Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Plant? Or Revitalize?

...there are a number of strategic benefits to revitalizing a dead church. First, revitalizing provides a kingdom two-for-one. Like church plants, revitalization efforts establish a new gospel presence in a town, but they also remove a bad witness. People in Sterling, Virginia, no longer see our church like a billboard that reads, "Jesus and his people are irrelevant. Keep driving." Instead they increasingly see a lighthouse on the hill. They increasingly see a vibrant and dynamic witness for the Truth. Yes, it's harder to mosey into town on your horse to set up a new general store while playing sheriff, but doing so benefits everyone, both the kingdom and the onlooking world.

Also, church revitalization encourages the saints in the dead congregation. Dead churches are often populated by faithful believers who are deeply committed to their congregation. They have hung in through lean times. They have shown up Sunday after Sunday even though little was happening. These dear sheep are loved by the Savior, but they usually do not have a pastor who can care for them. When we were considering our options in Sterling, it seemed wrong to begin a new church in Guilford's backyard while the people there struggled.

When a church is revitalized, these saints are encouraged and shepherded in a new way. One of my chief joys as a pastor has been to hear some of the older women in our congregation recount stories of praying faithfully for this church for years. Now they are delighted by what God has done. Their faith is refreshed, and they are encouraged anew as they serve the growing body.

Finally, church revitalization enables us to harness resources for the gospel. Oftentimes dead churches are sitting on a treasure trove of resources (land, money, equipment) that can be leveraged for the spread of the gospel (Luke 16:9). Guilford Fellowship had a building. It had land worth millions of dollars. And it had over one hundred thousand dollars in the bank. All of those resources were just sitting around, doing almost nothing for the kingdom. Simply as a matter of good stewardship, evangelical churches interested in planting should consider revitalizing as well. Our work at Guilford has allowed us to leverage those resources to revitalize one church, plant another, evangelize our community, and support missions. If we had planted a new church instead, we would be broke, and Guilford's money would probably still be sitting in the bank.

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