How an old church can re-plant, reinvent itslef

By Sheila Allen
NW Baptist Convention,

Just like everything seen in nature, churches have natural life cycles. The passion and sacrifice required to start a new church is well documented and stirs the desire of many who feel called to spread the gospel to an increasingly self-focused world.

As years and decades roll by, churches that once met great need in their communities can begin a descent into plateau, then spiral into decline. But as the natural world shows, a cutting of a dying plant can be rooted and poised for new life. Struggling churches, too, can use a remnant and poise a new congregation for the beginning of a new life cycle.

In order to facilitate these natural beginnings and endings, Pastor Ron Allen and a group of Northwest Baptist Convention church planting catalysts hosted a “Replant” conference at First Baptist Church of Florence, OR.

“This was an opportunity to bring our RePlanters together to celebrate what God is doing in their lives and in their churches and talk about best practices and systems,” said Allen. “We also wanted to give struggling churches hope for restoration and success in engaging their communities with the gospel once again. This provided a chance to expose our churches to methods and systems in the replant processes that can help revitalize their churches.”

Allen invited NWBC churches in western and southern Oregon to participate and encouraged other church planting catalysts on the west coast to do the same. He also used the conference as a recruitment opportunity for potential re-planting pastors and leaders, along with churches that are nearing the end of their life cycle. Over 125 participants joined the two day conference.

“We were able to discuss the steps to success in re-planting and effective processes,” Allen stated. “The emphasis this year was on engaging your community and we hope to focus on leadership and soul care next year. We saw immediate results with three churches set to enter the RePlant process.”

Allen sees long term benefits of the conferences for church leaders to see how methodologies used can help them revitalize before the reach a crisis point.

“We see that RePlant is just as much church health as it is church planting,” Allen said. “We asked NWBC executive director Randy Adams to speak because of his personal experience in community engagement and Robb Zinn, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church (Highland, CA) because of the success his church has also seen through community engagement. The North American Mission Board director of RePlant and the Rural Initiative was also here to speak.”

Each speaker encouraged churches to be proactive in engaging their communities with the gospel and were able to demonstrate the tremendous need seen all across America in every community to revitalize the church and replant what is dying.

“This conference targets those churches who’ve come to the point of questioning their future,” said Randy Adams. “Most have a building and some assets that replants need, but may not be able to pay the bills or a pastor’s salary or aren’t accomplishing the purpose of the church.”

Adams noted that one-third of NWBC churches in both rural and more urban settings average 30 people or less in attendance, and when it dips any lower, replanting a new church helps them have a stronger future.

“Sometimes neighborhoods have changed greatly and even the language spoken, while other communities are dying out,” Adams observed. “A replanter is a person with church planting skills matching up with a building and assets and possibly a remnant of the congregation. Typically those few must give up control of the building and leadership.”

Adams has seen the multiple benefits of such conferences in drawing together successful replanters, the sharing of ideas in accomplishing the task. Funding for such replants comes from a number of partners.

“We live in an environment that is a remnant,” Adams said. “Churches can accomplish great things when they build trust with God, each other and the community.”

“The Replant workshop was a great encouragement above all else,” said Randy Burrow, pastor of a replanted church in Dexter, OR. “I was able collaborate with those that had been through the fire and was encouraged by how the Lord had worked in their difficult situations. The workshop also offered practical, proven methods to help guide me through a successful replant. Dexter Baptist Church is in year two of our replant process and it was helpful to come away with the tools needed to continue to move forward.”

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