Earlier this week I had the privilege of attending the Replant Summit at the North American Mission Board (NAMB) in Alpharetta, GA. It was an intensive two-day gathering of pastors, replanters, directors of missions and strategists to focus on revitalizing and replanting churches for the glory of God. We enjoyed great preaching, heard amazing stories of God’s work in restoring broken churches, learned from some experienced replanters and revitalizers, and ate lots of good food. Here are some of my insights from the Summit…
1. God is moving among His church.
I have noted before that I was a product and a participant of the Church Growth Movement. I would like to think that I embodied the best aspects of it. But there is no doubt that the Church Growth Movement emphasized programs and strategies, sometimes to the exclusion of the power of the Holy Spirit. We often forgot that Jesus said, “I will build my church.” We often acted like we were building the church.
One of the most exciting aspects of the Church Revitalization Movement is the recognition that only Jesus can build his church. After all, it is his church. And he is moving. He is bringing life. He is restoring broken churches. This week we heard the stories. We sensed the excitement. God is moving.
2. We have incredible leadership in this effort.
I am grateful for Kevin Ezell, the president of NAMB, who has made replanting dying churches a priority. He also had the good sense (insert smiley face) to ask Mark Clifton to lead the effort. Mark’s energy and passion is contagious. Over the past year I have gotten to know Mark from a distance through podcasts and social media posts. It was a pleasure to have lunch with him and some of his team on Monday and to learn from them during the Replant Summit. These guys are awesome.
3. Declining churches come in all shapes and sizes.
More than 3,000 churches close their doors each year across North America. Approximately 900 of those are Southern Baptist churches. Thousands more are either stuck, struggling or spiraling toward death unless something changes. These churches are in the country, in small towns, in city neighborhoods and urban centers. They are black churches, white churches and multi-ethnic churches. Some have been around for more than a hundred years. Others came to life in the mid-twentieth century. They are normative sized churches with less than 200 active members. They are larger churches with between 200 and 1,000 active members. Some of them are even really large churches with more than a thousand active members. All of them are showing signs that they are heading for trouble. And all of them need a supernatural move of God in order to experience revival and revitalization.
4. God is raising up an army of pastors who are committed to revitalization and replanting.
There were over 200 people attending the Replant Summit this week. As Mark Clifton pointed out, that size crowd would not have been possible four years ago. When I graduated from seminary a hundred years ago, I was called to a small rural church in south Mississippi. After a few years I “graduated” to a larger church, then a larger church, and then a larger church. Early in my ministry one of my seminary professors told me, “There will come a day when you will outgrow the church you are in.” Even the churches embraced that mindset. A search committee once told me, “We are at our best when we have a young, upwardly mobile pastor.”
Just as churches come in all shapes and sizes, so do pastors. God raises up and equips men to serve all of his churches. I am thankful for these who are now sensing God’s call to replant and revitalize established churches. At the Replant Summit I saw young men, middle-aged men and a few old men like me who are committed to preaching, praying, loving and staying to lead dead and dying churches.
5. We are redefining success.
This goes along with insight number four above. I once shared the mindset that unless I was upwardly mobile, I was not successful. Unless my church was growing from year to year, I was not successful. Like many, dare I say most, I measured success in comparison to other pastors and other churches.
One speaker at this week’s Replant Summit told his story. He was serving on staff at a multi-site church with over 10,000 in weekly attendance. He got fired. His next church had 3 in attendance. No, I did not leave off zeroes. He went from a church of 10,000 to a church of 3. Can you say “failure!”? You might. But God didn’t. Instead, God blessed his faithful obedience and brought life to a dead church.
6. There is a renewed focus on the role of the association.
I am impressed by the number of directors of missions who are becoming replanting and revitalization interventionists. They see the need among the churches of their associations. And NAMB is placing great emphasis on working with and through them. The Church Revitalization Movement may be the rebirth of the association as well!
7. There is much work to be done.
There is great excitement around the topics of replanting and revitalization. God is certainly doing a mighty work. But more pastors and more churches need to awaken to the reality that they are stuck, struggling, or spiraling. There is too much apathy. Many are in denial. Some churches know they are in trouble. But death seems less painful than the changes needed to bring about life. I see this regularly in my work. Churches often want to make superficial changes rather than doing the hard work of spiritual revitalization.
Many years ago my mother’s doctor told her that she needed to stop smoking cigarettes. Mom had smoked since she was in her early twenties. Every time she went to the doctor, he urged her to quit. She would give it a shot, but always went back to smoking. The pain of quitting was too great. Her condition continued to worsen. Then one day her doctor said, “Bobbie, you are either going to quit smoking or you will be dead in two to three years!” My mother never smoked another cigarette. Not one. She put them down and never looked back. Best of all, she lived more than fifteen years.
I was reminded at the Replant Summit that there is hope. Jesus brings life to dead people. He also brings life to dead and dying churches that are willing to do the work. If you want help to begin the process of revitalization, let me hear from you.