My wife and I just returned from celebrating our wedding anniversary. In our constant quest for adventure, we headed north to experience some things we’ve not yet done here in New England, as well as some things that have become regular routines in our life together.
Among our memory-making moments, we ate in a treehouse, visited the location where the movie “On Golden Pond” was filmed, and went kayaking. This last item is a personal favorite, as it gets us outside, enjoying God’s world, and keeps us healthy.
Replants must recognize the value of “getting outdoors,” as well. If churches fail to move outside the walls of their meeting place and exercise their faith, it will leave them weak, unhealthy and in danger of disease. Churches must get outside and into their mission field.
Recently, I recalled that church plants baptize on average three times more new believers than older, established churches. Part of the reason for this is found in the foundational factors that guide the new churches, like vision, focused alignment, emphasizing relationships and the desperate desire to make a difference.
In addition, I want to mention five external elements that replants or revitalizing churches can learn and apply from new churches to help them be healthier and stronger for the future.
1. Passion for the unchurched
Church plants “live and die” for the lost and unchurched people around them. For most planters, this is a large part of the “calling” that led them into church planting. This burden upon their hearts leads them to spend more time with the lost that surround them, consider them when strategic decisions are made, prioritize them in their prayers and remove certain barriers to their participation with believers in the new church. This driving concern undergirds everything they do!
2. Incarnational ministry
New churches have a “go and make” approach to ministry, rather than a “come and hear.” Granted, this is a decision of necessity for most, since they don’t have a building that can serve as the hub of activity. With limited ongoing access to such a site, most church plants have to focus their activity on getting out in the community “wherever the people are.” They take the gospel to the people. This keeps the focus on people, rather than facilities (which can later become both an asset and a liability).
3. Try new things
Church plants are constantly trying creative, innovative ways to connect with people and their community. Since they have no “past” to inform their methodology, they don’t ask, “How have we done that before?” but rather, “What do we need to do to get their attention and resonate with their hearts?” In addition, they are not afraid to risk, take a chance or try something new, if it means they might reach others with the life-changing eternal message of the gospel. They know that if they simply keep doing what they’ve been doing, they keeping getting what they’ve been getting … and many will remain unreached.
4. Not money-driven
For church plants, money is not the determining factor in whether they can minister to someone else. “Opportunity” becomes the significant factor. They find a need and fill it. The question they ask is not, “Can we?” but “How can we?” Faith drives their decisions and the belief in a huge God who wants to accomplish through them more than they could ever ask or imagine. Size in number or bank account will never determine their significance for God.
As newcomers to the “world of church,” they are able to see the forest, not just the trees. Church plants realize there are many other congregations around them, often doing a wonderful job at reaching people effectively with the gospel. Yet they recognize that no church can reach everyone. So they do their part to reach those God has sent them to reach and, at the same time, refer others to churches with different styles and emphases. In addition, they start churches, too, extending the kingdom—and thus Christ’s influence—beyond their own.
Not all church plants, replants or established churches fit neatly into the descriptions mentioned above. Some replants and revitalizing churches have successfully navigated these perilous waters, and some church plants have failed to live up to this potential. Even so, we all can be healthier! The question is, “What can we learn from them, and apply to our own setting to help us live out our calling for God?” Or perhaps, “What have we forgotten that we need to reclaim in our love and service for God?”
These are the lessons here for us. The challenge is to listen, first and foremost, to the voice of God: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”
Published September 9, 2020