By Mark Hallock, Calvary, Englewood, CO
It seems like yesterday that I was sitting with one of my best friends in the parking lot of Calvary Baptist Church in Englewood, Colorado. At the time, Calvary was a church of 30 sweet folks who loved Jesus but were tired and ready to close the doors of the church for good. They needed serious help. They needed help that had to come from the Lord Himself. You see, Calvary had once been a healthy, vibrant congregation that was a multiplying congregation. Several churches in the Denver-Metro area exist today because at one time Calvary had the vision, passion, and faith to plant new congregations. However, over the years, like so many other churches, Calvary slowly began to decline. The community around the church began to change. Families began to move away. A few pastors came in who were more focused on their own agenda than the agenda of God. And sadly, over time, Calvary began to die. But the Lord wasn’t done with this church.
As I sat with my friend that day, I knew full well, as crazy as it seemed, that the Lord was calling my wife and I to go to this dying church and by God’s grace, see it come back to life for the glory of God. As though it were yesterday, I remember my friend looking at me in that parking lot and saying, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?” I looked back at him and said, “No. I don’t know what I’m doing. In fact, I have no real idea as to what I’m doing. But one thing I can’t deny is this. I can’t deny that God is calling me to lead and love this congregation. And I can’t deny that I believe the Lord can bring this church back to life.” With a little smirk and a laugh, my buddy looked at me and kindly said, “You are nuts.”
This wasn’t the last time someone called me “nuts” for going to Calvary to replant this dying congregation. In fact, I’ve heard it from a number of people on numerous occasions. Many of these folks didn’t mean to put me down in any way, they simply looked at the obstacles ahead for this little church and felt leading Calvary back to health was next to impossible. To be honest, I have come to embrace being called, “nuts.” The truth is, I am! In fact, I would say that everyone of us who is passionate about church replanting is a little “nuts”. We’re nuts because we are crazy enough to believe that God is not done with dying churches. We’re nuts enough to believe that God has not given up on many churches that many of us would have given up on a long time ago.
We’re nuts because we truly believe that He loves dying churches and receives much glory when dying churches come back to life and vibrancy…and that He invites us to be part of it!
The truth is, you can hardly blame people for calling folks like us nuts. When you look at recent statistics on the health of the church in North America, things don’t look so great.
According to the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, more than 40 pecent of Americans “say” they go to church weekly. As it turns out, however, less than 20 percent are actually in church. In other words, more than 80 percent of Americans are finding other things (in Colorado it’s kid’s sports and trips to the mountains) to do on weekends.
Between 4,000 and 7,000 churches close their doors every year.
Thom Rainer has put the estimate higher. He says between 8,000 and 10,000 churches will likely close this year.
Each year, nearly 3 million more previous churchgoers enter the ranks of the “religiously unaffiliated.”
Since 1950, there are 1/3rd fewer churches in the U.S.
The United States makes up the third largest mission field in the world.
These statistics, among others, are very sobering. What we see is that not only are we in need of new, healthy churches in North America but we are in desperate need of replanting declining and dying churches. So, what exactly are we talking about when we talk about church replanting?
What is Church Replanting?
Church replanting is a unique ministry. In church replanting, we are focused on those congregations that are not simply declining, but they are dying. These are congregations that have reached a point where they realize they are not only sick and unhealthy, but they are nearing their death. In fact, you could say churches are identified as needing to be replanted when they humbly and honestly acknowledge that they are at risk of closing their doors once and for all within two-five years if major changes are not made. These congregations do not simply have a “cold” that needs a little help to get healthy again, but rather they have some form of “cancer” with major surgery and treatment needed to survive. As a result, these congregations have come to a point of humble surrender. They are no longer concerned with fighting over battles such as the color of the carpet, or whether we sing hymns or praise songs, or whether our pastor preaches in a suit or jeans. They have come to a point of humble surrender, saying, “Lord whatever you want to do with our church, we are all in. This is Your Church, not ours. We want to do whatever it takes to not simply survive, but thrive for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of this community.”
Pastor and church replanting strategist, Jeff Declue, gives a helpful analogy of what Replanting is like. He says to imagine that you were given a plant that was beautiful! Everyone that came to your house complimented you on its size, health, vibrancy, and the fragrance was breath-taking. Now one day you noticed the plant was changing. Its leaves were turning pale yellow and the plant looked slightly withered. You didn’t forget to water it. Maybe someone else watered it too much. Maybe it isn’t getting enough light. You love this plant and you will do whatever it takes to save it! If you don’t act now it is going to die! Quickly you get the plant into a pot where you can get back to the basics. You get good soil in the pot with some quality nutrients. You now can make sure it is getting ample sun shine and water. Deep green color starts to return to the leaves and its strength starts to return. It takes time but it is coming back! Now replace the flower in a pot to a church in a community. This is “replanting.”
There is nothing about a dying church that brings glory to God! As Christians, we need to lock arms and fight to stop the trend of the dying churches in our communities. The task of church replanting is to come alongside these dying congregations and lovingly and joyfully shepherd them back to health, mission, and multiplication. Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky writes:
“One of our central tasks in the present generation is to be bold in our vision of replanting churches — helping existing churches to find new vision, new strategic focus, new passion for the gospel, new hunger for the preaching of the Word, new love for their communities, and new excitement about seeing people come to faith in Jesus. Replanting churches requires both courage and leadership skills. A passion for replanting a church must be matched by skills in ministry and a heart for helping a church to regain a vision.”
Indeed, the need for church replanting is great, as is the opportunity and potential. Sadly, many churches will close their doors for the final time this next Sunday. This should break our hearts! These are churches made up of sweet saints who love Jesus, love the Bible, love people, but have perhaps lost vision and hope for what God can do in and through them. They are sheep that need a pastor-shepherd who can know them, feed them, and lead them with passion, joy, and hope into the future. So, what do we do?
We’re Not Talking One Replant Here…We’re Talking A Movement
As excited as I get at thought of even one dying church being replanted for the sake of the Gospel, the truth is, in order to reach the masses of people in our world that don’t know Christ, one Replant is not enough. Two is not enough. Ten is not enough. Even a hundred new church replants are not enough! Our vision as the church in North America must be to see hundreds and even thousands of churches replanted for the glory of God. What we need is a replanting movement. A movement of churches that replant churches that replant churches.
Now, what exactly do I mean by a movement? What is a replanting movement? I’ve heard it said that on the most basic level, movements are about mobilizing people behind a shared purpose. Movements happen in our world all the time. Movements happen in the world of business, or technology, or food, or entertainment, or even in the Church. In fact, when you look at the spread of the Gospel through the early church in the book of Acts, what you see is a movement… A Gospel movement infused by the Holy Spirit that changed the world, one life, one church, one community, at a time.
I don’t know about you, but I get excited dreaming about a new kind of movement in the church today. A church replanting movement. A movement where God does what only He can do through His people. A movement where God uses ordinary, faithful pastors, church leaders, and lay people to bring declining and dying churches back to life. A church replanting movement. A movement that mobilizes God’s people behind the shared purpose of replanting dying churches for the glory of God. A movement where churches that seem to have no hope and no pulse come back to life by the Spirit of God in such a way that they not only survive, but thrive to the point of replanting other dying congregations. Yes, we need to plant new churches. We need to plant many, many new churches in order to take the Gospel to areas where people are far from Christ. But at the same time, if we as the Church of Jesus Christ are going to truly push back the darkness, to go from a posture of defense to a posture of offense in our mission to take the light of Christ into a dark world, then we must be as intentional and purposeful in our church replanting efforts as we are in our church planting efforts. It is not an either/or. It is a both/and. Now is the time. Now is the time for a church replanting movement. Are you in?
Four Priorities of a Church Replanting Movement
What would be the marks of a church replanting movement? What would be the priorities of churches and church leaders who seek to join God in His work of bringing hope and new life to dying churches? Let me offer what I believe to be four essential priorities of this kind of replanting movement.
Priority #1: Together as churches and church leaders, we must pursue our joy in Jesus, seeking to make Him non-ignorable in North America and to the ends of the earth.
First and foremost, we must desire to be churches and church leaders where Jesus is our greatest treasure and where together we passionately pursue our joy in Him. As we pursue our joy in Him, our hope, prayer, and mission must be to see many others in our communities find their joy in Him! Of course, we know that we are surrounded by people we know and love who, though seeking for true joy and satisfaction in their lives, are knowingly or unknowingly IGNORING the only one who can actually give it to them: Jesus Christ.
This is why our shared desire in this movement of church replanting must be to make Jesus non-ignorable in North America and to the ends of the earth. For this to happen, we need to be churches and church leaders that are known by our passionate love for Jesus, for His Word, and for people. We must be churches and church leaders zealous for and committed to persistent prayer, seeking the face of God in all things. This is not a movement with the goal of trying to be the coolest or biggest churches in town. This is a movement about God and for God. This is a movement about desperate men and women begging the Lord to do what only He can do. This is a movement that desires to see the impossible become possible, namely dying churches infused with new life and vibrancy, becoming healthy, faithful, reproducing churches for the sake of Gospel advancement.
Priority #2: Together as churches and church leaders, we must do whatever it takes to make disciples who make disciples and replant churches that replant churches.
Jesus has called us to BE His disciples, but it doesn’t stop there. He has called us to MAKE disciples who make disciples: joyful, passionate disciples! Along with making disciples who make disciples, we must be churches that replant churches. For disciples are made in the context of the local church, not apart from it.
It doesn’t matter if you live in a major city or in a small, rural town, every one of our communities is in desperate need of Gospel-centered, Word-saturated, Outward-focused, People-loving churches. Not a few of these kinds of churches, but MANY of these churches! Because of this, we must need a movement in which local churches are committed to aggressively coming alongside and replanting dying churches that will become replanting churches themselves.
There must be an urgency in all of this. This is not about us, it is about Jesus and His Gospel. For this kind of movement to happen, it means we need churches that don’t simply talk the talk, but walk the walk when it comes to doing whatever it takes to replant churches. We need churches and church leaders who are humble and willing to set aside personal preferences for the sake of reaching those far from Christ; to do whatever it takes to get the Gospel out! We need churches who are willing to die of themselves for the sake of those in their communities who lost and broken. We must be willing to do whatever it takes, by the grace of God and the power of His Spirit.
Priority #3: Together as churches and church leaders, we must practice humble, radical cooperation for the sake of Gospel advancement.
I truly believe we as churches are always at our best when we link arms and pursue ministry together. Just as there is no such thing as a lone ranger Christian, there is no such thing as a lone ranger church, or at least there shouldn’t be. Ministry is hard. We can’t do this alone, which is why a replanting movement is made up of churches and leaders who practice humble, radical cooperation for the sake of Gospel advancement. Churches and leaders who intentionally pursue the joyful sharing of any and all kinds of resources (people, money, programs, etc.) whenever and however we can.
In a true replanting movement, this kind of cooperation will not be a burden, but a joy! A movement like this is not about one church or one church leader and the advancement of their “kingdom.” This type of movement is centered on the one Hero, Jesus Christ, and the advancement of His “Kingdom” for His glory!
Priority #4: Together as churches and church leaders, we must be committed to one another for the long haul.
Ministry is hard. It is hard in all kinds of ways and for all sorts of reasons. And because ministry is hard, not only must we practice humble, radical cooperation for the sake of Gospel advancement, but we must be committed to one another for the long haul, by the grace of God and the power of the Spirit. This type of commitment to one another is essential if we are to see a true replanting movement take place.
Commitment to one another. This is what families do, or at least the best families. The healthiest families. As Christians and as churches, we are the family of God! This means through good times and bad times, mountain tops and valleys of church replanting, we’re the family of God. We are a family committed to love and encourage and sharpen one another, journeying together in this challenging yet vital ministry for the long haul.