Baseball’s comeback kids and your church

By Mark Clifton

What do the Kansas City Royals and Church Replanting have in common?

I’ll never forget November 3, 2015. I’m guessing most people who call Kansas City home won’t either—because we were all together for the day. An estimated 800,000 people packed the parade route to celebrate the recently crowned World Series champion, the Kansas City Royals. That’s nearly double the population of our city.
It was an amazing day—and a day no one could have fathomed a decade ago. The Royals 7-2 win over the Mets in Game 5 of the World Series capped an epic two-year run to baseball relevancy for baseball’s newest Comeback Kids.

Almost disbanded by Major League Baseball in the early 2000s, the Royals endured 17 losing seasons in 18 years from 1995 to 2012. Attendance was low. Resources were few. The Royals looked dead—and they needed a comeback.
And that’s exactly what they got—a bunch of comebacks in fact. Not only did the team climb back to respectability and beyond in the last two years, but the Royals did it with an impossible belief they could overcome any odds. According to ESPN, at different points during their 2015 playoff run, the Royals won games where their probabilities to win were 18%, 1%, 25%, 8%, 10%, 16% and 5%. Despite winning the World Series in five games, the Royals led in 11 less innings than their opponents, the New York Mets.

As ESPN’s Rany Jazayerli wrote shortly after the Royals’ World Series win, “There have been better teams in baseball history, but no team has proven itself so hard to kill.” No matter what logic and baseball common sense says, the 2015 Royals refused to believe they were going to lose.
A never-say-die attitude isn’t just for overmatched baseball teams. It’s critical for struggling churches, too. I can think of many characteristics that are essential for leaders who want to breathe new life into dying churches. You must have an unshakable confidence in the gospel, a clear call from God, a passionate love and commitment to the local church and the ability to minister in a multi-generational context (among other characteristics).

Yet in my experience of replanting churches, I’m not sure any characteristic is more important to the replanting leader than a refusal to quit in spite of long odds.
Make no mistake about it. If you’re trying to replant a dying church, the odds are stacked against you. Every year 900 churches die. It’s not the norm for a struggling church to find new life again. Dying churches struggle for a myriad of reasons, but typically they have aging and shrinking congregations, bills they can’t pay and a declining reputation in the community. If you find yourself in one of those churches, your “win probability” isn’t any higher than the Royals found themselves in during the 2015 playoffs.

You might not have a lights-out bullpen or legions of cheering fans like the Royals, but you have something better. The Creator of the Universe is on your side.
You’re not the first God-fearer to face long odds. Imagine a disgraced Moses standing toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful leaders of the age and demanding freedom for his people. Imagine a young David staring down Goliath with five measly stones in his hands. Imagine Jesus, enclosed in a tomb, his friends scattered.

Remember God’s words to Paul in Acts 18:9-10: “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

If your dying church lives again, it won’t be because of your legendary leadership or your purposeful programs. It’ll be because the One who walks with you throughout the battle simply wouldn’t let go of you—or your church.

Contact NAMB to find out more about Church Replanting

Published November 13, 2015

P.S. Get our best content in your inbox

We send one email per month full of articles from a variety of Replanting voices.

Mark Clifton

Mark Clifton is the senior director of replanting at the North American Mission Board. Mark has served as a pastor, church planter, church revitalizer, mission strategist, coach and mentor to young leaders. He has planted and replanted numerous churches and has also served as a national and regional leader for church planting and missions. His experience includes serving as the lead mission strategist for the Kansas/Nebraska Southern Baptist Convention, leading church planting efforts in the regions of north metro Atlanta, Georgia, serving as a church planter in Montreal, Quebec, as a Southern Baptist National Church Planting Missionary for eastern Canada, and has lead Southern Baptist church planting projects west of the Mississippi. Mark has been planting, replanting and providing strategic mission leadership since 1978. Mark and his wife, Jill, live in Kansas City, Missouri and have two sons, two daughters-in-law and three grandsons.