Essential characteristics of effective replanters: Gospel orientation

By Bob Bickford

And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground. He sleeps and rises night and day, and the seed sprouts and grows; he knows not how. (Mark 4:26-27)

One of the characteristics we are adding to the profile of effective replanters is Gospel Orientation.

“Gospel orientation” refers to aligning the culture and practice of the church in such a way that the core doctrine of the gospel drives its mission and practice in preaching, managing conflict, and leading organizational change.

Effective replanters have a firm grasp on the gospel and they possess the capability to plant and water the gospel in a replant.


Planting is faithfully casting or sowing the seed of the gospel into the lives of the people and the culture of your church.

Often for those in a declining church, the gospel is simply the message of Christ’s life death and resurrection. It’s the way to a relationship with God, and it sometimes stops there.

In the book, The Gospel Centered Life, Bob Thune and Will Walker offer this:

“Many Christians live with a truncated view of the gospel… (the gospel) is not just the means of our salvation, but the means of our transformation. It is not simply the deliverance from sin’s penalty, but the release from sin’s power. The gospel is what makes us right with God,  and it is also what frees us to delight in God.”

While the reasons behind a church’s decline are often multiple, layered, and complex, they are ultimately the result of the lack of understanding and growth in the gospel.

A replanter must do the important work of casting gospel seeds in every member, process, program, and policy of the church.

In Creature of the Word, Eric Geiger, Matt Chandler, and Josh Patterson offer this helpful insight on how the gospel impacts programming:

“Because church programs communicate, we must consciously bring the gospel to bear on them. Perhaps in analyzing your programs, you’ll discover that you schedule activities or programs because of guilty obligation. The gospel, on the other hand, frees us from feverish attempts to appease God with religious activities. The gospel frees us to say no and to rest from our work because we trust His finished work.”

A replanter sows gospel seeds through:

  • Faithfully proclaiming the gospel from God’s word
  • Dedicating time and energy to disciple making via personal relationships
  • Examining and evaluating all aspects of church life in light of the gospel
  • Extending the gospel message beyond the walls of the church through the empowering of its members to love and serve their community by demonstrating and declaring the hope we have in Christ

Sowing is followed by watering and watering by growing — and all this is often a mystery to the replanter.

Be faithful in sowing, be patient in watering, and God will grow the church.


Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 3, provides us with insights into the unique roles he and Apollos shared in the spread of the gospel:

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered …” (1 Corinthians 3:5-6a).

What was Apollos’ work of watering? Acts 18 may provide some insight:

“Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in (the) spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus … He greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.” (Acts 18:23-28)

Apollos’ assignment was the clear proclamation of the gospel, rooted in the Scripture, empowered by the Spirit for the practical help and edification of believers and the defense of the faith to skeptics and doubters.

A church that has been in decline may have been lacking:

  • Consistent and clear communication of the gospel message
  • Exegetical teaching from God’s word
  • Spirit empowered preaching
  • Practical application of God’s truth to everyday life
  • A powerful apologetic for Jesus in the culture

The public proclamation and skilled teaching of the gospel are central to the development of a healthy and vibrant church.

Replanters and Revitalizers must be fundamentally committed to:

  • Sermon preparation and evaluation
  • The centrality of the gospel in their teaching
  • The devotion to and reliance upon the Spirit in all of the processes involved in preaching (prayer, planning, preparation, and proclamation)
  • Equipping and challenging the congregation to respond in obedience in everyday life

As the gospel is proclaimed through Spirit-empowered preaching, God produces growth.,

Published October 16, 2019

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Bob Bickford

Bob Bickford is a Replant Pastor in suburban St. Louis, serves as the Associate Director of Replant for the North American Mission Board and is the co-author of Am I a Replanter,  Pathways to Partnership and the Associational Replanting Guide. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick