Given the choice, I’d rather plant a new church than attempt to revitalize an old one. Of course, no one’s giving me the choice, so what’s it matter?
But my thinking is this: it’s much easier to give birth to something new than to raise something old from the dead.
I know, I know–church planters are ready to kill me now, for saying that church planting is easy.
It’s not. I know that.
Giving birth isn’t easy. I’ve been in the L&D room twice. I’ve seen it.
But I’ve never seen anyone raised from the dead.
Ok, so old, declining churches aren’t actually dead.
Has this post run aground yet? Wait… don’t answer that.
But here’s what I’m getting at: the things that you need to place to create a growing, thriving church plant are insufficient for turning around a declining, dying church.
The hope that I’ve heard expressed on several occasions is that a young (associate) pastor will eventually come in, and being young, attract young families. With this new infusion of youth, the church is expected to gradually revitalize.
But, to steal a metaphor from Jesus, that’s an attempt to put new wine in old wineskins.
You can go down that road if you want, but it is going to mean that the old bursts apart.
In other words, it’s going to mean that the folks who have been around for decades are going to have to walk the way of the cross. They are going to have to agree that everything they think church just “is” is going to have to die for that new life to come ’round.
I’ve heard the anger in the voice of the long-time member recounting how the pews the people had given their lives for had been pulled out of the sanctuary.
I’ve received the blank stare when I’ve asked why adults have to be relegated to juice and cookies rather than wine and cheese.
I’ve endured the excruciating choir that one day will, no doubt, be filled with fine young voices! (Or not…)
A people with a history have a shared story that defines for them “what church is.” To rewrite that story for a new generation, to embrace a people who will so rethink things that “church” won’t even be the word that comes to mind for some–this is the challenge of revitalization.
Someone who wants to revitalize has to discover how to lead a people through a holistic process of reimagining what church is from the ground up, from the inside out.
“Can these bones live?”
“You know, o Lord.”
“Prophesy to the wind!”
Yes, indeed, prophesy. And raise these bones from the dead.