The United States may be the most densely churched nation on earth, but it still needs the work of church planters. Urban sprawl results in new communities or the rapid swelling of villages into cities. Believers are among those who move to these freshly-constructed suburbs, but they often find few churches there. Furthermore, the established churches in many communities have denied the faith and are little better than gatherings of heretics. Even if they retain some echo of the gospel, it is mixed with the proclamation of apostasy. Such communities need churches that proclaim, not only the gospel, but the whole counsel of God in its integrity. Just as importantly, the churches in many communities are not fully or rightly ordered, even when they do proclaim the gospel. The purpose of a church is not merely to win people to salvation in Jesus Christ, but to bring them to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. This cannot be done where the faith and practice of the church is out of order with the New Testament.
Republished with permission from Baptist Bulletin Mar/Apr 2012. All rights reserved.
Church planting seems to be in vogue today, attracting hundreds of young seminarians and Bible college students. This resurgence has resulted in an estimated 4,000 new churches being planted in North America every year. That is a trend for which all Bible-believers should be grateful.
Yet research also indicates that about 3,700 churches in America dissolve every year. Many others struggle with declining attendance and inadequate leadership. Some Christian leaders argue that revitalizing unhealthy churches is as vital for the advance of the gospel as starting new ones.
Having been a church planter for over 35 years, I admit I’m a little biased. For years I have advocated conventional church-growth wisdom: “It is easier to have babies than raise the dead.” Yet in recent years I’ve become convinced that we often quit too soon in our attempts to revive churches in decline. In some cases, it may be more strategic for healthy churches and church planters to invest their time, energy, and resources in revitalizing struggling congregations rather than starting new works.
Pastors, planters, and church leaders need wisdom. Some churches are so far gone they should be “put down.” These churches need to acknowledge that spiritually they are already dead—no one has been saved or baptized for years, sin may be rampant, and worship is lifeless. They should formally close their doors, sell the property, and quit dishonoring the name of Jesus in their communities. Yet I strongly believe that God’s heart is for the revival of many of His churches. Though turning dying congregations around may be difficult, many could be successfully salvaged.
Thus church revitalization—bringing life to dying churches by dealing with the causes of decline and building toward renewed fruitfulness and faithfulness—is a worthwhile pursuit.
“This missional shindig was a raging success for all of ten minutes. Everything changed when our least-churched guy brought several bottles of hard liquor and began encouraging many of our non-Christians and new Christians to drink shots of liquid Christian liberty in Jesus’ name. Before I knew what was happening, the party lost every bit of gospel focus and devolved into something worthy of an MTV show of its own: Church Plant Gone Wild!”