Five Reasons Why Church Adoption and Church Fostering Are Such Important Movements

When Sam Rainer coined the word “adoption” two years ago as a descriptor of one church acquiring another, I knew he was on to something. Instead of using corporate words like “acquisition” or unclear words like “replanting,” he used a powerful familial word. Adoption is one family bringing another family member into the household of faith.

 I followed Sam’s example a year later by using the word, “fostering” to refer to a healthier church helping a less healthy church for a season. In the case of adoption, the arrangement is permanent. For fostering, the relationship is temporary.

Both are important and powerful words because they describe two distinct but closely related movements that are important and powerful. Why are these terms so important? Even more, why are the movements behind them so important? Here are five reasons: 

  1. When a church is adopted or fostered, closure is prevented or, at the very least, less likely. There is therefore still a congregational presence in the community. The physical resources intended for God’s work remain for God’s work.
  1. The pandemic has increased the need for church adoption and fostering. More churches are struggling. More churches are at risk of closure. More pastors are leaving under pressure and frustration. The need is great. And the resources are there. 
  1. The church adoption and church fostering movements are reminders that churches should work together to reach a community. These movements are a form of “horizontal growth” rather than the typical “vertical growth.” The latter is focused on getting as many people as possible to one place on Sunday morning. The former is focused on reaching the community. 
  1. Churches that foster and/or adopt get healthier themselves. Both church adoption and church fostering are outwardly focused ministries. They take the focus off the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I, and move the focus to reaching others with the gospel. Outwardly focused churches don’t have time to be grumbling churches.
  1. These movements are grassroots and local. Those involved know the community. They typically love the community. This movement is not a movement where a denominational authority or some other distant entity tries to impose its will on a community. Fostering and adopting churches take place because those who lead them know healthier churches will lead to healthier communities.

 We will be spending quite a bit of time discussing, researching, and following these movements. They may prove to be some of the greatest opportunities coming out of the pandemic. 

Is your church involved in either of these movements? What comments or questions do you have? We would love to hear from you.

Posted on August 24, 2020

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • We are a church in Kasoa Ghana and we are going through a lot f financial difficulties after the covid pandermic which has resulted in our inability bto cater for both workers .poor members and at the same time carry on with our evangelistic programs in rural areas. We would want to be adopted or fostered by a Bibile believing Holy spirit ackowledging and kingdom growth oriented church in order to survive!

  • We would like to recieve help , we are a church in south Africa in the town called George we find our selves in position need and desperation due to various reasons pendamic worsened things
    We are a seriously impoverished community we are witnessing a terrible state of need of basic needs

  • DeWayne Wyatt says on

    I know of a struggling “First Baptist Church” in Florida that relinquished control of its ministries and decision making to another First Baptist Church in another town. This was several years ago and I do not remember the exact terminology of the agreement and the agreed to length of time. The controlling church provided money and manpower and within a short period (about two years, I believe), the struggling church was alive and well. What a great story the whole situation provided for both towns and a great testimony to what God will do with obedient followers.

  • Great article. We are in the process of adopting a church. And I am currently researching the best methods of doing it. This has given me start. Thanks

  • We are praying for an opportuntiy to help another church

  • The church has reached a point where
    love is the center foundation. The church will become a beackon of hope to restore the glory of America .

  • We’re an inner city church in Dallas for over 30 years. We’ve done lots of social ministries over that time like the annual back-to-school clothes give-away in the 90’s to building an ownership of a 150 unit Senior Citizen complex in Fair Park. We’ve focused on discipleship rather than just leading people to Christ. The end result has been over 500 believers who matured, got careers, moved out of the community, bought homes and joined other churches. We’ve been able to amass resources with prayerful consideration of what Christ has led us and continue to focus on choosing to put others needs ahead of our own. Instead of requesting funds during this season, we’ve invested in churches that are struggling. God has rewarded our efforts, but we’re in a situation that we’re seeking the Lord as to what our next challenge could and should be. I’ve always surrounded our ministry with the wisdom of council of elders. Most have gone on to be with the Lord and we’re looking for the Lord to raise another council. I’ve been reading your blogs since you’ve started and they have both challenged me and comforted me. Our prayer is that we can gain insight as to make the most of our time and legacy for the Kingdom.
    In His Precious Name
    Ruth 2:12

  • With regards to church adoption, we were a small church in a non growth community, and we saw that we had a need to associate ourselves with a larger church. We kind of perceived it as a mother/daughter relationship. The mother church was a much larger church but at the time we felt comfortable with the arrangement even though it meant many changes for our church especially in the area of music and order of service. There was agreement on doctrinal issues. Through a roughly two year time span things did not work out as hoped for. One was that they provided us a pastor who lived in our community but we did not achieve the anticipated growth, and we were not able to bring in sufficient funds to support the pastor. So the mother church started just providing pulpit supply for us rather than having a full time pastor. That arrangement did not work out well and we finally agreed to separate ourselves from the mother church and become independent once again. We have now been separated for two plus years and we do have a good ministry, although small.

    Probably two major things contributed to this arrangement not working out. One was that the separation between the two churches was nearly 100 miles so within the mother church there was not much identification with the daughter church. There was not interaction among the two congregations. The other was, and we did not know this at the time, the pastor and associate pastor, with whom we were dealing had told their board that taking over our ministry was not going to cost the mother church anything. So since we could not support ourselves it was inevitable that either they would close us down or that we separate ourselves and operate independently. We chose the latter, but part of the arrangement for transferring the property back to us was that we had to agree to reimburse the mother church for the money that they had invested in our church. As I said it has been now nearly two years and we are soon to have the property back and the Lord has enabled us to raise the money to reimburse the other church. This amounted to several 10’s of thousand dollars.

    Right now our ministry is moving forward. We are still small, but we have a good solid pastoral ministry. Lessons learned were the adopting church really needs to be much closer geographically so there can be a true identification and interaction between the two churches and secondly there is a need to fully understand the conditions under which the adoption is taking place.

  • Spot on, Thom!

    Funny – I just sent this message to a friend this morning:

    One thing that might be an interesting XP discussion point…

    I believe this Covid season will be more than many churches (and businesses and colleges and ministries…) can manage. I think we’ll be seeing lots of churches close up.

    This is the time when stronger churches need to be willing to stretch and adopt some dying churches and restart them. If we don’t, they will be sold and enveloped as retail – or more likely converted to a temple or mosque since non-profit space is hard to come by in cities today.

    This is a time when we need to quickly be developing pipelines to be ready to jump in and help.

    Seems like that is something we need to be talking more about…

    One correction – the adoption term has been in use for a while. That’s the language we used when we started adopting dying churches 12 years ago. But we didn’t coin the term either. Mark Jobe/New Life Church in Chicago ( is was using that term and analogy 5 years before we were – and that’s where we got it from. 🙂

    I guess we already know there is nothing new under the sun, right?!?

    Keep up the good work, brother!

  • Bart Denny says on

    We were already in the process of being adopted when the pandemic hit. Had that not been the case, we would certainly have been forced to close our doors. Instead, as the once solo, bi-vocational pastor, I am now the campus pastor speaking into how the pandemic may give us the opportunity to adopt again sooner than we may have expected.