ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP) — What about a dying church says that our God is great and His Gospel is powerful? This question came to Mark Clifton, national director of replanting at the North American Mission Board, as he stood in front of a declining church in Kansas City.
After planting churches across Canada for 25 years, Clifton had moved back to his hometown of Kansas City, Mo., with the intention to continue planting, before God challenged his thinking about declining churches.
“I left Canada, which had 150 Baptist churches across six time zones and moved to Kansas City, which had 132 Southern Baptist churches in just two counties,” said Clifton at the opening session of the first National Replant Lab hosted Aug. 29-30 by NAMB. “I looked at these churches and realized a lot of them were struggling. What I had done in the past as a church planter, was to see a declining church, and then go across the street to plant something brand new. I felt dying churches were like a black hole, and there was nothing you could do.
“You must realize that when that church was built, those planters raised a banner for Christ in that community,” Clifton said, “and striking that banner is a serious issue.”
NAMB Research has determined that in recent years, the Southern Baptist Convention has lost around 900 churches every year. Seventy-seven percent of the cities those churches were in had more than 100,000 residents and 90 percent of those churches were in growing communities — striking down the presumption that declining churches are only in rural or declining areas. Clifton noted that although NAMB’s desire is to see 1,200 churches planted a year, “if we are losing 900, we are only netting 300.”
“That doesn’t even begin to keep up with the population growth. We have got to reduce the number of dying churches.”
National Replant Lab is an event hosted by NAMB’s replant team to help pastors discover their calling to replant, discern when a church is a candidate for a replant and learn how to partner with a replant. Their heartbeat as a team is to discover how God, for His glory, can bring new life to declining churches.
Henry Blackaby could rightly be called the patriarch of the current church replant movement. Blackaby accepted his first replant call in 1970, moving his family to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in an act of obedience that would give rise to the groundbreaking “Experiencing God,” 38 church plants, a Bible college and more. Blackaby, and his son, Richard, spoke during the Monday evening session of the Replant Lab.
“The key is obedience,” Henry Blackaby said. “When the Lord speaks, don’t discuss it with Him. Do it. Too many pastors are practicing religious activity but do not have a vibrant relationship with the Lord.”
Richard Blackaby told the gathering that he and his father’s recent book, “Flickering Lamps: Christ and His Church,” is aimed at helping declining churches reclaim their significance as the bride of Christ.
“Could the risen Christ be enough for a church?” asked the younger Blackaby. “It would be better for a church to die than to represent Him poorly. What does a church need to gain the proper perspective? A church needs the presence of the risen Christ.” Blackaby said God knows the condition of the local church and that He is asking many of them to stop something. “Stop making excuses,” Blackaby said. “Stop talking about yourself. Tell people about Me. Help your people meet Me.”
Other sessions at the event covered topics like emotional and spiritual health, theology and leadership, characteristics of a replanter, pathways for replanting and ecclesiology that values replanting.
In the closing session Bob Bickford, a NAMB church planting catalyst on the replant team, wrapped up the event with a session called, “counting the cost.”
“This isn’t short-term. It’s not a three-month, six-month or year-long ordeal,” Bickford said. “You should plan on staying at least five years. This will not come without pain and suffering, but God redeems the pain and your suffering yields sweet fruit. There’s a cost and you have to be ready. So before you go, count the cost.”
The 170-plus attendees boasted in ethnical, geographical and generational diversity, ranging from 70-year-old deacons with no current pastor to state convention leadership, church planting catalysts, associational directors of missions, pastors and church staff.
“Words cannot express how thankful I am for the experience I had at the Replant Lab,” said Dusty Raines, pastor of Welcome Baptist Church in Greenville, S.C. “It was top-notch. I would love to see this turn into an annual event where replanters can gather for worship, encouragement, learning, networking and sharing their hurts and victories.”
“Am I coming back?” wrote Gabriel C. Stoval, Georgia state missionary for church planting and church revitalization, on his blog after the event. “Most definitely, and bringing friends! Thanks so much, NAMB, for providing so many pastors a departure from the norm of church growth and church health conferences and conversations.”
“In areas where there is a spiritual desert and people are dying for living water,” Clifton noted, “the adversary has come and filled in these wells and stopped them up. The work of a replanter is to dig out these wells, because I believe the water is still there.”
Are you interested becoming a replanter or learning more about how your church can become a replant? Learn more at namb.net/church-replanting/interest-form.
Read more from replanters across North America on the Church Replanters blog churchreplanters.com.
Check out #ReplantLab on Twitter to see what others had to say about the event.