Why Revitalization?

This is a great question, especially since it is much easier to start a church than it is to revitalize one. Church plants tend to get a lot of momentum early and carry that through their first 3-5 years. In most revitalizations and replants it takes 5 years to truly see any sustained growth. If that is the case, then why not just plant churches and let dying churches die?

I think about the story of Josiah, king of Judah in 2 Chronicles 34. After he began his reign, he returned the kingdom to the ways of David. Several years later, workers found the book of the Law in the temple. Josiah’s reign can be seen as a return to faithfulness to God.

Where we are in New England, there are so many church buildings that have abandoned the Gospel and have abandoned faithfulness to the Scripture. Many of these churches have become nothing more than buildings that are a tribute to a past that was once so influenced by the Gospel. That still does not answer the question, why should we revitalize these old buildings?

1)      Location and facilities - Many of these old buildings are strategically placed in the towns and cities where they are located and can provide significant opportunities to reach the community. Our church has been able to utilize our space to do community outreach events and to allow 12-step recovery programs that could not find a home elsewhere. When I was a church planter, these were not possible because we were renting part time space. That is a common problem with church plants, finding space that is suitable to meet for worship.

2)      Accessibility – I have been both a church planter and am now replanting. It is much easier to gain the trust and access of people in the community when you have a reason to be there. In areas where Christianity does not have a significant influence on the culture, non-believers tend to not understand what a church plant is, nor see the reason to start one when there are already established churches in the community. As the pastor of an established church, I have a reason to be in the community, and do not have to explain my presence and hope that people are not overly skeptical of meeting in a school, rented space or living room.

3)      God’s Glory – I know this one seems simple, and the obvious seminarian answer, but it is the truth. Only God can bring life where there was once death. When a church that many in the community believe is dying, or in some cases already closed, is made alive again the only answer we can see is that God brought it back. We have begun to see those conversations happening in our community among people who have no connection to our church.

How can you help? Many of us in replant churches have the same struggles as church planters especially when it comes to resources such as finances and people, with the added burden of a building which usually needs significant maintenance and upkeep. Dying churches also tend to not draw Christians looking to join a team like is often the case with church plants. We all could use much of the same type of support that has gone into church planting, such as prayer, mission teams and regular financial support. It is important for revitalization / replant pastors see need to “play the long game” and have the needed support from others to enable them to do so.

How the heck did I get here?

I want to share a little bit about our journey to revitalization, because if I am honest, I never thought that I would be here. We moved to Boston, Revere specifically, to plant a church after a pretty successful plant in Washington State. The first two summers that we lived here, we had a summer intern from South Carolina named Will. We have really grown to be good friends in the last 4 years, and I am thankful to have had him here over those first summers. What really sticks out is how much God used him in my journey to revitalization.

We would often sit up and talk about theology, life, music and about anything else you could think of after Sarah and kids went to bed. I remember we were talking about our skill sets and our weaknesses one night. I told him that I struggle with being patient and slowing down, which is somewhat useful in a church plant, but would be a tough skill set in a pastorate in an established church, and especially in a church revitalization. I even went on to say that I would never be able to be a revitalization pastor because of that. Sometimes we say things that are really funny in retrospect, this was one of those times. Within a month, I became the pastor of an almost 400-year-old church full (if you call 8 people full) of people old enough to be my parents and or grandparents. God really does have a sense of humor.

In that time, God has really given me a love for the members of our church, and a desire to see people in our community come to Christ. We also have something that many church planters dream of, our own building. To be honest, it is a blessing and we do all that we can to be good stewards of what God has given us, but that’s a blog for another day.

If you’re a pastor, or someone looking to become a replant pastor, let me encourage you today. Your job is to proclaim the Gospel, and the glory of God. He will bring whatever numerical growth he sees fit. Be faithful and preach the Word, as Paul told Timothy, “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2 ESV).