One of the “Essential Characteristics of Effective Replanters” that the Replant Team has identified is respect for a church’s legacy. At times this can feel like walking a tightrope between not wanting to idolize the past and moving a church toward the future God has for her, but it’s an important part of the replanting process.
Moving beyond “the good ol’ days”
If you’ve been a part of a dying or declining church for very long, you’ve probably heard something like, “Oh, I remember when this place was full” or “We just need to have a revival like we did back in the 50’s.” As people, we can gloss over bad experiences and focus exclusively on good experiences. This is especially true in churches. The reality is that, even back in “the good ol’ days,” there were probably still a host of problems. But sometimes we put those things out of our mind to create more idyllic memories about days long past.
Respecting a church’s legacy does not mean allowing the past to be an idol. It doesn’t necessarily mean returning to events and activities that a church once filled her calendar with as a sign of health and growth. It does mean recognizing that God Almighty was active in His church and in that community long before you arrived. There are things to celebrate in every church’s past.
Putting the past in perspective
One of the easiest and most effective ways to learn about the history and legacy of the church is to simply ask questions. You can pull Annual Church Profile data from the last 20 or 50 years, then just ask questions and listen to the stories. Seasons of dramatic attendance or giving increases or decreases can be particularly helpful. No church is without her struggles and successes, and these have led each body of believers to where they are today.
Leaving a lasting legacy
At the end of the day, every one of us is an interim pastor. There will come a day when you will no longer serve your current church. One of the key components of replanting is moving a church toward a place of health so that the legacy of gospel ministry that has been present for 20, 30, 75, 100 or even 150+ years will continue—long after you’re gone. You won’t be able to fix every problem, regardless of how long you stay; churches still are filled with imperfect men and women—and led by imperfect pastors—after all.
So, pastor, as you work to replant the church God has called you to in this season of life, respect your church’s legacy. Treat the past with dignity. Speak about previous pastors with respect. And share a vision of what faithful ministry looks like for the next 100 years with your folks. God’s not done with your church! We believe He loves rescuing dying and declining churches in order to proclaim His greatness!
For more encouragement about how God is still at work in your church, check out God’s Not Done with Your Church by Mark Hallock, available from Acoma Press.
Published April 22, 2021