revitalizing a local church

JD Greear is posting a series on The Resurgence blog about revitalizing a local church.

the introduction:

I’ve been asked to speak on church revitalization at the Advance Conference this year. Six years ago when I was called as a pastor, Homestead Heights was a declining 41-year-old Baptist church. Attendance was down to about 350 people, and more were leaving. Today, the Summit Church consists of four campuses spread across Raleigh-Durham. To God’s glory, this past Easter we had 4400 people in service and saw 160 profess faith in Christ.

he then makes the point that the revitalization must be centered around the Gospel and gives two bad reasons for wanting to revitalize. Go read it; good stuff. I am looking forward to more in the series.


importance of a building

Resurgence is continuing its series on Pitfalls in church planting. the latest installment reminds folks to not underestimate the importance of a permanent building.

Most churches double in size the weekend they move from being mobile to a more permanent building. People are also less prone to give faithfully to a church that’s mobile. They don’t know if it will be there in two months, so why sacrifice? But with a permanent location, you have much more credibility with attendees and the city you are trying to reach.

when the author above says “more permanent” he means a rented storefront or office space where the church remains “set up” between services. he does not mean a separate and owned church building.

Do you agree with the idea that permanence enhances attendance and giving? why or why not?

Having attended quite a few mobile churches in the last year, I can attest to “lack of credibility” with attendees. One of the churches that we attended actually folded up and went away. Another seems like it will soon because it is on track to receive much less than half the budget this year.

pitfalls in planting

over at the Resurgence Blog (where Mark Driscoll has just posted about complementarianism) Barry Keldie is doing a series about pitfalls to be careful of when planting a church. The first two of the series have been posted.

the first one is finances.

When you or your elders have developed and written out a plan (budget, priority spending, etc.), then you should hand it off to someone else to manage. As a lead pastor/church planter you should not give yourself the power to write checks, make changes to the budget, or affect financial records in any way. This is not because church planters are thieves and have a history of spending offerings on Cheetos and new cars, but because it will go a long way in protecting your integrity. Setting up layers of accountability from day one is essential. You have enough to worry about without dealing with accusations that come from poor planning and weak financial structures.

the second one is part 1 on leadership:

Every planter is frantically looking for teammates and help as he plants the church, but don’t install elders too quickly. This usually leads to hiring people who are not qualified or ready to lead, or giving authority to people who are not completely in sync with your mission and values. I know a church planter in North Carolina who hastily installed a group of elders who proceeded to fire him in their first elders’ meeting. Your first elders should be picked with almost as much care as your wife (unless you got married in Vegas)!

emphasis in original

go read the rest at the two links above. I am ready to see part 3.

Dr. Mohler’s take

Bryan posted a link to this article in his comment to my recent church planting post. And I wanted to make sure everybody saw both Bryan’s comment and the article.

Al Mohler is discussing Fred Barnes’ article in the Wall Street Journal about being a part of a church plant. Dr. Mohler says:

The only strange aspect of this article is the sense that church planting is a new idea. Church planting is indeed a “burgeoning movement,” but it is not new. As a matter of fact, the church planting movement began in the first century — and was central to the New Testament pattern for the church. If this seems new to some, it is only because they are rediscovering a very old idea.

On the other hand, there is something newly energetic about the church planting movement. Younger pastors are increasingly attracted to the vision of starting a new congregation and seeing it established with solid conviction, deep passion, evangelistic commitment, and strategic focus. They see the need and are ready to take up the challenge.

They also understand the New Testament’s impulse toward reproduction. Christians are to reproduce themselves through witness and evangelism, and churches are to reproduce themselves through missions and church planting. Growth leads to growth.

Dr. Mohler goes on to discuss the need to recover existing churches as well and making sure this generation sees the importance of “leading existing congregations into deeper conviction, bolder vision, and greater faithfulness.”

more on church planting

Courtesy of Vitamin Z, here are two more takes on church planting.

First we have Fred Barnes’ account of being a part of a church plant from the beginning after 25 years in the “mother” church that birthed the new one. Very interesting indeed. anyone, no matter how famous or not, can be a part of a church plant. What was especially interesting to me is that the pastor of the plant was a theologically conservative Episcopalian who felt like the only way to flex his theological muscles was to start a church from scratch:

For a growing number of young preachers like Christ the King’s Mr. Glade, planting and then leading a new church is an ideal option. As orthodox Anglicans, they didn’t feel welcome in the Episcopal church. And they felt a strong calling to lead their own parish. Mr. Glade grew up as an Episcopalian in Jacksonville, Fla. After graduation from Florida State, he came to The Falls Church as an intern and spent four years as a youth leader before attending Trinity Seminary outside Pittsburgh. He returned to The Falls Church eager to lead a theologically conservative Anglican congregation. “In order to do that, you had to go out and do it yourself,” he told me.

BTW, the new church is doing well:

“Every new church has an awkward phase, figuring out who they are and getting to know each other,” Mr. Glade says. That phase is over. Christ the King has also become financially self-sufficient. It aims to be a “healthy church,” like its parent. “A healthy church reproduces itself,” Mr. Glade says. Christ the King may soon do just that. Its assistant rector wants to plant his own church.

Do you see the mindset? “a healthy church reproduces itself.” In other words, it plants churches. That is why planting churches happens. Because people in a church (especially a church plant) catch the vision of the Great Commission and decide that it applies to them individually and not just to “the church” as a whole.

The second article is not so cheery. In this one, Dan Edelen professes not to understand the need for church planting.

What constitutes church planting in the United States baffles me. The four churches at that intersection were built at different times, so at some point some group of church planters said, “Despite the fact that there is already a gigantic church right across the street, we’re going to plant a better one.”
If I plant a church right across the street from another church because I believe that my brand is better, then I’m not sure that should be labeled church planting. It’s more like the competition between McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s. Same burger; slightly different flavor.
But here, it seems to me what some church planters do is more akin to fostering envy. Their new church is hotter. Their new church is cooler. Their new church meets a felt need not addressed by the church across the street. So people in that community shuffle from church to church. Or the new church plant sucks completely dry some older church that wasn’t quite as hip. And the church planter gets a pat on the back for doing a fine job moving people from Them to Us.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people who are genuine born-again Christians in this country continues to drop. Meanwhile, the number of people attending church on the weekends falls off a cliff. More new churches than ever, and yet worse results.

What really troubles me is that you don’t need the Holy Spirit at all to start what passes for the average church plant here in the U.S. You just need a clever marketing campaign. In fact, if one of the challenges on the TV show The Apprentice were to start a church that had a hundred regular attendees within six months , I suspect the contestants would have no problem doing so, even if not a single one of those contestants was born again.

How sad is that?
I’ve had church planters attempt to explain all this to me—the need to plant a church right next to an existing one, the need to plant it in a highly visible suburban area with high traffic—yet their responses always seem to be missing something.

I’m not writing this to break the backs of church planters. I understand their zeal. It’s just that I have these questions and no one seems to have a answer for them that makes any sense.

So, these are good questions. Why indeed? Why another church, when churches are all around us?

When I was in Arkansas, I noticed the ridiculous number of boxes with steeples on display. It was amazing. There would be one on each corner of a block and two in the middle, and that is just on one side of the street. I knew that God was calling me to do something, but it certainly wasn’t to start another box with a steeple. That market was saturated.

Since leaving our home church here in Austin last year, we have visited at least ten relatively new churches right here in Austin meeting in school cafeterias/cafetorium’s, one in the HideOut theater and one in a Holiday Inn ball room. We have heard of several others. I have often wondered just how many groups of about 100 people are gathering across this city every weekend full of whatever is driving Fred Barnes’ group in the Washington D.C. area. I would imagine that there are at least 5000 folks spread out around austin meeting in rented rooms every weekend. Probably more than twice that number if you include Austin Stone in the list.

Why? Why do it? Here is the answer that I pointed to recently. and here is my post with a synopsis of our story.

What other answers do you guys have for Mr. Edelen’s questions? Why plant churches? Is it just about having a cooler place than the guy across the street? are we just convinced that the world needs our particular variation on the burger flavor? is it just pride in ourselves and confidence that our way hasn’t been tried yet? what is it?

I hate to say it out loud, but is it the false god of “impact” that Phil Vischer describes in the post just below this one?

“God would never call us from greater impact to lesser impact! Impact is everything! How many kids did you invite to Sunday school? How many souls have you won? How big is your church? How many videos/record/books have you sold? How many people will be in heaven because of your efforts? Impact, man!”

He began questioning this belief system:

“The more I dove into Scripture, the more I realized I had been deluded. I had grown up drinking a dangerous cocktail – a mix of the gospel, the Protestant work ethic, and the American dream… The Savior I was following seemed, in hindsight, equal parts Jesus, Ben Franklin, and Henry Ford. My Eternal value was rooted in what I could accomplish.”

Why plant churches

Why should we plant more churches? aren’t there enough of them already? Don’t existing churches have room for at least a few more folks? why plant new ones when there are so many of every flavor already around?

Mike McDaniel answers the question here on JD Greear’s blog.

In his book Firefall, Dr. Alvin Reid points out that if you study Christian movements, one of the things you’ll notice is that those movements which emphasized the planting of new churches “were the ones that have made the most profound and enduring impact.” The fact is there have been hundreds of movements throughout history. But only a few have changed the face of a nation – the ones that planted churches.

John Wesley was a part of the Evangelical Revival in England. By the time of Wesley’s death, 825 new churches had been planted across America. As a result of the Second Great Awakening in America, 6,427 new Baptist churches were planted in a 30 year period. In the Book of Acts, Paul planted new churches in every city that he visited. And if it’s good enough for Paul, it’s good enough for us. It makes sense if you think about it – movements that plant churches create a continued Gospel presence in local communities.

But there’s another reason that lasting movements plant churches. Church planting keeps mission at the heart of the church. The normal path for any church over time is to become inwardly-focused, and lose focus on reaching people. Church planting keeps the church on mission.

emphasis in original.

Go read the rest at the link above.

Hat tip to Vitamin Z

church planting

As some of you know, Julie and I are in the very beginning stages of working with Bryan and Lindsey Payne to plant a Harvest Bible Chapel here in Austin, Texas. Our Facebook group is here if you want to read more about this new church plant. I have been tasked with doing the legal papers to take the new church from dream into its very beginning embryonic stage.

I began this journey back in January 2003 when God used some events at the church where we were to lead me to intensely examine what the Bible says about the local church. During that year, and thereafter, I came to the conclusion that in some important ways, the way we were “doing church” contained some extra-biblical and unbiblical elements.

I eventually decided that God was calling me to do something about what I had learned and start a church. I proceeded to break with our church and start something on my own, but I was given the opportunity instead to try out my ideas in a stand alone new ungraded Sunday school department. The Harbor was the result and it proved to be a valuable learning experience. I am so grateful to the beautiful people who decided to experiment with us in trying something new inside of a very established traditional church structure.

At the Harbor, we did some foolish things, we learned some valuable lessons and God blessed the effort. It was amazing. Most importantly, I learned why God and Paul consistently use the ‘body’ metaphor for a church. It takes all of the members using their particular gifts to make the whole unit function most effectively. we all have blind spots and weaknesses to go with our strong points. We all need to mesh together our strengths and weaknesses in order to be more effective together than any of us could be separately.

Events intervened and we went to Arkansas for a year. Since returning, Julie and I have felt out of sync in our church membership. just a bit out of phase with everything around us.

God has continued to impress upon me the need for me to be involved in starting a church, but not by myself. I learned in the Harbor experience and in research since then that I am not the personality type nor do I have the gift set or training to start a church on my own.

some of you may have noticed that a recurring theme on this blog is church planting:

see here
and here for instance.

Here is Mark Driscoll talking about the attributes needed for a church planter.

with God’s help and in His grace, Bryan will be the man that God can use in this endeavor of bringing Harvest Bible Chapel to Austin for God’s glory and for the furtherance of His Kingdom, and I will be able to help.