By Bob Bickford
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked when speaking with pastors, denominational and local church leaders is regarding the difference between Church Revitalization and Church Replanting. Often, the question is preceded by a statement that goes something like this; “Aren’t Church revitalization and replanting really the same thing?”
To answer simply, no they are not the same. While both may be options for a struggling church, they are fundamentally different-even though they both seek to bring a struggling or dying church back to life. Kenneth Priest, form the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, chairs the State Convention Revitalizers gatherings at which these leaders made the following distinctions:
Revitalization: The supernatural work of God that restores health and vitality in a plateaued or declining church, evidenced by submission to God’s Word, right relationships among members, and a renewed commitment to Great Commission ministry.
Replanting: The process in which members of a church facing imminent closure discern God’s leadership to dissolve their current ministry and work with other churches or denominational bodies to begin a new church for a new season of ministry in their community.
Both are needed, yet they are very different, each has differing rates of success and failure and they require called, skilled and determined leaders.
The Replant team at the North American Mission Board offers this equation which may help bring additional clarification:
Revitalization = existing church + existing leaders + existing structure + history + renewed/new effort over a protracted period of time.
Replant = new qualified/skilled leader(s) + existing people + outside partners + new structures/approaches + new people + history over a period of time.
In a Church Revitalization you are seeking to lead a church toward spiritual vitality over a long period of time, making small, strategic changes while being led by the Spirit and the pace at which the congregation is able to move. Revitalization is a long game, you have to be patient, you may move forward, take a step back, pray, and pause or delay when it is evident that the congregation requires more time to move forward.
Church revitalization is about repentance and returning Jesus to his rightful place as the leader of the church.
In Church Replanting make note of this key word, new. New leader(s), new structures, new ways of operating and making decisions. All of the new occurs within the church which needs to be brought back to life.
Replanting in many ways, is a picture of the Gospel. A church realizes that it cannot go on like it has, it then makes the decision to die to itself and the old ways and to be renewed by something outside itself. Jesus. As the transformation begins and grows the old grows dimmer and dimmer and the new takes root.
Let’s embrace Church Replanting and Church Revitalization, understand that both are needed to bring struggling churches back to life by the power of Jesus under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, for the Glory of God.
Bob Bickford is a Replant pastor, the associate director of Replant for the North American Mission Board, and serves as the chair of the Church Revitalization Team of the St. Louis Metro Baptist Association. Follow Bob on twitter @bobick or @churchreplanter