Replanting a Church: What Churches Need to be Replanted?

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.

What churches need replanting? Well, all churches that aren’t fully at their potential — that is, all churches.

Obviously, some churches are more desperate for replanting than others. Some are less healthy than others. Some are in smaller doctrinal and attitudinal pots than others. But I think all churches need to periodically re-evaluate themselves in light of God’s mission.

All will be far less than perfect but some will already be well on the road the restoring true New Testament Christianity — the kind of Christianity that will change the world. But all need some measure of replanting.

As I’ve worked through Scott Thomas’s thoughtful outline, I’ve tried to measure my own congregation against the scriptures, and I would urge all the readers to do the same.

But here’s the thing. We are all in the habit of measuring our churches against the attendance board or against Saddleback and Willowcreek. We figure the cure for not being at 20,000 members is failure to follow the Saddleback or Willowcreek model, and so we get baseball diamond posters and start Membership 101 classes.

Those are good things, but they are not the cure. Indeed, we may not even be called by God to grow to 20,000 members. We may be curing the wrong disease altogether!

The question isn’t whether we are organized and worship according to the New Testament pattern. It never has been. The question is whether we are being transformed into the kind of people God wants us to be and whether, as a consequence of God’s work within us, we are doing the things that God wants us to do.

God wants us to be new creations, transformed by the renewing of our minds, by his Spirit, into people who are just like Jesus, that is, into people who serve and sacrifice and love as Jesus did and does.

But one way God transforms us is by our doing what we’ve been called to do. Sometimes the doing precedes the being. After all, you can’t understand the joy of serving until you’ve served. This is part of how the Spirit works in us, and so we must combine instruction with doing. Neither precedes the other.

Indeed, sometimes we become open to grace by learning to be gracious. In doing good for others, our hearts are softened and the Spirit works more powerfully in us. When this happens, God’s generosity no longer offends us, because we’ve learned to be generous, too — by God’s transforming power.

Leaders, therefore, need to escape the trap of focusing on worship and education, with a good-doing program or two on the side. Rather, we need to see worship and education as pointing the membership into the world to be the body of Christ on earth, doing what Jesus does — the real work of the church.

It’ll change everything.

And we need to develop the habit of periodically evaluating ourselves and our congregations — not in terms of “are we sound?” but in terms of “are we more like Jesus than we used to be?” You see, the second question assumes that spiritual growth should be the norm. We aren’t looking to perfectly replicate a pattern of worship. That’s too easy. It leads to arrogance. The goal is to try to be just like Jesus. And that’s hard. It leads to humilty — and growth.

Find a quiet weekend. Gather than elders and ministers and do an honest evaluation of the heart of the congregation. Does the church have a heart for the poor, oppressed,and orphaned? Is the church active in making peace in some way or other? Is the church filled with the inexpressible joy of the Spirit — a joy that touches all who come near? Ask those kinds of questions, and then prayerfully develop a plan to get better wherever you’re weak.

(Rom 14:17)  For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,


2 Responses

  1. Great concluding post.

    Loved this….

    And we need to develop the habit of periodically evaluating ourselves and our congregations — not in terms of “are we sound?” but in terms of “are we more like Jesus than we used to be?” You see, the second question assumes that spiritual growth should be the norm.

  2. Well said, Jay. Too often, our idea of reinventing a congregation is to look at another one, one that in our view is “better” and to try to incorporate those models. But this is not following Jesus, this is following each other. Worse, it is setting up those things which satisfy us as a standard to be pursued.

    Perhaps such revisioning could resemble an exercise I once conducted as the manager of three local businesses and a production plant. I imagined that all 40 of the employees had been laid off over the weekend– including me. Then, I considered what would need to happen on Monday morning to open up for business. Who would need to be hired back first? Who’s next? It was an humbling realization to note that in this analysis my own position was the eighth person rehired. Not only was “the boss” not first, I was not even close. (The first rehire was a man who made a moderate hourly wage in a store near me, the second was a truck driver, the third was an inside salesman across town, etc.)

    This exercise caused me to examine exactly what we were called to do, and what it would take to carry on that work, free from any organizational assumptions. Not “how do we repurpose our existing organization?” but “What are we supposed to be doing?

    As many have remarked, it’s not “What Would Jesus Do?” but “What Is Jesus Doing?”

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