This guest post by Dr. Kelton Hinton, Associational Missionary of the Johnston Baptist Association of North Carolina, is a review of a book on church revitalization. The principles shared here are worthy of passing on. -Gary Westra, TAP Inc.
Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches (2016)
By Kelton F. Hinton
This is a brief overview of the book, Reclaiming Glory: Revitalizing Dying Churches (Nashville: B & H, 2016) by Mark Clifton. I have found the read to be interesting, useful and quick (less than 150 pages). I think most of our JBA pastors will gain helpful insights into managing their current ministry settings and positively challenged by the ideas presented in this book.
Mark Clifton uses the term “replanting pastors” to describe the role he and others are taking as they work with plateaued and declining churches, especially in metropolitan areas in the “inner ring,” the area between the revitalized inner city (where the “cool, hipster” new churches are springing up), and the suburbs where all the wealthy families have moved. In spite of his urban context, he speaks about “six imperatives” that he feels MUST be a part of any church turnaround and a part of the strategy of any would-be “replanting pastor.” He says all six must be worked on simultaneously, not necessarily sequentially.
Pray without ceasing.
Since “replanting” a church is a spiritual process, expect spiritual opposition and conflict. The Enemy wants the church to die and will actively fight you to ensure its demise. So, putting into place an effective prayer strategy is a critical first step in the process.
Love the church’s remaining members.
When you were called to pastor the church, it included not just the new people you would attract to your ministry, but also those who were there long before you arrived. Even when they don’t “fall in love” with all of your new ideas, love them anyway! Learn about their interests, remember their birthdays and anniversaries, visit and care for the widows, and especially listen carefully to their stories of when the church was thriving. You MUST love a “multigenerational” church if you want to be a replanting pastor!
Do not blame the older members for the church’s struggles. Believe it or not, they are not the reason the church is not thriving. The truth is someone, a former pastor or many former pastors, failed these people. They are largely the kind of church members they are because of the pastors who have led them thus far. They may be contrary. The may criticize and condemn. They may gossip and plot against you. But they do that because previous pastors and leaders failed to model church leadership for them. They were never disciplined for such behavior. Also, don’t expect the remaining members to be the change agents and to lead the church to where it’s going to be in the future. Let them know how much they mean to you and how much they mean to God.
Some “practical” suggestions: remind them of the Gospel over and over. Help them rediscover Jesus and the cross. Listen carefully to their testimonies. Help them to see what all God has done for them. Don’t try to motivate them by guilt -- it only leads to unhappy legalists. Instead of pain as a motivator, Clifton says “The real catalyst for lasting and transforming change is leading them to embrace a greater joy and more precious treasure than nostalgia and control.” Sing the old hymns and preach the hymns to them by telling them the stories behind the writers and composers. Preach exegetical sermons by using a “through the book” approach, rather than “Bible Bingo” of hit or miss topics from week to week. Also, pick a key leader who is an influencer in the congregation and get to know him. Listen to his life story. Invest in him. Disciple him even though he may be much older than you.
Exegete the community.
Approach this ministry opportunity as if you were a church planter. Get to know the neighborhood. Study the demographics. If you can’t reach the neighborhood around the church, you can’t replant the church. Assess, and address, the spiritual and physical needs of your neighbors. Attend community meetings. Volunteer to serve in the community and at the local schools. Coach a youth sports team. Shop and patronize the businesses in the local area. Get to know the names of all the local owners and workers in these places of business. Become an expert on your community. Serve the community and lead your church to serve them as well. You redefine the church for your community by how you serve it. You don’t serve them to get people into your church, but rather to get the people of your church into the lives of the people in the community on a consistent basis.
Simplify your strategy.
Oftentimes a church in decline still tries to maintain a full calendar of activities from when it was much larger. You will need to help them redefine their priorities and then line up their activities accordingly. Younger families need margin in their lives and for that to happen you must free up their nights and weekends for only priority activities. At Wornall Road, Clifton asked his people to participate in three ways: weekly, gospel-centered worship; weekly community groups; and a lifestyle built around serving. (Take a look at Thom Rainer’s book Simple Church as an excellent guide in this area.) Also, see how you can simplify your governance system so that you can become more flexible to respond to opportunities as they come.
Focus on reaching young men.
You have many older congregants, but where are the “young people”? The older leaders may have a hard time allowing younger folk to lead. Here is a sobering thought: “If you don’t let young leaders lead, they will leave your church.” Clifton states he has never seen a healthy church that is without a solid core of young men. In fact, he says, “If you can’t reach and disciple one young man, you can’t replant.” Focus like a laser on the young men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. In the history of Christianity, it has been the young men who have led out in kingdom advance, not the “over 50” crowd. So, how to do this? Get involved in areas where young men are likely to be found—hang out at the coffee shops, volunteer to coach youth sports, go to the basketball courts, and generally, LOOK FOR where the young men gather in your area and see how you can be a part of those gatherings. Once relationships are established you can then invite the young men to participate in your church’s community outreach events and begin to integrate the two groups, the young men and your older congregants.
Make disciples who make disciples.
This part is essential. The replanting church needs to lead new people to Christ, help them grow in their faith, and to eventually reproduce themselves. Discipleship isn’t something you learn in a class or at a conference. Discipleship happens as you become who you hang out with. If you want your church to become a congregation that makes disciples who make disciples, you have to get your people into discipling relationships with one another. You must model discipling others and being a disciple as well. You must create environments where relationships happen that form the basis for discipleship. This then becomes your new “scorecard” for your church. It is not when you reach a certain number in attendance or whether the church can pay a full-time pastor or whether people in the neighborhood think of you as the “cool” church. You have succeeded if you are making disciples who make disciples who transform your community.
[Mark Clifton currently works with North American Mission Board in the area of church revitalization. He has been a church planter most of his ministry career but has more recently turned to church revitalization as he has moved back to his hometown of Kansas City, MO. This book is written as a testament to what God did through him at Wornall Road Baptist Church in KC but it is also a helpful guide to general “turnaround” strategies that can be used anywhere.]