Six Reasons Relaunching Is More Difficult Than Revitalizing or Replanting


Relaunching. Revitalizing. Replanting.

So many “re” prefixes. It gets confusing.

Let’s review our definitions. Revitalizing means an existing congregation experiences health and turnaround. Replanting typically means another church acquires a declining or dying church and starts it anew. Relaunching could be considered a hybrid approach. A declining or dying church re-starts itself. There is usually a name change, but there is not an acquisition by another church.

Of the three, relaunching is both the rarest and most difficult. Let’s look at six reasons this challenge has many obstacles.

  1. Relaunching can be perceived to be a magic bullet. The congregation sometimes think they can slap a new name on the sign, have a grand re-opening, and watch growth take place.
  2. Relaunching does not always address the issues and people that are barriers to church health. Church health is a DNA issue. Without changes in the essential hearts and attitudes of the people, healthy change will not take place.
  3. Relaunching can divide a church. This divide can occur along many fault lines, especially worship styles and name changes.
  4. Relaunching will struggle if expectations and sacrifices are not explicit and clear. Otherwise, members will have varying expectations about the changes and results of a new launch. Clarity and transparency are essential.
  5. Relaunching is often a compromise. It’s the “in-between” decision between revitalization and replan There is not a total commitment to the process.
  6. Relaunching is often decided without really knowing the change readiness of the church. This factor is essential. It will be a focus of future emphases here and at Church Answers.

You may conclude I am not a proponent of relaunching. It might surprise you that I actually see it as an incredible option for dying and declining churches. But it is an option that requires open eyes, willing hearts, and sacrificial actions.

You will hear more about these issues later. For now, let me hear from you.

Posted on February 27, 2019

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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  • I am involved in a replanting. I have done both a new church plant and a regional campus plant (for a mega church). Right now I am serving in a church that has been bought by a larger church that is 60 miles away and implementing the Purpose Driven model. They view us as a remote site for their church but don’t want to bankroll the effort. The problem is that the mother church of 2300 wants our little church of 50 to be just like them. They also want to decide what we do rather than letting the the gifts, passions and abilities of our people direct those choices. The parent church is in a white collar setting and we have nearly all blue collar members. What is important to the people in the big city does not seem to interest those in our more rural setting.

    Our primary outreach is focused on serving the needy in our area. We are using the sermons from the mother church, but we are now preaching them live. We are using their strategy and structure (PD) and struggling to get to critical mass – whatever that is! Our newest attenders are people who are passionate about serving the needy. We also have volunteers who do not attend any church, but want to help us serve the needy. We open our fellowship hall and kitchen as a warming center two days each week and on the first Saturday of the month we serve a smorgasbord to the homeless and hungry. We have decided to do the Matthew 25 ministry Jesus directed at the “least of these” rather than focus on “getting the right people” to our church. I have been told that reaching the homeless is a worthy cause, but will never grow a church. This may be true, but if caring for them is “doing it as unto Jesus,” then we will keep going.
    We have very few new visitors – maybe 5 each month – but we have taken 15 people through our membership class in the past year.

  • Patty HARRIS says on

    I was at a church that refused the first two and desperately needed the 3rd but all those barriers were rampant and it continue failing. It was so sad.

  • What would happen if some larger vibrant congregations created church revitalization teams? What would happen if they offered them to serve on mission in a struggling church for a season? The time period could be agreed upon, the vision prayed over and kingdom goals set. I realize all this would depend on a willing consensus of the smaller congregation. But I see small churches as just being a part of the greater body of Christ. I’m sure God is revitalizing other small churches like the one I’m privileged to serve. God has blessed us with 16 baptisms this past year. (We average around 70, sometimes a few more and sometimes a few less.) We are overjoyed and praising God for his work! We want him to get all the glory! We have some areas that could be shored up. We are taking things by faith and are trying to keep our focus Christ centered. God has given us the priority of reaching children, youth and families (We felt led to a part time youth minister, created children’s and youth leadership teams). While still encouraging the growth and service of silver saints (We have a 85 year old retired Pastor volunteering to lead activities for this group). Sometimes we could just use a little help along the way. I know our Heavenly Father has the resources. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. I could just invision seeing some churches with the resources investing their talents and time to help in revitalizing a smaller church. I don’t want the feeling of competing with them, but instead being able to work together in harmony. Our common goal is to reach as many people as possible for Christ. We’re all on the same team. Plus you can find a small church on most every corner. Imagine the impact of new life in those churches and the impact on communities. We all want to join God in his work. Let’s work together. Reignite, revive, revitalize! I feel those three re- prefixes are something on which we could all agree!

    • Mark Smith says on

      Michael, I have been part of a larger church trying to help dying churches in our area. In each case we found the dying church did not want our help because they feared that we had ulterior motives… that we wanted to acquire them in a merger, or wanted to change their culture to match ours. This is often a real hindrance to one church helping another.

  • Stuart Dace says on

    Hi Thom,
    I am replanter in Arnold, MO just south of St. Louis. According to the definitions provided we are “relaunched” church, though we had the leadership of a sponsoring church help walk us through the process. In fact, our grand relaunch is this Easter. When our church voted to replant about a year and half ago we approved four “re’s”: revision, restructure, rebrand, and relaunch. We were formerly know as Starling Road Baptist Church, but changed our name to Exchange Church. It is exceedingly difficult work, but we’re already enjoying the fruit of our labors, and anticipate that God is going continue to glorify himself in and through our church.

  • I am the Lead Pastor for a church that we planted under a Church Planting Network in September 2017. This is my first time as both a lead pastor and church plant, and it has been an adventure for sure. In August 2018, we parted ways with the Network we had planted under with the advisement and direction of our denominational leadership. We were placed under a parent church to help us get realigned and stabalized. Praise God, though it was hard personally, emotionally, and ministerially, my wife and I agreed God called us to shepherd this church plant and we began to see increases in all areas (Sep-Dec). However, in January, we discovered that there was dissention and division in our leadership, and sadly we had to dismiss and part ways with our executive/worship leader. This led to several families under his leadership leaving. But despite the exodus, we did have some families stay and though we have recently gone through some difficult times personally, emotionally, and ministerially, God has continued to show us that He wants His church to prosper and to press on with Him guiding and navigating us through it, so my wife and I have agreed to remain and stand fast. It has not been easy but until God releases us, we want to remain faithful as He has been faithful despite everything that has happened. Due to legalities with the Church Planting Network we were with, we will need to rebrand and change our name. So alot of things we still need to work going forward but i am looking forward to your teachings in this subject matter to see what action will benefit the Church in both the short term and long term. We know that this is important to figure out and get right as this decision will truly impact our continued ministry in our community.

  • Eagerly waiting to learn more. I’ve attempted two revitalizations. One failed, and the other is ongoing. Always thought relaunching would of been a better, or even easier option than struggling to change core issues at a snails pace. Overcoming the traditions and “glory days” I always assumed was easier when they’re scrapped right away, but I conclude from this I’m wrong.

  • Hi Thom, you’re spot on. I’m a pastor who was brought in to guide an existing church to relaunch itself without another church taking over. Same people, new everything. We’re 4 years in and it has been a success, but not without sacrifices and the obstacles you’ve described here. If you’re interested in some stories or perspective from a relaunch pastor I’m happy to help.

  • Our church has been in decline for several years do to many factors, change of neighborhood, worship wars, (now gone with one service that leans contemporary), gifts of the spirit disputes, and to put a cap on it our last non working pastor that did not fit our church that was forced out due to declining titles, and congregational number.

    We have changed our name from Woodland Presbyterian Church EPC to just Woodland Church. We remain in the EPC. We are presently looking for a new younger pastor to restart our church. We are going slow and diligent to “get it right”. Are we launching or revitalizing? We have approximately 75-95 in worship on Sunday. We had 1,000 members in the height of the oil boom in the 70-80’s in New Orleans.

    • Rick –

      It’s a continuum. From the information you gave me, it sounds closer to revitalization. A name change by itself does not create a relaunch, even considering the other issues you noted.

    • Hello brother Rick
      Really work is hard.
      I am a Presbyterian Minister in Brazil (IPB). I know our system, I am the fourth generation of Presbyterians in the family. So my beloved brother, I can tell you that it is no use changing the name of the church, you have to change what does not work well, what does not work, what has stopped working.
      Today in Brazil and I believe that in the USA people are also looking for a church that does not deprive of its temporal goods, but that has clear values ​​like God, the Fatherland and the Near.
      Presbyterianism has it. But I believe that both here and here, many have left that aside and with that the decline comes. Proverbs 22:28 talks about it.
      It is necessary to rescue the system of worship, the liturgy, songs and biblical hymns and above all the love for missionary work, praying, going and contributory. Our Presbyterian denomination here in Brazil is the daughter of the USA, Ashebel Green Simonton came to bring the Protestant faith in the Presbyterian form and the missionary love. But over the years, we have become very institutionalized and often the work of the layman is left in the background giving everything to an Ordained Minister, presbyterianism is not like that. It is the junction of both. Ministers and laity.
      I do not know their cults or their reality, but when it comes to Presbyterianism, I say … go back to your parents’ system, prayer, bible, prayer and action … People want safe ports and conventions to bring the boat of their lives. And the Presbyterian churches have this, but some have abandoned or left them altogether.
      May God enlighten you in the search for a new Minister. Thanks Rev. Anderson

  • Judith Gotwald says on

    Congregations facing any of these three choices have likely experienced some measure of distrust of leadership. Imagine being in the shoes of the people who are being evaluated for change readiness—as if their DNA exists untainted by professional influences. None of these options will work if the efforts are without love and respect for congregants, both present and future. People should not be expected to wholeheartedly embrace change with unknown parameters—and change often has unknown parameters. Change requires as much attention to the present, and even the past, as is spent on fishing into the future. Guaranteed the future will notice how the people of the past have been treated.