I hate the word but I’m going to use it anyway. The word is “sexy” and I’m employing it because it’s the best word I can think of to communicate an important concept:
It’s not that those of us who are passionate about church health or church revitalization ministry are against church planting. Most of us have tried our hand at it at one time or another. We believe in it deeply. It will always be a wonderful way to extend the reach of the gospel and grow the Kingdom of God.
But church health/revitalization work is at least equally important; it’s just not as sexy. Church planting wins the beauty contest every time. Church health is the ugly sister.
Are there any plumbers out there? I liken the contrast to the difference between getting the contract for installing the plumbing at the new sports bar and grille in the suburb as opposed to getting the call to repair the plumbing at the old bar downtown.
And let’s face it: many older churches are about as appealing as the old bar downtown.
Bobby Jamieson, Associate Pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, made a strong Biblical case for church revitalization ministry in a recent article entitled: The Bible’s Burden For Church Revitalization. https://www.9marks.org/article/journalbibles-burden-church-revitalization/
Jamieson demonstrates from the ministry of the Apostle Paul that church revitalization matters deeply to God. Paul didn’t give up on the highly dysfunctional congregation at Corinth, instructing Timothy to go there and plant a fresh new “replacement” church. Paul’s tireless efforts to save the Corinthian church involved a succession of visits and a series of impassioned letters.
It may just be (my words not Jamieson’s) that church replacement is a distinctly American phenomenon. Not so long ago a prominent evangelical leader was declaring most churches to be worthless and due for replacement after thirty years.
The author goes on to describe the passion of Christ for healthy churches as seen in the letters of Revelation two and three. “If you need a one sentence proof text for church revitalization, Revelation 3:2 is it: ‘Strengthen what remains and is about to die.’”
While attending a rural church planting conference a couple of years ago, I was struck by the quality of the wonderful young men in attendance. These were gifted guys who were willing to give up the perks of staff membership at large, suburban churches, choosing instead to suffer the rigors of rural church planting.
But I also found myself wanting to stand up and shout: “But guys! Please consider going to an established and fading rural church that already exists! There are so many of them out there that need you guys right now!”
If church revitalization matters to God, it should matter to us, sexy or not.
In an effort to end the beauty contest – in which church revitalization never stands a chance – please consider two simple observations:
- Healthy churches tend to plant healthy churches.
God made things to reproduce after their “own kind” (Genesis 1).
Cocaine-addicted moms give birth to cocaine-affected babies.
The Apostle James said, “My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water” (James 3:12).
Church plants carry the DNA of their mother churches.
Many a naïve young pastor has walked into what was described as being an “exciting new congregation” to discover that the new “plant” was an embittered and angry group of folks who had left a dysfunctional church across town. They had a new name and a new building, but the same troublesome culture.
On the contrary, blessed are those who are privileged to be a part of a healthy church plant borne of a healthy mother congregation.
- Healthy church planting movements begin with church health movements.
A couple of years ago my wife and I had the privilege of meeting a Christian woman who had been involved in the highly effective clean-up of Wisconsin’s Lake Petenwell, a beautiful, man-made wide spot on the Wisconsin River.
What the citizens of the area didn’t do was to damn up the lake and try to pump millions of gallons of water through a purification system. What they did do was to focus their attention upstream. They worked with the up-river paper mills – as important to Wisconsin as its fish – and persuaded them to stop polluting the river.
Like it or not, church health/revitalization movements are always upstream from church planting movements. If you want a healthy church planting movement downstream, you must invest in a church revitalization movement upstream.
Church health work is painstaking, big-picture, long-term, proactive, unsexy, vital, work.
It will never win the beauty contest, but that’s okay. God loves both sisters.