Why Replant a Church rather than close its doors?
I love reading about a church's history, especially if that church has been in existence for a century or more. Those black and white photographs of an old plain church building surrounded by people who ministered to their communities so long ago - what a great spiritual heritage to have! What a gift and a tresure to continue the work of so many saints who have come before you in that church throughout the generations.
It spurs me on, and makes me think about photographs of the church I currently serve at one hundred years from now - will there still be a congregation here? Will the Gospel still be preached here? Will the baptismal still be in as much use then as it is today? I hope that every pastor would yell an emphatic yes, and pray constantly to those ends.
It is just as devastating, though, when you see churches with such a long legacy of Gospel preaching decline and shut their doors. Sadly, this is happening more often than not on the Jersey Shore. It breaks my heart to see. In some cases, it must be said - they should shut their doors if the Gospel is no longer being preached and there is no care for evangelism, and orthodox Christian doctrine is being rejected. But in many (if not most) cases, these churches can, as Mark Clifton so aptly said, "Reclaim their glory."
Below, I'd like to list some of the reasons why I hope to see (and prayerfully, lead) churches being replanted on the Jersey Shore.
Replanting is a picture of God's glory
To replant a church forces the parties involved to focus on the Gospel and the Gospel alone as the motivator for all the change that is needed. There are reasons why churches decline in attendance and see fewer and fewer baptisms over the years. There are reasons why churches cease to see young families visiting. But in replanting - the existing church is stating that the Gospel and the spread of the Kingdom is more important than any sort of traditions that have been alive for however long. Over the time of a replant, the obstacles that may have been in place for Gospel-focus ministry will surface and must be dealt with as they come. But the result, like the resurrection of Christ, is a renewed life giving and life receiving congregation ministering anew and afresh to a hurting world. This gives the world a glimpse of the glory of God.
Replanting preserves a legacy of ministry
Legacy is important, and legacy means something. It simply cannot be dismissed. The faith and ministerial work of those who have come before us - we are building on their backs. To see a church's legacy in a neighorhood for sometimes 100+ years come to an end is a devastating thing indeed. If there is a possibility to prevent such a closing - the legacy of Gospel ministry can continue on as it has for so long.
Replanting can bring fresh life and discipleship to existing saints who desperately desire it
I've sadly seen pastors take on a replanting situation, only to immediately experience a complete and very swift exodus of all the remaining members. When I say all, I mean 95%. Sure, some people leaving will be inevitable. But the replanter is tasked with a peculiar job - to minister to saints who are probably carrying deep wounds and some sadness due to the decline of their precious church. Some people have lived all of their life in these churches, from childhood to retirement. Jesus can bring new and fresh life and excitement to the hearts of these saints. And this is the job of the replanter - to minister to these saints in a humble and sacrificial way. Not to run them off or chase them off in order to implement all the new change he wants to bring. But rather to make people more necessary than some sort of new vision. After all, Christ died for people, not for a vision.
It allows for the next generation of those living on the Jersey Shore to be reached
Every preaching pastor needs to be aware that his time is going to be limited. One day, he will be of an age to where he is unfamiliar with the new lingo of the day, and unfamiliar with the difficulties and trials that the younger generation faces. This is why churches often reflect the age of the preaching pastor - he can speak their language. This is not to say that a church does not need pastors who are outside of their 30s and 40s - ot at all! We need churches willing to have humble pastors who know when it's time for a younger voice and younger leaders to lead the way with the vision of ministry, while they remain to help keep the younger leaders humble and holy and spiritually healthy. Such a church with multigenerational leadership is an ambitious church!
It utilizes resources for the Kingdom
Everyone knows that real estate in New Jersey is not cheap. We live in one of the most expensive and congested states in the country. The Jersey Shore is very congested, and open parcles of land are becoming more and more rare. The cost of building a new church building is astronomical - anything that can hold 200-300 or so people with the appropriate amount of classrooms would cost in the millions of dollars to build - a cost and morgtate that can be avoided by the use of existing church properties on the shore. Replanting maximizes real estate use for the Kingdom.
Why the churches on the Jersey Shore should seek replanting before closure
Your property may be valuable (more than likely, your land itself is more valuable than your church building). You have have people getting wind of the fact that you are struggling to stay afloat, and are getting monetary offers for your property. Or maybe you are sitting on a property that is going to be impossible to sell. Some churches have constitutions and bylaws that create back roads for pastors to sell off or transfer assessts to themselves or the trustees in order to walk away with a nice retirement package. Sadly, I've seen nearly all the above scenarios in the past nine years or so on the shore.
I humbly ask that if your church is currently asking such questions about your future and how unsure you are of it - please consider seeking to be replanted. Whether you know it or not, your people still have years of ministry ahead of them and can indeed be used for Gospel ministry. The vast majority of the homes around your church building are filled with people who do not know Jesus. The harvest is great, and the workers are few (Luke 10:2)! In fact, the Jersey Shore is essentially in such a spiritual drought that we could be considered an unreached area.
We are actively seeking to plant a church within the next twelve months or so. But our prayer is that, if God would have it, that we could be involved in a church replant in our area. To this end we pray regularly. Would you please join us in prayer for the Jersey Shore, that we can see churches replanted and revitalized for the sake of the glory of Christ?
If you are at Redeemer and being involved in something like this perks your interest - please let us know.