Revitalize and Replant: Is Relaunch a Third Way?

As we seek to work with churches around the world, we use two words regularly to describe the efforts toward greater health: revitalize or replant. In simple terms, revitalize represents the church attempting to move toward greater health by making changes from within. Replant means an external entity, such as another church, essentially takes over the church and starts it anew.

Is relaunch a possible third way? I think so.

Some define relaunch as an extreme form of revitalization. The existing congregation may close the church for a few weeks and re-open it with a new commitment and, perhaps, a new identity. Others, like my friend Mark Clifton, see relaunch as an internal replant.

Because relaunch is often defined in terms of either revitalization or replanting, it gets little attention. It does not have its own identity and, therefore, does not get the focus of the other two emphases.

Let’s look at some issues we might consider if we look at relaunching as a distinct and viable third way to move churches toward greater health.

  1. A relaunch may be more palatable for members who are not ready to give away their church to another church. Granted, relaunching has many challenges. It is basically shutting down the church for a period and re-opening it with a new purpose and identity. But it might be preferable to a replant led by another church.
  2. A relaunch might be the option of the church before it is too sick to do anything other than close or replant. Most replants only have one other alternative: death and closure. Perhaps there will still be some healthy parts of the church at the stage of relaunch.
  3. A relaunch is still an emotionally difficult decision for church members. Most churches at this point declined, among other reasons, because the members have been resistant to change. Why would they be receptive to the major change of a relaunch?
  4. A relaunch has few guides to help churches. There are a growing number of us involved in church revitalization. There are some outstanding organizations like the North American Mission Board that understand the world of replanting very well. But there are few people and organizations that devote their resources and energies to relaunching.
  5. A relaunch will likely require very specific commitments of the church members for it to have any chance of success. We will address some of those commitments in future posts and podcasts.

Revitalize. Replant.

Relaunch: Is it a real and viable third option for struggling churches?

I think so.

To be continued . . .

Posted on November 21, 2018

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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  • Janet Parham says on

    Andrea –

    Shame on you! So, you are bitter at your pastor for the changes he’s made. Your pastor likes some of Dr. Rainer’s resources. So, you conclude, Dr. Rainer is a part of Satan’s plan, and he has contributed to your church’s woes. I can tell you, based upon your slander of him, Dr. Rainer is not the Enemy’s agent: you are.

    Shame on you. You owe Dr. Rainer an apology.

    • Janet –

      The hilarious thing is, there’s no way for one Christian to change another one’s mind, if they disagree about doctrines. You really illustrate one of the most profound shortcomings in Christianity here.

  • Andrea Bowman says on

    This is very disturbing to me. We voted in a new pastor a few years ago because we wanted to get some young people interested and coming into our church. Ours had just grown up and were working singles. No one had gotten married yet or had children, so it seemed like we were mostly all older. Our church wasn’t dying.
    The new pastor we voted in didn’t tell us he believed a different gospel than we do. Now he is reforming our church and I guess you could say lying to us. I hate to say that about any pastor. We didn’t want to think it for years, so we let him get away with it. We don’t want to be a reformed church, but now most all the young folks he brought in are reformed, and they didn’t tell us. We didn’t know to ask. Now they are pretty much stealing the church away from the older folks who built it with their own hands. Almost like stealing candy from a baby. It has happened in churches in our area. One church moved into a movie theater to restart, I guess. I’m sure it got rid of the older people who didn’t even believe in going to the movies. What a sweet Christian thing to do. Now they are moving back into their church building with the old stain glass removed. This is unbelievable to me. If it wasn’t happening right in front of my eyes I wouldn’t believe it.
    Our pastor likes your group and seems to be copying a lot of the things you say to do. This is not something our God would approve of. It is the enemies’ tactics. Thank you so much for contributing to the church trouble we are having.

    • Your personnel committee didn’t think to question the pastoral candidate on his doctrine during the interview process? I think your church should assume the responsibility, and I wouldn’t be so quick to blame Thom Rainer. My guess is your pastor did not lie, but showed your hiring committee who he was during the interview; what does it benefit him to lie about his doctrine? It’s not like pastoring is a particularly lucrative career. Maybe take it up with someone on the personnel committee.

      Many churches may choose to relocate and meet in spaces like a movie theaters, because as their congregations diminish, they can’t afford the upkeep that an old building requires. My congregation of 24 members can only afford to keep the lights on in our building because of the tithes of one VERY generous family unit. If they left, we would have to close our doors. Maybe consider that you don’t see the full picture.

  • Revilatizatiln has some benefits that relaunching at another location does not have.
    Generally it takes three years to establish a new church so that it is not just something new but a proven entity in the community. So if those three years were invested in the process of a revitalisation, then there are the following benefits:
    1. You have a church building whereas a relocation or new church has the hurdle of purchasing of a building.
    2. The traditionalists come around in those three years or they move away.
    3. Traditionalists or not, they are God’s people who need a shepherd and you have poured that time into them. That is what The Lord requires of a Shepherd.
    4. A church that is revitalised sometimes is bigger news in the city that just another new church starting up from what can be seen as a split from the one down the road. That can spell division and unity and new life has a better sound to it.
    5. The hesitant members who are adverse to change can become the best adverts as the take ownership when they see the new life and joy that permeates the new endeavours. Families and friends become committed and unified, not seperate as a relaunch in a new location would do.
    I was part of revitalising a church 20 klms away in the next city. It got down to 25 members. A team of 50 from our church went to help. Five years later that church has over 200 and now looking to relocate. That is over 200 very happy members including the traditionalists who were there, loving the new life.

    I pastored that home church and went there with the plan of revitalisation. The Lord blessed the church spiritually and numerically. It went from 130 to 180 in three years then the traditionionalusts left – about 50. Then we grew to over 200 in one year and then other smaller churches joined us and we reached 600 in 7 years. That is when we revitalised that church in the neighbouring city.
    Main point is that revitalisation has many benefits that need to be considered before a relaunch in another location.

  • I pastor a church of about 150 people. We are too big to consider closing, but too small to consider adding another worship service of another style (i.e. to make change without driving others away). I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of relaunch but have wondered about what happens during the “shutdown” time. Where do our people go? And will they come back when we relaunch? How do we pay bills when offerings aren’t being taken? What’s the “right” amount of time to be shut down?

    • Mark Smith says on

      have you considered adding a service purely meant as outreach to the community but at a non-standard time, like Saturday night for example, or Sunday PM if you don’t already have one? It doesn’t need every bell and whistle, but something to contemporize and reach the community. You can easily make changes to it as you go if you need to.

  • Barbara Pietz says on

    Relaunch… an interesting concept. I will be watching for more information! Our (very small) congregation will vote in two weeks to either close, replant, or keep going until attrition forces the issue. When we arrived several months ago, we knew that closing the church might be our task. But even so, as I read the ballot yesterday (proofreading for my husband) I found myself weeping. Life and death – for both people and for churches – may be the natural order of things, but still sad. I have come to the conclusion that once you dwindle to a certain point, those folks left in the pews are the very ones least likely/able to be open to change and new ideas, making revitalization or relaunch more difficult.

  • In a sense, Lord willing we are getting ready for this. The Church needs a fresh start on how the work of the ministry in done. The past way is an excessive dependence on bureaucracy and the leadership of the Pastor in the past (and present) has been irrelevant. Before we experienced growth, business meetings were 15-20 minutes on average. Now that we have grown and the ministries are growing, they go 45-55 minutes for a Church of 45-50 people. The whole way everything is done must be recast or the Church will repeat the cycle it has been on for years and it will die.

  • Hey Thom,
    On November 19, 2018 Peter commented, “Personally, my wife and I, after 25 years in the institutional church, and HD participation… .” I replied asking what did “HD participation” mean. I did not receive a reply. I search the net and found nothing. Would you explain what “HD participation” means. Thanks

  • Billy Taylor says on

    I recently took a church in the hear of the Dallas/Ft Worth area that has suffered decline for many years. There were about 35-40 attending with a median age of 70+ We have a great location, a good facility with only a handful of members. We are looking at the options before us. I think relaunch is a possibility, but I can’t find much on bringing a church back that is so far down the path to closure. Would love any suggestion

  • Omwami Ashiali says on

    Thanks for your elaboration and i think this is the time to take Christians, unchurched friends and unbelievers to the right path of internal life Mathew 10:7 ;10:27; 28:19 Mark 16:15

  • Thom.

    The church that I have been pastoring for the last six years did a relaunch about 17 years ago, but not before they relocated.

    They had been located in the downtown of a major city (pop. 750,000) for 130 years. When people started moving away from the city core to the suburbs, the church moved with them and built a new building in a residential neighbourhood. The new area was comprised primarily of unchurched families as well as new immigrants.

    The church had maintained a very strong traditional worship expression those 130 years (we’re Salvation Army, so that meant lots of uniforms and a brass band). The leadership at the time decided that the traditional expression wasn’t attracting newcomers, so when they relaunched hey changed the name and expression to that of a more contemporary church (they got rid of the brass band and went with a worship team, fewer people wore uniforms, and they rebranded with a new name). Some initial growth occurred, but the majority of the congregation who grew up with the traditional expression ended up leaving.

    It has taken almost the entire 17 years to get attendance back up to where it was when they relocated. And the intentional community outreach ministry that the original congregation was known for is only now starting to build in the last three or four years (they were really internally focussed when they relaunched).

    I see the value of relocating and relaunching…if the process is facilitated well. It wasn’t done well here, thus the mass exodus of the stalwarts if the church.

    The new congregation looks like nothing it did before. Many new immigrants have found a faith community and community impact is slowly growing. Nine of which would have been possible in the previous location/facility or with the original expression.

  • Please pray for Cross Connections Alliance Church in McDonald PA. After 110+ (113 – I believe) years of faithful service to our Lord, we are faced with this very stark reality.

    Many faithful servants and workers have gone out from our small (never much over 100) congregation over the years. As far as I can tell, people directly related to our fellowship have visited and ministered on at least five of the seven continents (not sure about Australia.)

    We have identified many facility constraints (parking, restrooms…) and have hit the 85 ceiling four or five times in the past 15 years and always drop back. Currently we are averaging 40-50 regular attenders and are faced with some very difficult decisions… (Bi vocational/part time pastor, replant, relaunch, smaller rented facility???)

  • A “Relaunch” is a “Replant.” Just using a different word.
    A Replant can use an existing internal core or an external core. So, all-in-all to redistribute the deal with a new word is only muddying the water even more.
    Of course, a revitalization can lead to something as a Relaunch, but we’re just playing with words now.

    • Hi JJ.

      I suppose depending on how you define the two you could say that they are the same.

      But I think for the purpose of this article, Thom differentiates between the two in his opening paragraph.

    • Malcolm Dodd says on

      JJ –

      I disagree. Our church tried for years to go the path of revitalization with little fruit. We talked about a replant when a large church in the area offered to take us over. There was very little support for it among the members. Relaunching became a clear and distinct third option for us, one we really did not know existed until we heard about another church that went this path. We are beginning the third year since our relaunch. We took the opportunity of an interim period when our previous pastor left to call a pastor to relaunch our church. It has not been easy, but we are really beginning to see some good results. Thom is right. This option is clear and distinct from the others. It is more than semantics. I hope Thom and other leaders will lift us this option even more.

    • Danny Hill says on

      To me as Tom has said in his report. Mark Clifton see relaunch as an internal replant not a external, never the less is your church or my church growing???
      What is the church doing with the one cone or talent that God has given us.

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