Replanting a Church: Leading Fearlessly

We are working through an article by Scott Thomas on replanting an existing church, that is, renewing a church so that it grows and matures as a church plant does.

7. Fearlessly Lead the Replanting Process (1 John 4:18).

  1. Prayerfully determine if God has called your church to enter a replanting at this time. Do you feel God is calling you to replant your church?
  2. Once affirmed, lead fearlessly through the rough waters, people jumping overboard, sea sickness, and mutiny among the crew. Many people (including leaders and even spouses) will become disoriented, discouraged, and dissenting. Lead the body patiently, lovingly, but firmly – just as Jesus would. But don’t lead fearful of losing popularity, friendship, or a comfortable, secure job. A manager is a pleaser of people. A visionary leader is a pleaser of God.
  3. Do you have the visionary, God-called leader in place?
  4. If so, does he have the support of the leadership?
  5. If not, where will you begin to look for a shepherd leader with the skill set to replant your church?

Any effort to make as dramatic a change as we’ve been considering in this series will require remarkable courageous, tenacity, and patience. But I wouldn’t want the leadership to be fearless — because there are lots of things to be afraid of.

* The leaders should be afraid of what happens if they don’t lead change. If there’s no change, the congregation may die and many may even lose their faith.

* If the leaders make changes too quickly or appear to lord it over the congregation, they may split the church or even be run out of the leadership.

* If the leaders go too slowly, the church may die before the necessary changes can be made.

Thousands of Churches of Christ have closed their doors in the last several years. The total number of members has declined in some states where our numbers are the largest, such as Oklahoma and Tennessee — despite the fact that these states are growing in total population. Indeed, as a whole, the Churches of Christ aren’t even converting enough people from among the lost to replace those of our children who leave.

There’s a great deal to be afraid of.

On the other hand, there are some things we should not fear —

* Don’t be afraid of a few families being unwilling to accept the change — even if they threaten to leave. If a few families leave and join another church in town, they’ve left you but they haven’t left Jesus. And you can’t let a handful of families hold God’s mission for his church hostage. Sometimes you have to let them leave — but it should only be after you’ve met with them, prayed with them, and heard them out. Indeed, the sooner you hear them out, the better. Some people leave just because they feel they were never listened to.

Therefore, listen to all sides. Try to hear what they really are saying. They may couch fear of the unknown in doctrinal language. Listen through the words to their hearts.

But don’t let the legalistic minority run the church.

* Never, ever fear to teach scripture in its entirety. Teach grace, the Spirit, unity, and our place in God’s mission without fear.

But be smart about it. In many churches, you need to teach first in the classes rather than from the pulpit because the classes give the opportunity for questions and answers and because doctrine taught in the classes seems less imposed-from-on-high.

Nonetheless, there has to come a time when the pulpit reflects the scriptures, not just those parts of the scriptures we’re comfortable with. Once we get past merely affirming what the church already believes and push into exploring God’s will together, a whole new world will open up.

* Don’t be afraid to get involved in God’s mission, even if it leads to criticism. All change gets criticized. But often the best way to get a church involved in missional activities is to start doing it yourself and inviting others along. The doctrinal understanding sometimes follows the experience.

Our city has a cross-denominational league of churches that puts on an annual pulpit swap on a Wednesday night once a year. Our preacher was invited to speak at one of the largest Baptist Churches in town. We were flattered. Then we learned that the price of speaking to the Baptists was having a Baptist and Methodist preacher speak to our church — with an audience invited from all over town. And so that’s what we did. Gladly. And we’re still catching criticism more than 5 years later.

But here’s what happened. We had people from churches of many denominations visit our church that night and we all sang a cappella together. It was some of the best a cappella singing I’ve ever heard, even though there were Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians mingled in amongst us in the Church of Christ. And we met folks from churches all over town.

Both preachers delivered excellent sermons on topics that were soundly biblical. The Baptist preacher was from a black congregation and he taught us about preaching with passion. It was a memorable sermon.

And among the good results were that we’ve become more and more racially diverse, and we’ve had many people from non-Church of Christ backgrounds become part of us.

We’re seen as leaders in the local community of churches, and we’ve been able to cooperate with other churches in doing good things in the name of Jesus. For example, we were able to work across denominational lines to care for Katrina evacuees on a scale that wouldn’t have been possible had we been insular in our traditional way.

It was a good decision, despite the flack we caught and are still catching.

(Psa 56:2-5)  My slanderers pursue me all day long;
many are attacking me in their pride.
3 When I am afraid, I will trust in you.
4 In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust;
I will not be afraid.
What can mortal man do to me?
5 All day long they twist my words;
they are always plotting to harm me.

(Isa 12:2-6)  “Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.”
3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
4 In that day you will say: “Give thanks to the LORD,
call on his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

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One Response

  1. Not sure why we’re concerned about dwindling numbers, especially in light of the “Changing The Name” post, or even the house church movement. Why should we be attempting to bring people back to something that has failed, rather than go ahead and let it die so that other things can be born out of it – like a seed falling to the ground?

    There is nothing to be afraid of. If closing the doors makes the Kingdom bigger, then so be it! And if leaving them open makes the Kingdom bigger, so be that as well. The only thing to be afraid of is hearing “Get behind me, Satan!” because we’re leaning on our own understanding of what God should do with His church.

    The Kingdom is in full motion, and its much easier to see outside of a denomination than in it. There is so much energy being spent on reviving (or perhaps replanting) dead churches, and that energy would go much further if spent on advancing the Kingdom instead. Replanting a dead plant will not bring life.

    God will fulfill His Kingdom promises. If the CofC – or any other group or person – is in the way of that advance, then we should all be happy to help pray that barrier out of the way.

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