Let’s ban all “re-” words when talking about the journey of churches. “Re-” words are about going back, doing something again and preserving the way things were in the past.
Examples are reenvision, revitalize, renew, revive, rethink and replant.
We do not need this approach.
We need churches to journey forward to the new thing God is in the process of doing in and through them.
More than “re-” strategies
Approximately 50 years ago, the former Home Mission Board in Southern Baptist Convention life developed a national strategy focused on plateaued and declining churches in metropolitan areas. It was called PACT and stood for Project: Assistance for Churches in Transitional Communities.
I was one of the three national leaders for this strategy.
PACT remained active for more than 20 years until the North American Mission Board formed in the mid-1990s. At that point the PACT strategy ended.
A comprehensive replacement strategy was not launched by NAMB until 2014. It began with the “re-” word “replant.” It expanded beyond that during its first decade of existence.
It is led by a team of highly capable leaders.
Both strategies effectively speak into the journey of plateaued and declining churches. Yet a huge shift still needs to take place.
The task is much greater than assumed and needs to be addressed with a different spiritual and strategic approach.
These strategies and all “re-” words should be eliminated. It is not about churches going back. It is about churches going forward and following God’s lead as He goes before us.
Both national strategies counted on the fear of failing as a key characteristic of churches along with the desire of denominations to keep as many churches alive as possible.
For Southern Baptists, the fear of churches failing is a legitimate fear, with 80% of SBC churches now plateaued or declining according to the latest national Annual Church Profile report from Lifeway.
The biggest challenge is that the number of churches currently plateaued and declining — and those acquiring this status annually — is increasing faster than the effectiveness of any strategy.
The current and former strategies miss the key point of helping churches to soar with faith and strive to reach their full Kingdom potential.
We should declare a year of denominational jubilee — 50 years since PACT launched — and use a biblical pattern to address the lifelong journey of churches.
(Note: Consult recent columns on church sabbaticals and a year of jubilee found HERE.)
The biblical pattern
The biblical pattern I suggest is not a magic solution, but it can be a miracle for many churches. At this point, few churches embrace it.
It is the pattern shared in Leviticus 25, especially in verses 1–12.
The classic journey for churches is that they launch as a new church with a clear sense of God’s mission and an empowering vision.
Along their journey they use resources and support for their leaders, programs and processes from various sources. Some come from the denomination. Many come from various networks, publishers, consultants and coaches available to them.
For new churches that obtain sustainable vitality and vibrancy during their first seven years, they often thrive into their midteens.
At that point, some of the foundational factors of vitality and vibrancy begin to wane. At first the waning is not obvious. By the end of their first generation of life — around 18 to 21 years old — it is obvious.
The typical church denies anything is wrong. They push program success and meeting their budget more than God’s empowering vision and disciple-making.
Many churches become plateaued or declining, yet they still work harder rather than seeking a new vision from God. This goes on year after year.
As plateaued and declining churches without sufficient resources to thrive or enough spiritually passionate and skilled leaders, they become part of the 80%.
Some churches finally reach out for help. The help they find starts with a “re-” word.
But can this also be too little, too late? Yes!
Therefore, let’s talk about a fresh approach based on the pattern of Leviticus 25 in future columns.