Why Church Revival Is Better
than Church Replanting

shutterstock_130314704Church replanting is once again on denominational minds. I follow several blogs presenting the concept as if it is the greatest news since the ladies at the tomb shouted “He is risen.”

In fact, some subscribers to this ministry plan liken Church Replanting to the Resurrection—and that’s where the whole concept gets derailed.


Let’s put that analogy to bed once and for all. Church replanting is not akin to the Resurrection.


Christ died, once and for all people. He rose, once and for all people. There is no need for any of us to replicate this act of God—even if we could!


True believers don’t know the word “hopeless.”


Restarting ministry with a human judgement that an existing faith community is detrimental to the Church is not playing Christianity’s strongest suit—that God values each one. Remember the imagery God gave us through Jesus—the pauper woman who puts pennies in the offering and the lost sheep, to name two. Then there’s that little “toxic” guy, who climbed a tree.


The theories and practices of Church Replanters, born of trying economic factors, have been tried and tested for the last 20 years at least. The methodology was a cornerstone of the Ministry Transformation movement. The theories already have a track record—a dismal one in some cases. It is too soon to tell if any successes are sustainable. A lot of the transformational efforts end up in court!


The Problem Is Focus

Church Replanters go wrong from the start because of focus.


They are focused on church, not people. They are replanting structure. The successes they seek are feathers in the denominational cap. Pastors will have jobs. Church Replanters will be in demand. Blogs stats will spike. Books will be written and sold. Speaking engagements will be booked.


Early and measurable success is important to church replanters. They want to sweep in, wave a magic wand, and move on. They are not in it for the long-term. Their expertise is in the replanting—not in the followup or in the long-term maintenance. Failure can be attributed to leaders that follow—maybe the clergy, surely the laity.


Entire communities are asked to buy in—lock, stock and barrel—with no guarantee that the concessions they make will have success. Church Replanters admit that they often fail. The people in the community will be left to pick up the pieces regardless of the success or failure of the Church Replanter.  They will lose their investment in property and their accumulated offerings.


Failure is OK. Necessary even. We learn from mistakes.


When Church Replanters fail it is permanent. There is no Plan B.


Church Replanters have created rules that ensure that they stand to benefit from either success or failure. Most are well aware that Replanting is far from guaranteed. In the Replanting effort, the spoils of failure are pre-allocated to the sponsoring body of the Replanter. Motives are therefore suspect, especially when denominations are struggling.


The Premise of Church Replanters

The basic premise of Church Replanters is that they must start fresh. Old members must leave. Property deeds and financial assets must be relinquished to them. They need a clean slate, they say. What they want is total control—without dealing with the intricacies of ministry. No past. No heritage.


There is no way to do this nicely.


First, the rules of many denominations forbid it. Most Protestant denominations operate with congregational polity. Congregations have rights to property, financial oversight, and even a big say in mission strategy. Pastors are called as servant leaders.


Church Replanters may have to sidestep the rules. Messy! So eager to be rid of the distractions of the past, they’ve created new distractions!


Denominations end up in court with their congregations — an unfair playing field for laity. The denomination will claim separation of church and state. Laity within the same denomination have no such rights and are at a severe disadvantage. The personal cost will be high.


Denominations prime the pump with carefully chosen Bible verses.


The favorite Bible reference is  Mark 2:22

And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins.”

This is a misuse of scripture. Among Christians, it is the same wine. Church Replanters have no NEW message.


God loves because he first loved us. Christ died so that we might be closer to God. That’s the message. It applies to old and new members alike.


God does not alienate, exclude, or reject any believer.


Scripture tells us this in the first sixteen verses of Matthew 20. In this parable, the owner of the vineyard pays the new laborers the same wages as the old. The old and new laborers are of equal importance. The temptation when reading this parable is to focus on the benefits to new laborers, but it can also be comforting to the veterans.


Let’s look at another verse from Mark.

“If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42

Make no mistake! Church Replanters who insist that existing members leave and stay away cause believers to stumble.


Church Replanters have given themselves permission to not care for the existing sheep. They are focused on implementing their view of success. They aren’t there long enough to see problems develop. They chalk up a success and move on to the next replanting.


What happens to the members who have been excluded? The Church can easily ignore them. Laity never had an effective voice in the Church. Now they have none. There will be no follow up. Leaders have already made it clear they don’t care.


The focus is on the new members, attracted as much to the new pastor as to the message. How long will these relationships last? The example of long-time members who are likely to have experienced many transitions could be valuable! But church replanters have silenced them. Time will tell.


Church Replanters Need to Care

Yes, it is work. Yes, it is time-consuming. Yes, it is vital. And biblical!


Church Replanters imagine the unwanted members will just fade away. Wrong!


The evicted members still live in the community where the Church Replanter hopes to build a new following.  Old church members are sure to encounter new church members. Will they share the fact they were excluded? Will they share their hurt? What do you think?

  • The excluded people include families. The reach of families is difficult to measure.
  • Excluding members causes pain. Pain divides families.
  • Fingers are pointed. The denomination started the finger-pointing. But that’s only the start. Husbands and wives squabble over what they might have done differently. Children are lost. They are locked out too.
  • Hurting people look for answers. They feel bad. Their self-confidence is in the pits. They are sitting ducks for the charlatans of ministry.


The denomination they may have supported all their lives doesn’t care. They are focused on replicating the church of the past for as long as they can.


Writing from Experience with Church Replanting

As I mentioned, Church Replanting depends on laity having little voice.


Our congregation experienced Church Replanting implemented by its boldest proponents.


We have a voice. Here is our experience.


Our congregations was aging in the late 1990s when our denomination put us on death row. “You’ll die a natural death in ten years,” our bishop predicted and made no pastors available. (A decade if neglect is part of the strategy.)

We got by the same way many small churches get by—lay efforts and supply pastors.

We were succeeding — turning things around! It was now 2006. Our aging members from the 1990s were mostly gone, but we now had young members and many children. Six times the number of members when our denomination had given up on us!

We were self-sufficient with dreams, a plan, and a healthy endowment when our regional body suggested Replanting. We questioned the motives. Our endowment and property seemed to be the key attraction. The regional body, stuck in the past, still thought of our congregation as aging.

During the very little discussion that was allowed, our newly elected bishop presented her crowning achievement. In her first months as bishop, she replanted a church in a neighborhood outside of our city. She told us how well it went. The few remaining elderly members turned the property over to the regional body. There was a closing service. Within a couple of months the regional body reopened the church under a new name and under their control. The neighborhood was canvassed and about 170 members signed on.

This success was fresh and exciting for her. She wanted to replicate the process in at least six other congregations.

We were the first on her list.

Our situation was not the same. We were already on a significant growth track. We rejected the regional body’s plan.

“Thank you, but no” was not an acceptable answer. Our land and endowment funds were taken from us anyway. The process was hurtful and ugly and included six years of law suits. Pride and power became dominating factors.  Replanting was quickly forgotten.

We were evicted from our property. That was supposed to be the end of us. But we started visiting other churches. We visited 80 churches over three years before we visited the church that had been held up as the model we were to follow. We did not know what to expect of this now four-year-old congregation.

We entered an empty sanctuary. There were three musicians practicing, but not another soul in sight. We were on time according to the sign on the narthex wall. We waited 20 minutes and left. I checked the parish reports and learned that the 177 charter members had dwindled. The average Sunday morning attendance was now 30.  The original replanter had moved on to work in the regional offices. The grand success did not survive the transition to a new husband and wife team ministry.


Is this typical? I don’t know. The Church Replanters I follow online repeat the same caveat—“our efforts may fail.”


Thinking Long-term Survival

shutterstock_97902329It will take a couple more decades to measure the track record to see if replanting is sustainable through ministry transitions. I suspect that the modeling of the faithful they evicted, the people who have experienced ministry change, good times and bad, is more valuable than Replanters give credit.


A lot depends on the definition of success.


Here is something to remember. Laity can be planters, too!


Teach by example.