Very few church leaders and members are opposed to their churches being revitalized.
After all, revitalization is the process of your church getting reinvigorated. Revitalization literally means “life again.” It sounds pretty basic.
The problem is that many church leaders and members really don’t want substantive changes with their revitalization. For them, revitalization is a process of tweaking and making small adjustments. Add a program or ministry here and there. But don’t change our church!
Hear me clearly: That type of revitalization will not work. Indeed, it is not revitalization at all. It is a superficial move with no lasting results.
In the post-COVID world we are entering, I see the need for many churches to replant instead of revitalizing. Let’s look at the difference between the two.
Revitalization is the process of a church making substantive changes to move to greater health. Replanting involves closing the present church and starting a new church in its place.
The challenge is that many churches think they are in the process of revitalization, but they are not close to making the substantive changes they need to make. There is resistance to those changes. More often than not, the resistance comes from the church members. But it can come from church leaders as well.
There is a hard reality for many of those churches today. On their present path, they will close the doors. Perhaps many of the members do not see it coming, but this trend is growing in the post-COVID world. The trend began before the pandemic, but it has been accelerated and exacerbated as a result of the pandemic.
What Is Involved in Replanting?
While no two replants are identical, most of them have common characteristics. Here are a few of them:
- The existing church is legally closed, a new church is legally constituted.
- There is a period where there are no services at the church site. The new church lets the community know via a sign and, perhaps, local social media marketing that a new church is coming.
- The church changes its name. It is, after all, a new church.
- New leadership comes. They may or may not keep the existing leadership.
- The replant is treated, in many ways, like a new church plant. There is a concerted effort to get people in the community to come to this new church.
- There is a celebratory opening of the new church.
The Big Challenge
For certain, I have oversimplified the replanting process for brevity. You can likely see, however, why few churches are willing to be replanted. It is an act of sacrifice and selflessness. You are willing to give up your personal preferences for the greater good of God’s glory and his Kingdom.
I have heard countless times that the church is the people, not the building. I get that. But churches must gather somewhere. And in this post-COVID and post-Christian world, we need more, not fewer, places to be lighthouses for Christ in communities.
If you have read this article and think your church will never need to be replanted, please consider the matter again. Several years ago, I wrote a book called Autopsy of a Deceased Church, where I interviewed former members of churches that had closed their doors.
There was a common theme in all the interviews. The members were in denial about the state of their respective churches until it was too late. A common refrain from these members was, “If we had only known.”
Now you know. At least you know it’s a possibility your church will close.
Be willing for your church to die so a new and healthy church can come to life.
But don’t wait until it’s too late.
Posted on June 28, 2021
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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Looking at our Jewish reality, we find our waning synagogue as a bit of a hybrid of Thom’s options. Sold our white elephant of a building to a growing church with ties to the community. Great opportunity for them. Rented space from larger shul for two years, regarded as a stepsister, got to see some of their best practices just by roaming around the building, not sure our officers appreciated that. We just started renting a house on the grounds of a larger church. This space is really ours with a long term lease, renovated to look like a new place. Same name, essentially same people but at least the Rabbi’s perception that we sort of hit the reset button and need to take best advantage of it. Like any inbred organization, those emergent recessive genes can be hard to suppress, though, so time will tell if we use this opportunity to invigorate or to view our new location and independence as a form of replanting.
Excellent article. Sometimes a merger or consolidation can provide leverage for replanting or rebirth, even in mainline congregations. The merger itself disrupts old patterns. In most cases the churches involved have to face the possibility of giving up their beloved buildings, and even when one building is selected for the merged congregation it often undergoes updating. Sometimes old guard leaders get sidelined and more progressive leaders emerge. See http://www.churchfuture.com for some mainline examples.
Sir. Than you for your many insightful book(s) and articles across the years. Following are some of my observations .
The same power seekers (bad spirits) in the same building under a different name whether it closes for a few months or not is the same beast with a new name. It borders on deception. We have seen it happen too many times leading to permanent closures. A rose by any other name is still a rose; a thorn by any other name is yet a thorn. What is needed is a transplant rather than a renaming and that in itself requires the power of resurrection. When God’s Spirit no longer strives with a church, it is no longer a church. Man can’t do what God won’t but if man can then it is another God, the wrong God.
Good day Thomas, thank you for this informative article. I am a young pastor and new church planter in Eswatini/Swaziland, a tiny nation neighboring the Republic of South Africa.
I would love to access some of the church planting material and resources provided on your websites and advertised in the email I get from you, however I am unable to afford them due to the vast difference in economic status of our different continents.
Is there any chance that you can be able to help me? I really need these tools and techniques but cannot afford them. Any help you can give me will be greatly appreciated.
May God bless you.
Blessings on you and your ministry. Please contact [email protected] to see what our team can do.
I have come to conclude that replanting is the way forward for many declining churches. It means recognizing that a church is not a viable church, that the purpose of a church is not to serve a handful of members but Christ and the community in which it is located, and that the time has come to celebrate its past ministry and close its doors and turn its building over to the launch team of a new church. Unhealthy practices can become so ingrained in a church that revitalization is out of the question.
Replanting may not be the best term to describe what happens. Those launching the new church are not restarting the church that formerly occupied the building. They are launching an entirely new church—new vision, new leadership, new congregation, new way of doing things.
For three years I served as a preacher and service leader of a small declining church. The church had no real connection with the community in which it is located. While its handful of members would have welcomed some new faces, they were not willing to make the kind of changes that might have revitalized the church. The supply pastor who administered the Lord’s Supper at the church twice a month summed up the feeling of the members toward change, “We don’t like change!!”
The church is now meeting two or three Sundays a month and its members are going to the church of the supply pastor for the remaining Sundays. Instead of having him come to their church to administer the Lord’s Supper, they attend the Lord’s Supper at his church. Both churches are small and declining. Amalgamation of the two congregations is not a workable solution. Both congregations are too attached to their buildings. They also lack the kind of leadership to make a merger work.
At this stage I believe that the wisest thing that the church is to find a new church that needs a building and turn the building over to that church—no strings attached. It would be closing its doors, but it would be bequeathing a legacy to the community in the form of a new church occupying the building that it formerly occupied.
Thank you for your courageous leadership, Robin.