance have abandoned the idea at the first sign of trouble!  Suddenly they don’t remember the horror of Egypt, they would rather go backward than to face their fear, which leads directly to stage three.

image from the Princess Bride- the pit of despair

Stage Three: The Valley of Despair

The costs have been counted, and the people are grumbling.  Benefits for change seem far away and your people are struggling to support a change they don’t feel is necessary.  You’ve tried to communicate the reasons why, and you’ve fought the good fight.  But in stage three, even you will start to question your decisions for change.  You will start wondering if this is even worth it.  

At this stage, no one is happy.  You aren’t happy, your congregation isn’t happy.  Heck, even your dog is unhappy at this point.  You will look for a way out of this hard struggle.  And the easiest way to get out of it? Just go back to the way it was. After all, you rationalize, it wasn’t so bad before.  It’s the same feeling the Israelites had when they told Moses, “Just take us back to Egypt!”

Many pastors quit at this point.  And it’s definitely tempting to walk away.  But beware– this is a watershed moment.  If you can stand firm and exercise patience in this stage, you can make it to stage four!

Stage Four: Informed Optimism 

Yay!  We’re back to an optimistic point! Finally, you are seeing some fruits of your labor.  The benefits you knew would come are tangible and people are feeling momentum.  At this stage, there is support for the vision and excitement is building.  Your congregation has not only embraced the change, they now see the tangible difference it made and are inspired by it! 

For the Israelites, this looks like crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land (Joshua 3).  They have wandered for 40 years as a punishment for their disobedience and their obstinance.  But in crossing the Jordan, they are making a break with their old life and entering into their new life with God in the land promised to them.  (We certainly hope you don’t have to wander for 40 years in the desert of indecision, but you should know that most of the time you won’t reach this stage until year 4 or 5 of a replant.)  They are ready to take on the task of fulfilling God’s covenantal promise to them.

Stage Five: Success and Fulfillment

The final stage of the emotional cycle of change is success and fulfillment.  You are not only seeing your changes and your goals come to fruition, you are creating a whole new culture.  This is no longer about small changes, this is about the larger attitude of the church.  The church is changing from a “me first” mindset to a church that makes disciples that makes disciples that make the community noticeably better– one with a healthy culture of disciple-making and missional involvement. It’s not change for the next year or two, or even for your time as a pastor there, it is a multi-generational change that lasts long past your tenure.

Looking at our parallel with the Israelites, this is the Battle of Jericho moment.  This is complete trust in God and complete success in the mission of God.  

How do we get there from here?

Many of you are stuck in those early stages.  Can I take a moment to encourage you?  Typically, it takes 4-5 years in a replant to see the latter stages of informed optimism and success and fulfillment.  During that time, you will feel the temptation to give up.  Many pastors give up around year three, when they feel stuck in that valley of despair. But we need you to stick it out, pastor.  Your church needs you.  Your family needs you. There are battles to be fought and hard times to go through, and we need you to know that there are better days ahead.  God has not lost sight of you, and like the Israelites, you will soon see a victory.  Keep at it, pastors.  God has not abandoned your church– or you.

 

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.

The Battle for Church Health

The Joyful Toil

As a Pastor or Leader, there is nothing you want more than for your church to be a healthy church. To that end, you strive with the love of Christ, doing all you can in your church for the glory of God. The words of Paul in Colossians echo in your life and ministry:

Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” Colossians 1:28-29

In a perfect world, following Christ would be effortless. We would run this race with no hindrance, nothing trapping our feet, and no obstacle in our way. However, we live in a world that is marred and broken in sin, and as a result, we have countless obstacles. Sometimes those obstacles have to do with brokenness in our world. But most of the time, the “obstacles” that stand in the way to church health happen to be sinful behavior in people.

Please hear me, I am not calling people obstacles, but the sinful behavior that shows itself in sinful people.

Major Obstacles to Church Health

Hebrews 11 describes the great heroes of the faith that we hold as those who have lived in obedience to God, despite their flaws and shortcomings. These heroes we read about in the Old Testament are meant to be a great encouragement to us. Even though they weren’t always quickly obedient to the Lord, they give us a great example to follow. When chapter 12 opens up, we see the empowering reason for the author’s faith lesson:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfector of our faith…” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)

Like the author is describing, we all have this race that is set before us, and God has called us for his glory to be about his great Kingdom work! Now, it takes great faith to do the work of ministry. Not only as a replanter or revitalizer, but also as a pastor or leader of a church. And we all face major obstacles in our path to doing the work that God is calling us to do. The context of Hebrews 12 is talking about personal sin in our lives. I cannot stress the importance of personal holiness in the life of a pastor…but this is a different topic for another day. 

Taking this text seriously means approaching, identifying, and intentionally removing the barriers (sinful behavior) that stands in the way in order to adequately run with endurance.

There are different ways that sin manifests itself in people when it comes to church life. So what are some of the obstacles that we face?

Sin Entangles – Sinners Frustrate

We all have likely dealt with those involved with our churches that, no matter what, always seem to push back against your vision. Maybe you want to introduce some new worship music, or  leave the offering plate at the back door instead of passing it around, or maybe it’s a major change. Maybe you’re helping a church reevaluate their ministry philosophy and give them outreach ideas. And there’s that pushback  again. 

“We’ve never done it this way before. It will cost way too much money. I don’t think you’ll get the response that you think you will.” 

You wish you could say, “Just stop it! How are we ever going to do anything different if we can’t even do the simple things?” 

But there is wisdom in how to handle those conversations. First, we must ask why. Why are there some who frustrate plans and seem to…stand in the way?

Being Fixed on the Past

Some are so fixed on the past, they can’t see any opportunity for the future. For some, the “good ole days,” are the days that hold preeminence. Every church has fruitful seasons and fruitless seasons. While it might be helpful to reminisce on past events or programs, they cannot be the rubric by which your church conducts itself. And church members need to know this. They need to know that just because it worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will absolutely work presently. Those who are fixed on the past will have trouble accepting anything new.

Losing Touch with the Community

This happens when a church is inwardly-focused for a prolonged amount of time. The surrounding community is changing, but the church has not changed with them or sought to meet needs. So, when the community doesn’t respond the way it once did, church members sometimes begin blaming the community or resenting it. One of the first things I do when we start working with a church is show them the demographics. As boring as that sounds, it serves as a shocker, something to open the eyes of the congregation. “We have…HOW many people living in our community? Our population has increased by how much? We have how many languages represented around our church?” Our world is changing, our communities are changing, and we are changing. In an effort to reach people, sometimes we must change our ministry strategies to reach them. 

Selfish Financial Motives

Some members might push back because the church has more of a ownership culture than a stewardship culture. Members might think that since they gave money to the church, they should have authority over everything done. As a result, you’ll receive pushback from anything you do that uses the church’s resources. One of the measuring rods you can see with this mentality is the budget line items and percentages on the church’s budget report. Are they inwardly focused with their spending or outwardly focused? It may take some prolonged Bible teaching on stewardship and reliance on the Spirit of God just to get people to change their minds.

I wish I could say these were the only obstacles, but here are some more that you might deal with. Blaming the pastor for every problem, valuing preferences and comfortability instead of mission, lack of prayer and spiritual health, inability to pass on leadership, over-abundance of preferential activities, staled vision, financial distress, lack of fellowship and love, and simply put, sabotage. Some will not like you simply because you are…you.

But Remember This

There may be helpful tactics to dealing with each one of these obstacles, but we need to be reminded of a few things.

  1. People are sinful. Did you expect this would be easy? Take some relief in the fact that you are not the only one to deal with difficult people, they are not the first and they will likely not be your last. We all have sin, and have all been affected in our demeanor and actions.
  2. This is primarily a spiritual battle. The enemy would love to get his foot into the door of your church. Don’t let anger, bitterness, and resentment keep you from compassion and grace. For some, being firm and warning is more natural. But before you speak to them, pray for them. This is a spiritual battle more than a physical one. 
  3. You can engage in church discipline, if needed. Don’t hesitate to be strong and stand on your convictions, especially when you have firm biblical grounds to stand on. Commitment to the Word is more important than minimizing conflict.
  4. Don’t take it personally. As church members frustrate your plans, remember that it is not all about you. They may be fine with you. It’s the change and the leadership you’re trying to enact that conflicts with the past for the previous reasons. When you face resistance, know that they would resist another man in a different position, with the same motive. Replanters and Revitalizers should have some thick skin in dealing with this type of opposition.

In the podcast, Jimbo and Bob mentioned 3 B’s to keep in mind: Bible, Bylaws, and Buddies. 

Bible: Remember that the word of God is our ultimate source of authority. In every idea you pitch, ministry you introduce, or design you employ, use some scripture as a basis. Opposing members might give a second-thought to your ideas if they knew they come from biblical roots.

Bylaws: When Baptists fight, the Bylaws win. Each church should have some governing documents that show how ideas are opposed and decisions are made. You can always refer back to a church constitution and bylaws if there is an irreconcilable difference.

Lastly, Buddies: It’s so difficult to do this type of ministry alone. As a pastor or leader, you need those around you, those in your corner, to help encourage you in this ministry. Don’t forget that you need friends to support you in this journey. Check out this archived podcast for more information. 

As I was putting together a list of books on describing the reasons for a declining church, there were a few extremely helpful books that came to play. Here they are: Autopsy of a Deceased Church, Reclaiming Glory, and Reclaimed 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.

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.

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: 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.

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.

Dying plant

Growing From Seed to Soil- Proclamation and Explanation

I am the world’s worst plant person.  Whatever the opposite of a “green thumb” is, I have two of those.  In fact, I may have two whole hands of them. I once won a prize at a women’s event where each woman got an arrangement of various sizes based on a game we played.  I won the game, but my prize was this absolutely gorgeous potted plant.  The look on my friend’s face was sheer terror.  “I can’t let you take that home,” she said. “You have to let me take it to my house for you.” I said, “No way!  I won it!”  “Suit yourself,” she said.  Then as I walked outside with the big plant in my arms, she walked behind me and yelled, “Dead plant walking!  Dead plant walking!” the whole way to the car, like my plant had been condemned to die on death row.

She wasn’t wrong. I could lie to you and tell you I tried to keep it alive; that I watered it, tended the soil, gave it plant food, sang to it, and called it by name. But the truth is, the plant died within a few weeks due to nothing less than complete neglect on my part.  And that’s how it goes with every plant I bring home, filled with hopes and dreams of a lovely plant sanctuary or an awesome vegetable garden.  Within a few weeks, the seeds have dried up and my plants have withered because I failed to take them any further in their growth process.

Often, pastors can fall into the same struggle. While they have no problem spreading the seeds of the Word, they sometimes fail to cultivate that seed into something deeper.

PLATFORM MINISTRY- PLANTING THE SEED

For pastors, the place they generally plant a seed is the pulpit, whether it be sharing the Gospel or sharing vision for the congregation. From there, the church may also post on social media or a website, and perhaps put up signage around their building.  This is referred to as, “platform ministry.”  In some seminaries, this is thought of as “proclamation.” We use this avenue to proclaim “big-picture” ideas, exegete scripture, and broadcast  powerful messages from the Word of God.  

The pastor who is skilled at platform ministry will most likely be a gifted communicator.  He will succeed at carving out time for his sermon preparation, and the church’s website will not only be up to date with the newest technology, but will also be consistently updated with new events and new ministries. 

In the most extreme version of someone gifted in platform ministry, the pastor will be an influencer of his congregation and may operate more like a CEO than a shepherd.  The church will have multiple events, always attempting to do better than the time before. The pastor may  isolate himself for study and will not get to know the people he is leading.  He may  lack authentic relationships within his church, and his congregation will see him as inaccessible or  inauthentic.

TABLE MINISTRY- CULTIVATING THE SEED planting a seed

Churches also have what’s referred to as a “table ministry.”  While this can mean a literal table, it doesn’t always.  These are deep, connective conversations that happen within fellowship with one another.  The table ministries of a church are where the seeds of life transformation germinate and are cultivated into deep-rooted life change. Churches may call these types of ministries connect groups, family groups, D-Groups, or one-one-one discipleship. In table ministry, the congregation will learn to “do life” together– bearing one another’s burdens and struggles. When seminaries teach this subject, it’s thought of as “explanation” (as opposed to proclamation). In this area, we take the message from the platform and break it up into smaller pieces so it’s easier to understand.  

A pastor who is skilled at table ministry is typically excellent at hospital visits, praying for his congregation, counseling people, and looking at the details of people’s lives.  He will be a shepherd to his flock, ensuring that they don’t stray away and discerning their spiritual health.

Unfortunately, in the extreme, this pastor is not without faults.  Because he fails to cast vision, his people are more likely to be tossed by every new wind of doctrine that comes along. His desire to appease everyone will cause him to be conflict-averse. Because he has not taken the role of a leader,  he will become simply the “marry and bury chaplain,” instead of the pastor he needs and is called to be. watering a plant

EITHER/OR or BOTH/AND?

When we look at platform versus table ministry, we might be tempted to compare the two and decide one is more important than the other.  We may wonder which is better– the preacher who can communicate change effectively, orr the pastor who ministers to the families in his congregation?

But do we have to choose?  Of course not.  One is not more important than the other.  We must have the catalyst for life change, but we must also cultivate that into lasting transformation. Doctrinal teaching is biblical, and important.  But so is relational disciple-making.  

So how do we succeed at both platform and table ministry?  How do pastors cast a vision and see the large picture while also knowing each of their congregation members well enough to know the details of their lives? 

The answer is the role of what Jimbo Stewart calls the “Visionary Shepherd.” A visionary shepherd is one who effectively communicates the God-given vision for his people while also loving his congregation and caring for them.  The best example of this Visionary Shepherd? Jesus. (Sometimes the “Sunday school answer” is also the right answer!)  Look at the Great Commandments in Matthew 22:37-40: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.’”

Jesus reminds pastors that loving Him with everything is the greatest thing you can do as a pastor. But He also says loving people is just as important.  Preaching the gospel AND living the gospel, both, at the same time. Always.  (No one said being a pastor was easy.  If they did, they aren’t a pastor and have never been one.  Stop listening to them for advice on pastoring.)

Churches can, and should, have both a successful platform ministry and a successful table ministry.  Before you can cultivate a garden, you must have a seed.  But a seed will dry up without proper care and maintenance.  Even I know that.  

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go sing to the dead fern in the corner.  I know it won’t bring him back, but at least I can pretend I tried.

Do you need help with your platform ministry?  Get in touch with our partner, One Eighty Digital at https://oneeighty.digital/. They can help you optimize your online presence to be the best it can be! 

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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