Why? Why in the world would I ever want to do that? That was my first thought when I first heard about replanting and revitalizing churches. I was hearing stories of pastors going into dysfunctional, dying churches and my mind started racing about what it would be like to do that myself. My internal dialogue went something like this:
Replanting sounds hard.
I don’t get to plant something new the way I want it.
I have to deal with dysfunctional relationships right off the bat.
The pay is not very good.
Replanting sounds hard, depressing, and incredibly frustrating.
So why? Why in the world were these guys jumping into replanting, with that church, with those problems, and who knows what else? Why? Because there is astounding beauty to be witnessed where the gospel shines into the darkest places. Because, when God moves in these dying and dysfunctional churches, we get a front row seat to a marvelous reenactment of the gospel. Let me explain.
The Need for Replanting
All across the country churches are dying by the hundreds. The SBC alone hemorrhages close to 900 churches every year. There is a desperate need to help these churches on the brink of death, not just survive, but to be renewed. If God has determined to show his glory through the church, what does it say to the surrounding neighborhood about our God when churches close? When they dwindle, lose focus, disengage, stop evangelizing, and peter out. What kind of witness is that? A sign out in front of the building might say “God cares!” but if the church has stopped preaching the gospel, the church may actually only be caring for the building, and the empty congregation within does little to witness to the majesty of God. God may indeed care, but this church has drifted off mission and the surrounding neighborhood has noticed. But what would it look like for dwindling little First Baptist Church, planted in 1890 and faithful for decades, to become vibrant again? For the legacy of that church’s witness to be carried on into another millennium? Wouldn’t that be an amazing witness to the glory of God? So what kind of person would be able to step into this situation?
The Man who Replants
Let’s be honest, being a Replanter is difficult. You don't get to be the sexy new church in town with the cool name and awesome music. You probably don't get paid as much and you will rarely get thanked. Instead, work with a typically older congregation, with some difficult people, slow moving committees armed with bloated member’s rosters and proclaiming the gospel of “Roberts Rules of Order”, and potentially battle depression. Woot woot. To be able to replant you need to be called, just like a church planter. You need to be able to preach the word faithfully, love difficult people, lead with integrity, and stay with your flock. You need vision, stamina in the midst of suffering, to be able to work with a multi-generational congregation, to be resourceful, patient, able to respect the legacy of your replant, and have a high emotional IQ. Sound like you? Awesome. Guess what - you’re still not ready.
The Challenge of Replanting
Here’s the kicker. You’re not up to this. No really, you, as in you reading these words, are not up to this task. Maybe you’ve been reading this post and though, “hm, that sounds hard - like a challenge. I see the need for that,” or, “this sounds intense, I want to be on the cutting edge, I can do that. Sure it sounds hard but I got straight A’s in church, seminary, Awanas, Royal Rangers blah blah blah…” Let me say it again: You, yourself, cannot do this. If you think you can come in guns blazing into a dying church in need of help, change the name, change the band, take out the pews, preach the paint off the walls, and think the church will boom, you’re mistaken. It probably will just die with a cooler name than “FBC of ____.” Why? Because church isn’t about you. It’s all about Jesus.
The Point of Replanting
When I look back at my questions I’m struck by one glaring issue, every thought that went through my mind was about me. I’ll let you in on a little secret I learned: Pastor, you aren’t called because you’re awesome at being a Christian. Sorry to burst your bubble. Pastor, you are called because you understand you are a sinner saved by the blood of Jesus alone. If you think that you can take this on, with your wit, preaching and organizational prowess, people skills and robust bible knowledge you are in for a painful season. But for those who realize they are in way over their heads, you’re off to a good start. Replanting is about Jesus and his glory, not yours.
The Good News for Replanters
That’s the good news we’re supposed to be preaching, right? What else is going to revitalize a church? Not you or me, but the Gospel! You are as in need of the blood of Christ as the angry deacon who always votes against you, tries to have you fired, etc. You will not be able to love your congregation full of dysfunction. Its only when you see Him consecrate his life for you, a sinner in need of grace (John 17:19), that you can find the power through his Holy Spirit to do the work of replanting. Jesus has done everything for you, its his glory that matters, his people that you love, and his name that's at stake. You can be confident that he is with you and also know that you desperately need him.
The cross, the darkest moment of human history, was also the greatest act of love and redemption. So too does God delight in redeeming the darkness of a dying church with the light of the gospel. There is no question of who gets the glory when a church begins to thrive again, it is only God who can do it! But we get the privilege of a front row seat to redemption – seeing God utterly transform a church for His glory.
So young pastor or seminarian, as you consider your calling, consider Replanting a dying church.
If you’re interested in Replanting here’s what you can do:
Surround yourself with Godly men.
Love your family well and guard your time with them.
Check out the Replant team at NAMB.net/replant or our webinars at Vimeo.com/replant.
Lean into Jesus.
And welcome to the front lines.
Blake Deibel is the assistant for the Replant team at NAMB. He and his wife Valerie married in July 2014 and serve at Redeemer Fellowship in Kansas City. They live in KC to help cultivate communities of transformed disciples that exist for the Glory of God and the good of the city. He holds a BA in Jazz Saxophone Performance from the UMKC Conservatory and an M.Div from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.