ST. LOUIS (BP) — More than 175 Southern Baptists interested in the work of replanting struggling churches convened for the first-ever National Replant Gathering prior to the 2016 Southern Baptist Convention.
Sponsored by the North American Mission Board, the gathering was designed to connect those engaged in the replanting process with one another, as well as to encourage and train them.
“I ask you to join me in creating a brotherhood of men and women who care about the local church — in all of its dysfunctions,” Mark Clifton, senior director of NAMB’s replant team, told attendees. “Then we can change the narrative that a dysfunctional church is a bad place to be.”
Clifton, author of a new book on replanting, “Reclaiming Glory,” had expected only about 50 to attend the gathering and was pleasantly surprised when more than three times that number arrived.
The gathering began Saturday evening at Groves Church in Webster Grove, Mo., where participants had dinner, listened to a concert and heard a message from Richard Blackaby, coauthor of the book, “Flickering Lights.”
The following day, participants heard three veteran church replanters and revitalizers share lessons they have learned along the way.
Former Vermont pastor Jared Wilson, now director of content strategy for Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, suggested that the pastors examine where they seek their approval.
“Don’t seek your justification in the quality of your congregation,” Wilson said, noting that “a messy church” can lead to depression stemming from the thought that “we will never measure up.”
Russ Barksdale, pastor of The Church on Rush Creek in Arlington, Texas, shared various perspectives a replanting pastor needs when leading in the midst of change, such as the need to “gain the trust of the trusted.”
“The only way you are going to survive a revitalization is if you have godly people who will fight for you,” Barksdale said.
Brian Croft, senior pastor of Auburndale Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., urged attendees to persevere in their replanting efforts, drawing from lessons he has learned through his five years of ministry at the church.
“God grows a unique discernment and unique wisdom through the pastoral scars of your journey that you have walked,” Croft said. “None of [those scars], brothers, and sisters who are pastors’ wives, none of those are in vain.”
Scott Nichols of Crossroads Community Church in Carol Stream, Ill., shared his story of replanting a church of 27 people, focusing on helping prospective pastors determine whether a church can be replanted. He also encouraged replanting pastors to provide hope for their congregations who feel their best days are behind them.
“It’s likely if you’re finding a failing church, you’re finding a church heavily discouraged,” Nichols said. “There’s a lot of focus on what God used to do and the great stories of the past, the glory days. I want to tell you something. One of the things we have to do is convince the church that their best days are ahead of them.”
Anthony Schindler, pastor of Three Rivers Fellowship in LaCrosse, Wis., said he was glad he was able to attend the gathering and appreciated the opportunity to meet other people who serve as pastors in replant situations.
“It helps because I realize I’m not the only one going through the same struggles,” Schindler said.
Attendees also had the opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer session following the Pastors’ Conference on Sunday evening.
NAMB will host a National Replant Lab on Aug. 29-30 at NAMB’s offices in Alpharetta, Ga. Complimentary hotel accommodations are provided for the first 100 registrants. Lunch and dinner are provided on Aug. 29, and lunch is provided on Aug. 30. For more information on the lab and NAMB’s replanting process, visit namb.net/Replant.