An associational missions strategist is having lunch with one of his most faithful pastors and closest friends in ministry. During their meal the strategist says, “Next year is the year your church needs to die.”
The pastor has just taken a bite of a spicy enchilada and now appears to choke on it. After coughing several times — but without the need of a Heimlich maneuver — he looks at his friend and says, “What? Die? I have 10 more years until retirement. My church is in good shape. It does not need to die. What are you talking about?”
The AMS just smiles. He knows he has the pastor’s attention now.
RELATED: Check out more stories on Baptist associations and their ministry impact here.
There is no more sports talk, preacher stories or denominational gossip for the rest of lunch. The pastor wants to know what he means.
The pastor and AMS had gotten together to talk about a process to develop a fresh vision and new missional engagements for the pastor’s church. The church was entering its 49th year of existence.
The AMS suggested it should be a sabbatical year for the church, not like the ones churches ought to engage in every seven years but a special one because the following year would be this church’s 50th year since its founding.
Even when churches take a sabbatical every seven years — see “Wise Churches Take Sabbaticals” — during their 50th year, they need to intentionally replant themselves, start over and imagine anew the ministry of their churches.
This replanting should happen during a jubilee year, a biblical pattern the Lord shared with Moses as recorded in Leviticus 25. Churches should celebrate a jubilee year every 50 years.
Recently, I spent time with a church entering its 50th year since its founding. It was started five decades ago to be a chapel for residents in a newly emerging resort community.
Time passed. The chapel changed. The community demographics shifted. Over the years of its existence, its purpose as a chapel for many part-time and a few full-time residents became less relevant.
A community of 500 seasonal and year-round residents changed to one with 5,000 residents. The households once made up of empty nesters and older adults now are households with hundreds of children under 18.
Many churches started five decades ago — also 100 or more years ago — now find themselves stumbling and struggling.
Incremental transitions and changes for which the congregation gave permission have neither kept up with the changes in the demographics of the church membership nor its community context.
Something much more radical is needed, more than just a sabbatical.
Begin by imagining your church does not currently exist. It is a group of people under God’s leadership who have decided to plant a new church in your community, city or county. Everything you imagine is about going forward rather than recreating the past.
You prayerfully seek spiritual direction from God. Confirmation of God’s eternal mission is your first goal. You determine God is truly up to something in your midst and you must go forward.
You study the opportunities for a new Christ-centered church in your general area. Who are the people in your context? Their characteristics? Their relationship to Christ and a church?
Are they like your current group of founders or different? Will connecting with them be easy or difficult?
In what geographic area is God empowering you through a vision for new Kingdom ministry? What resources and leadership are available to live into the vision God is imparting to you?
Since you are starting anew and going forward to a new beginning, will the church facilities you have — even with modifications — fit God’s vision for you? Is it even in the right location?
Are your pastor, staff and key lay leaders called, equipped and ready to lead in the fulfillment of the new vision from God? Will retraining and relearning adequately prepare them? Or will it require new leaders?
Is your church willing to figuratively die so that a new church can emerge in response to God’s leading?
Are you ready? Willing? Is there opposition? Is a jubilee year more than you are willing to do if that becomes the call of God upon your church? Or will you be empowered by God’s vision for a new church ministry?