Featured Replanter: Steve Wilson

By Replant

The Rock Church of Saint Louis, South County Campus
Years @ Church: 1
Our Church is a: Campus/Merger

What led you to Church Revitalization or Replanting?

I was previously on staff at The Rock Church of Saint Louis as a youth and family pastor for about 10 years. I was also on a leadership team that was integral in some major, internal church changes in that time span. We changed our name from Rock Hill Baptist Church to the Rock Church of Saint Louis and began to redefine our vision and strategy for the church and the community. As the lead pastor and I began to pray about direction and growth for the church, we developed a God-given burden for the hundreds of churches in the St. Louis area that were in serious decline and nearing the death stages. We began to meet with some struggling pastors as a ministry and it led to partnering with Tabernacle Baptist Church in Soulard. Originally, we were just going to be a missionary support to them, but they expressed their desire to do a complete merge with us. We weren’t completely ready for this transition, but that was the start of our first satellite campus. We had no local pastor to instill as the lead guy, so the lead pastor and I alternated preaching schedules between this new campus in Soulard and the original church in Brentwood. This wasn’t a very good strategy and growth was minimal. God eventually sent a pastor to lead that flock and growth began to occur. I went back to my responsibilities with youth and families at The Rock Church and began to pray about my future as a church planter. We continued to meet with pastors and leaders of struggling and dying churches, but many of them were not a good fit or they weren’t ready to acknowledge their need for change. About two years ago, the deacons at First Baptist Church of Lemay wanted to meet with our lead pastor, Timothy Cowin, about suggestions for finding a new pastor or partnering with The Rock Church in the future. That was on a Sunday. By Wednesday, the leadership group expressed with us a desire to do a full merge and launch a third campus. This church was once prominent in the South County area, but had severely declined and was no longer reaching their community. We knew that God was calling us to pursue this relationship and we walked forward with it. I personally had my heart and mind focused on church planting and did not even consider leading and pastoring in this new church revitalization. It wasn’t until my wife and I drove to the church together to take part in an informational meeting that we really grew a burden and a passion for the community and the church. We knew at this moment that this was where God was calling us to serve.

What have been your top 3 challenges as leader/pastor in this revitalization/replanting effort?

  1. Unmaintained property. When we finally started serving and preparing the church for a re-launch, we had to address the issues with the property. The church had a beautiful sanctuary and lots of room, but it hadn’t been properly taken care of in decades. We were fortunate enough that the church had received a significant amount of money through a deed. Our main objective for year one was to focus on the Sunday worship service and reach families in the community. When we arrived, they only had 4-5 kids in attendance every week, and three of those children belonged to the interim pastor. Our plant team knew that we needed to reach younger families in the area and we wanted the church building and agenda to reflect that priority. We modernized the sanctuary and gutted two wings of the church to remodel a big, inviting nursery and kids’ worship facility. It was a lot of hard work and money, but it paid off as we now have between 20-30 kids weekly after one year. Their families have gotten involved and the church is much younger and more blended now.
  2. Inherited church staff that did not share the new vision for the church. One of the awesome things about church revitalization is existing members and facilities. One of the difficult things about church revitalization is existing church members and facilities! One of the first things we had to focus on as a “new” church was becoming one church with the plant team and the existing members.
  3. Traditional ministry setting and the openness to change. When we started the church revitalization in South County, we found resistance in areas that I wasn’t prepared for. There was a Sunday School class that met in the sanctuary for an hour before the worship service. It is a pretty good-sized sanctuary and they had a “greeter” that guarded the door. The class had about 30 in attendance and when a visitor would show up for church they would be told to be quiet and sneak in the back of the sanctuary and wait for church to start. It was very unfriendly. The worship and sound team were not allowed to come in early to warm up and do sound checks. It led to a very unorganized service with very few guests. I decided in my first week there to meet with the Sunday School class and talk about relocating them to a new spot. The class was semi-friendly, but left the church the following week and started a “new” church down the street to continue to meet in a setting they preferred. Changing from a Sunday School format to a home Community Group format was also a struggle for many. There were times when I made some major changes, such as worship style, and got very little pushback, much to my surprise. And then there were times that I almost started a war when I did something like move an alter that a previous member had made and putting coffee service in the foyer.

What are three “If I could start all over again” learnings you have as result of your work?

  1. Better communication. One of the struggles we initially had was an us vs. them mentality. I had an amazing core group of couples that viewed themselves as missionaries to this new community and church. Changes in the church were taking place at a rapid pace, with 75% of the work being done by the new core group. This set up a bit of a turf mentality that I think could have been better had I communicated many of the changes more effectively.
  2. Regular prayer time. The church met and prayed often in the early stages of the re-launch. In hindsight, a consistent evening of prayer and worship should have been emphasized. We were tackling huge obstacles and many of them were spiritual in nature. I have an aggressive leadership style and I just pushed through several obstacles without the prayer support that was needed.
  3. More prep time before launch. My family and core team arrived at the church in July 2014 and we launched in September. An incredible amount of remodeling and surface changes were made in that short amount of time. Just about every night people were painting and scrubbing and cleaning. It was almost miraculous how much was accomplished in that short and stressful amount of time. Since much of the energy and focus of the re-launch was physical in nature, we didn’t have ample time to spiritually prepare and vision cast. Two more months of preparation would have benefited us.

How is God showing Himself faithful in your work? Where do you see Him at work?

God has been incredibly faithful from day one of this new endeavor. God clearly called my family and core team to this specific church and community. We all had a singular vision of reaching families and children for the first year. We have seen attendance from this demographic dramatically grow in year one. A church that was characterized as a traditional, senior adult church is now a more relational, family church with blended ages and ethnicities. We are currently praying for a renewed vision in our second year of ministry to reach a different demographic and we are waiting on a clear answer from the Lord. The rift that existed between the “core” group and the original members has mostly dissolved. It is a church that is defined by love and faithfulness to the gospel. There is a great amount of excitement and expectation for the future of the church and a faith for God to accomplish his mission here.

What words of wisdom would you give to those considering Church Replanting or Revitalization?

One thing that I have learned from my experiences with this church revitalization, and others that I have had input on, is that there is no formula for success. I was led into a situation that was unhealthy in some ways but already blessed in other ways. There was money in the church’s savings account, a leadership team there that was supportive of the changes and an incredible missional core group that joined me in this journey. I have a small list of words of wisdom from my experience that I would want passed on to me if I was starting on this journey for the first time:

  1. Make sure God is calling you to this. I have benefited greatly by the fact that God cleared a path for my leadership and has given me and my family a heart and burden for the community and the church. Without this assuredness, it would be difficult to push through the inevitable struggles that all churches going through a church revitalization will encounter. Make sure your wife is called as well!
  2. Develop a core team of people in the demographic of whom you are initially targeting. What helped us reach so many families in year one, at a church that had previously failed to reach this demographic, was the shared experience the community had with many who were in the church. The core team was invaluable in reaching out to these young families and providing them with the help and support that they desired.
  3. Love the existing church you are leading through the revitalization process. These are real people with real problems and real feelings. There will be a temptation to overlook their feelings and opinions because of their narrow-mindedness and recent failures at reaching the community. Often times these will be amazing people that just had poor leadership and need the vision and love that wasn’t available to them in the past. Be patient with them for a season as they go through a period of mourning as the church they have known and loved essentially dies and is re-birthed.
  4. Don’t lead on an island or in a vacuum. I have had the privilege of re-launching this church as a campus with the support of other churches and their ministry model as a foundation. I meet with a team of pastors every week to share struggles and victories with. I have prayer support and a shared vision with other churches that are trying to do the same thing in a different ministry context. There are times I have been corrected when it was needed and there are times when bouncing ideas and vision off of other guys has helped guide me down a better path. If you are not part of a network of churches, find some guys that are leading churches or get involved with some of the awesome growth opportunities that are being offered like Plant Midwest.
  5. Make prayer and biblical preaching a priority in your launch. A man that is given to much prayer and exposition of the Word can hardly stray to the left or right when paving a path for his church. Your church will also grow and become mature as the focus becomes on the community and the gospel instead of preferences and internal priorities.
  6. Have fun.  Remember that God has called you to do this. Don’t let the woman who cussed you out for the loud music or the guy who leaves the church in a huff keep you from enjoying this great season in your life. There will be hard days, but remember that God is with you. Enjoy it with your family and don’t let the minors distract you from the joys of being God’s ambassador in your mission field.
  7. Don’t get fat. If you are doing a church revitalization, you will probably receive many desserts from sweet old ladies. Have a bite and give the rest away. Buy a bike. You will need the energy! (This is somewhat of a joke, yet still a word to the wise).

What resources have been most helpful to you and your Church as you seek to be Replanted/Revitalized?

Plant Midwest has been a great encouragement to me. I love how many gospel-centered, counter-cultural brothers who are passionate in their love for God that we have in the city of St. Louis. I also agree with John Maxwell that leaders are learners. There are so many books that have helped me in my growth as a pastor and church planter. I try and read at least one book that helps me grow every few weeks. My favorite blogs that I follow are www.desiringod.org<span “font-family:=”” arial”=””> and www.thegospelcoalition.org. 

Where do you see the movement of Legacy Church Planting/Church Revitalization going?

I see the movement of Legacy Church Planting/ Church Revitalization exploding in the next decade. With the failure of so many churches in cities around our country, there is an alarming void of a gospel presence in so many communities. There is a new generation of young men and women who are getting passionate about the power of God’s inerrant Word and are cultivating a heart for gospel change in this country. I see it becoming a real counter-cultural movement that brings real answers and healing to so many lost and hurting communities. I am seeing more of an effort for this new church to unite for the sake of the gospel and forsake the pretentious ideology of competitive church.

Is God calling you to Legacy Church Planting? Join the movement

Published April 2, 2015

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The Replant team of the North American Mission Board works to reverse the death and decline rate of Churches. For more information and resources on Replanting go to www.namb.net/replant and follow @churchreplanter.