Moving a dying church forward

By Bob Bickford

Each week our Replant team members speak with leaders from churches who find themselves at the point of crisis and nearing closure. These churches share common challenges and struggles. 

  • Those inside the church no longer look like surrounding community.
  • The aged congregation has been faithful but their numbers are diminishing as they pass away.
  • Historical conflict has caused leaders to leave, camps to form and the community to be overlooked.
  • Their decision-making processes allow everyone the opportunity to say “No” and none to say “Yes.”
  • Money in the bank provides a false sense of security that things can go on as they are a little longer.
  • Evangelistic zeal has faded and baptisms are few.
  • The majority of the church members are now “commuters” driving distances of greater than 5 miles or 15 minutes to the community in which the church is located.
  • Personal preferences (worship style, dress, programming, time of service, name, etc.) have become more important than love for Jesus and his mission.

Often, there is a faithful remnant who desire to see their Church come alive again, to see people trusting Jesus as Savior, to hear the sounds of children in the service and to be effectively reaching out to their community.

How can a dying church live again? While there is not “one-size” fits all approach that guarantees success, these things must happen for a church to have the opportunity to see God work in their church again.

  • Repentance of historic sin: it may be sin against previous Pastors, conflict among members, covering up that which should have been exposed. 
  • Returning to Jesus as their first love: congregations can come to love many things more than they love Jesus. History, reputation, facilities, ministry style, can all become more important than Jesus.
  • Rebuke of the obstinate and sinful members: Old Joe may have always acted that way, but Joe’s behavior is not just a personality quirks sin in need of rebuking. 
  • Reconnecting with the Community: instead re-running the old paradigm of attempting to get the community to come to church_!!’the church must move out side of the building and connect with the community in meaningful ways.
  • Recommitment to the Mission: the church must adopt a “whatever it takes” mentality to fulfill the mission of Christ in a way that is consistent with the clear and uncompromised communication of the Gospel. 

A church in crisis, a church facing closure can live again, but it can’t keep living the way it has and expect things to change. The first work of revitalization is not in structure or name, programs or worship style_!!’the first and most important work in revitalization is in the hearts of God’s people.

Does your church need help? The Replant team at NAMB has a plan and we can help your church move forward.

Published May 5, 2016

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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