What Do You Think of Planting a New Community in a Declining Church?

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I would love some feedback on this idea!

First, three observations:

(1) There is a huge initiative right now to church plant in the CRC (and in many mainline denominations).

(2) There are also many churches in the CRC who have been declining and have reached a critical point (the church has been declining through two pastors and/or has been declining for more than five years and/or is facing the decision to close within the next two years). Perhaps these churches missed reaching the rising generation and now have a desire to do so.

(3) One of the biggest challenges in church planting is without a doubt the cost of facility and equipment.

A Modest Proposal

What would it look like to come alongside many declining churches and attempt to nest a new community within their congregation? This was done at Haderwyk Ministries in Holland, MI. Watershed became a church plant within Harderwyk. They ended up becoming three congregations within one campus. Check it out here:

http://www.harderwyk.com/

This could solve the facility/equipment issue if the "nesting church" agrees to allow the planting church free use of the space and the sound equipment.

The key, it seems to me, is that the "nesting church" does not have creative control or any kind of governance over the church plant (this has always been the problem when an older generation starts an informal, 11am service ... the people in the 11am service have no power). The church plant has its own elder/deacon board and these people are separate from the "nesting" congregation.

Some questions:

(1) Do most church plants need to start in a different kind of found space (school gym, store front, warehouse, etc.) or can they exist in an older church?

(2) What if people from the "nesting" church want to be on the launch team of the new church plant and/or transfer their membership to it?

Your thoughts?

- John Burden, Providence Church, Holland Michigan

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John,

Great topic!

I actually proposed something very similar to this a few years ago. It was the result of a project I did in a church planting class at Calvin Seminary. I was inspired by Stedford Sims who was, at that time, planting a church within the (I believe it was) Sherman Street CRC, to minister to the African American community. To be effective at reaching people outside the "upper-middle-class white" culture, the new church plant needed to have African American leadership and be able to function in a way consistent with the culture of the folks they wanted to bring together.

My thought was that the "un-churched" and "de-churched" are also a different "culture" from the "traditional CRC church folk" culture; and that the only way to effectively reach out and enfold them would be to plant a new church. But, why not plant it within an existing CRC church, for the reasons you mentioned?

Unfortunately, my proposal never made it out of committee. I still think it's a great idea.

[quote=Robert Felton]

John,

Great topic!

I actually proposed something very similar to this a few years ago. It was the result of a project I did in a church planting class at Calvin Seminary. I was inspired by Stedford Sims who was, at that time, planting a church within the (I believe it was) Sherman Street CRC, to minister to the African American community. To be effective at reaching people outside the "upper-middle-class white" culture, the new church plant needed to have African American leadership and be able to function in a way consistent with the culture of the folks they wanted to bring together.

My thought was that the "un-churched" and "de-churched" are also a different "culture" from the "traditional CRC church folk" culture; and that the only way to effectively reach out and enfold them would be to plant a new church. But, why not plant it within an existing CRC church, for the reasons you mentioned?

Unfortunately, my proposal never made it out of committee. I still think it's a great idea.

[/quote]

I actually went to Sherman Street CRC when my wife and I lived in Eastown and I know who Stedford is! That is another great example. Did his church have a seperate council? Did he still answer to Sherman Street's council?

John,

I don't know the answer to that question for sure, but my impression is yes. My understanding was that the church plant was a fully separate plant, but maybe Stedford (if he's a member) or somone from Sherman St. can answer that.

Sorry, the part after my signature in my original post was just my thoughts in "draft-form." I didn't mean to post it but I can't figure out how to edit that part. Sorry!

I don't really see the point in this.  It seems that what you basically want to do is reinvent the church within the church.  Where does this approach leave the "declining" congregation?  Are they supposed to hobble on with no one to care for them?  Or will the new plant eventually drive them out?   Or is it expected that the "declining" church will eventually come to see the light and join in with the new church?  Why do we have to plant a new church when we could just go about the work of re-enlivening the existing one?

Participant

I'm not a church planter which is maybe why I am really turned off by this idea - but since you asked for feedback here are my initial thoughts.  Having worked with struggling churches I know full well the pain of the lost generation (which every denomination suffers from) and the longing for the church to be more of what the dream was in the past.

It s a completely different scenario if the nest church invites a church plant to reach people they know are out there but they cannot do due to their own commitments in other areas or lack of expertise in the community they wish to reach.  But the scenario as it is offered seems to be "well the church is dying, they can't get a pastor so why let the building go to waste".   I am reading a bias in the scenario which seems to assume that the people in the church do not want the same things as the church plant and thus a separate governance system is required. 

There must be benefits to the host church that I am missing or it would sound very much like this scenario:

IBM operates a computer shop which has hit rough times and may have to close.  Apple comes and offers to use their facilities, computers and phones so they can reach new customers. They make it clear that they do not want IBM calling any of the shots because they don't need their help - after all they are failing.  How gracious does IBM need to be to see this as a benefit to them and the customers they cannot secure, how gracious is Apple being to IBM?

Victoria

Justin and Victoria,

Your concerns are right on and I should include that the existing church would be a partner in this new move. I would never want to force a declining church to do this. And, it is a total case-by-case scenario. We would need the right "nesting" church and the right church planter to pull it off.

All of this rests on an assumption though, and this is the issue. The assumption is: the best way forward for denominations in decline is start new churches (for example the RCA  has declined to 150,000 people and is setting out to plant 400 churches by 2014). If this is true, then its that the question becomes: "How do we best start new churches?" One option would be to plant them within existing churches so that you can focus on evangelism and discipleship instead of raising funds to keep the lights on.

I would love it if we could re-vitalize declining churches. My hope is that we can and many will be. But with this huge church planting movement sweeping the church, it just seems like a better way to make the generational leap.

Would you agree with that? I really appreciate your thoughts.

John Burden, Providence Church

John,

 

Sorry for taking so long to respond to this... I guess I have a few thoughts.... I agree with a lot of what Bob said, but would make a couple of other points.

I'm not saying that church planting is a bad thing, but I would disagree with the assumption that the best way to fix a declining denomination is to plant churches.  I think this is what Bob is getting at.  Especially if we are talking about an entire denomination.  When we talk about it this way it almost seems like we are talking about the church like it is model year of a car.  When the old model wears out we pitch and redesign to peoples desires, or even to our own and then hope people like it.  The problem is, is that the church is not a car, it is a living breathing organism. 

I would love to have you expound on what you mean when you say:

"I would love it if we could re-vitalize declining churches. My hope is that we can and many will be. But with this huge church planting movement sweeping the church, it just seems like a better way to make the generational leap." 

When I read that, my interpretation of what you are saying is basically: It would be really awesome if it were even possible to revitalize churches, but it's really not so let's just plant new ones.  What exactly is this "generational leap" that needs to be made?  Shouldn't each church embrace and encompass all the generations that are in it?  If it can't then we have a deeper issue in the church (Bob's post) and all that planting a church is going to do is put paint on a rotten board. 

I thought the church planting movement was more of a result of churches realizing that we need to not be so enclosed and self-preserving and instead be active in engaging the world with the Love of Christ.  I did think it was a desperate attempt to make the church relevant again...

Justin,

Good thoughts. This discussion is very helpful. Here I go expounding that thought: I think that all churches are different, especially in different areas of the country. First Toronto CRC is vastly different than Bradenton CRC in Florida which is different than Providence CRC in Holland. There are declining churches who won't let power leave the hands of a select few (most of who are in their later years) and declining churches that are desperately hoping for change and new life (I think of the changes Oakwood CRC made in Belding, MI, which cost them a few long time families in the beginning but have since become more vibrant and will make the generational leap).

When I say the "generational leap" I mean a new generation has the center of gravity in decisions. The hope is to be multi-generational. I believe that. And some churches can really pull that off. But what happens when churches decide to keep the decision making in the hands of an older generation and watches young families leave because they don't have any power? Then, after time, they realize that the church is in decline so they come around and say we need to make changes. Which changes, exactly? My vote is the change to nest a younger church plant within their church.

I guess the question for me always comes down to: Who makes the decisions in the church? I don't think we can make a denominational policy or come up with a model that can be applied to each congregation. But what we can do is offer a way forward that doesn't force the elderly members to give up on their values while making room for another community to make their own decision in worship expression (this would have been great in Bradenton CRC 3 years ago).

Perhaps things are different in your church. But generally, it seems more wise to invest in church planting rather than church revitalization.

So, I guess my question is: If you were called to be a  church planter, and the denomination gave you 50,000 dollars to do it, what would you want to use the money for? For me it would be my hope to use a church building and not have to worry about keeping the lights on, but focus on preaching. What about you?

John

Participant

Hi John:

I've only been around church life for about 9 years so I still find myself stumbling over culture.  What I mean is when I talk to a church planter I sense that we use language differently and our perspectives may not be understood while we share ideas..

I'm not sure the question should be "How do we best plant new churches?".  As you point out each scenario is different and so the quesiton I would prefer to see is how do we "see" opportunites in the mission field where our unique gifts are desired to be put to use by God?

This is why I am uncomfortable with the top down approach that I am experiencing in the church planting movement in my area of Canada.  As laity I may well see opportunities but am unable to interest my church in pursuing them.  Yet as laity I am also removed from the process in which we select new mission fields so as to point them out to others in the denomination who might be able to fill the opportunity.    I don't really understand how new sites are chosen (or old ones adopted). 

I have talked to pastors in Toronto that spend a great deal of time looking for facilities.  I don't really understand this because it would seem to me that to plant a church you would start with where you are a good fit then make do with what is available.  Which is why I tend to think of planting ministries rather than planting churches with the idea that the ministry will grow larger as more of the local people become engaged and take ownership.

I think his might be a totally different model?

Thanks for your insight - I am more on the laity side of things.

Victoria

I have a little different thought on this:  If a church is declining there tends to be a problem:  not necesarily the pastor, leadership or members individually but as a group.  In many cases it is a spiritual issue - something we should satan's delight - Satan loves to see a declining church. 

I think that if a church is declining we ought to work to make changes to the declining church rather than trying to infiltrate the church building with a new church plant.  The leadership and pastors need to have the confidence and spiritual maturity to make changes that will cause the church to grow.  Not for growths sake but for God's sake.

I do not know the demographics of the declining churches in the denomination but we see articles about where are our kids going to church or why do we have to sing the 7 11 praise songs (singing 7 lines 11 times) etc etc.

Instead let's focus on preaching the word of God and having our churches live out that word of God everyday to each other our community and world. 

If I complained about the things I disagree with or do not like in my church I would become quite bitter quickly.  As I realize that our church would be declining quickly if I tried to make it Bob's church rather than remember it is God's church.  God's church - a God who is God to the young and old, contemporary and traditional and even republicans and democrats.

The key to remember is that churches are filled with sinners and therefore there will be challenges we have to face but we need to  recognize that God's work continues inspite of our shortfalls and we need to cover our churches with PRAYER - I cannot say declinging churches do not pray but it is the key ingredient in all aspects of the church body. 

I think churches look at growth and numbers and get concerned about how to get more kids in their Wed. night program etc. etc.  This is not the issue - the key is to show God's love to those that come through the doors.  As an example, we so often greet people who come on time - but as soon as the service begins the greeters head into the service,  Afterwards many churches have the pastor or elders greet people as they leave after the service. In my opinion the people that need to be greeted the most are those that come in late and then leave during the last song - they may be the ones that are hurting the most and need a friendly smile or a gentle touch to show God's love.

I do not have the answer for what specifics need to occur but I do believe that whether a church is traditional, contemporary, conservative, liberal, young or old or somewhere in between that if the word of God is Preached and the members of the church show the love of God to those walking through the door and those they meet throughout the week the church will become a magnet for fellow Christians and non-Christians who crave to feel the love of God in the place we call CHURCH.  

Bob

Bob, I don't disagree with anything you said. I also don't think anything you said contradicted anything I said either.

I noticed you picked a very hostile word: "Infiltrate" to describe the way a church plant would grow in an existing church. You said, "The leadership and pastors need to have the confidence and spiritual maturity to make changes that will cause the church to grow." Could the decision to plant a church be the confidence and spiritual maturity and the change that causes the church to grow?

Also, it is interesting that in many of the church plants that I see (the Gospel Coalition led by Tim Keller and the Acts 29 Network led by Mark Driscoll) have a stronger sense of preaching the Word than many established churches in our denomination. Church plants tend to be driven by preaching because they are focused and tend not be caught up in our organizational pitfalls.

Thank you for your response Bob!

Your thoughts?

 

John 

I used the word infiltrate in that ithe members of a declining church know they are in decline (at least I would hope so) and they may feel that there is a new group coming in to their space with hopes to "overtake" the declining church. My ultimate hope is that the declining church would have the opportunity to make changes - maybe a good word is re-create - their church and welcome new families and grow that way rather than have two churches in one building - I love to see churches where the young and old come together as one united family of Christ recognizing their differences but embracing their unity in Christ. Good topic of discussion. BOb

 

My understanding of Sherman Street and Step of Faith, is that Step of faith does have a separate council and that they have just accepted having two elders from Sherman Street on their council as a way of ensuring unity and cross-fertilization between the two churches.

Peace,

Randy Gabrielse