Churches and associations replanting together

By Mark Clifton

For 300 years, Baptist churches in North America have chosen to partner with through local associations, for the glory of God and effective kingdom work. One of the primary strengths of the local Baptist association is that it is just that — local. It’s indigenous to its environment. It is part of its context, composed of local people who are following Jesus on mission in a particular locale.

Southern Baptists face the overwhelming challenge of nearly 1000 churches closing each year. No single entity in Southern Baptist life is better suited than the local association to be the tip of the spear in the battle to reclaim dying churches. Churches plant churches. And churches replant churches.

In both of these instances, the association can play an important role. But in the role of replanting, the local association is even more important.

Of all denominational entities, the local association is best positioned to walk alongside churches when they struggle or are facing potential closure. Local association leaders and pastors can provide coaching, encouragement, and compassionate care for church members and pastors. When a local church is concerned for its future, the local association can help the congregation make wise decisions regarding its future that will ensure the ministry of the church continues in one form or another.

The local association plays an important role in bringing strong and struggling churches together — as family, not competitors or adversaries. With shared beliefs and commitments — and strong commitments to the mission of proclaiming the gospel — churches can partner in the gospel for the good of their communities.

It is not uncommon for a dying church to be hesitant about reaching out for help to other churches. They may come to believe that other churches are simply wanting to grab their last remaining resources. They may be uncomfortable dealing with larger churches. In those instances, the association can uniquely help both churches come to an understanding of how they might partner for the benefit of the kingdom, the glory of God, and the advancement of the gospel.

Five actions are necessary for a local association to serve in this way:

  • The association needs to be deeply involved in the life of the struggling churches. They need to walk alongside the pastor or leaders in the church, and they need to be available to provide loving, yet truthful evaluation of the church’s future.
  • The association can lead in honestly assessing the dying church’s remaining options. Our team has developed the Association Replanting guide to serve as a template around which churches can begin to discern God’s future and determine what steps He is leading them to take.
  • The association can work with churches to help them fully understand what can be expected in the various replant models. By helping struggling churches make wise decisions at the beginning, the association helps them avoid landmines and navigate difficult situations.
  • The association can assist in facilitating an agreement or written partnership between struggling and stronger churches. Buy serving as a trusted leader and a moderator, the association can help two churches reach agreement and handle logistical details as they work out the specifics of partnering together.
  • The association can take the lead in celebrating a successful partnership between a church in need of replanting and the church coming to help replant.

The local association helps change the narrative that dying churches have no hope or options. The association can help change the narrative that healthy churches should avoid working with dying churches. The association can be the primary advocate for both the dying church and the church that desires to rescue dying churches. In that way, their partnership with churches is invaluable to reclaim God’s glory by replanting churches.

Published January 30, 2018

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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.