Six Bold Moves for Resurrecting a Dying Church

Chris —  July 31, 2014

There’s nothing quite like the sadness of being a part of a dying church.

There’s the burden of maintaining a big, empty and often very dated looking building. There’s the ghost of happier days that seem constantly to haunt their memories and gatherings. There are the aging saints who struggle to make it out on Sundays, who seldom find friendship or support throughout the week.

Many churches feel stuck. This can be due to a lack of ideas or energized leadership. Sadly, it is often due to specific individuals, committed to maintaining their power or preferences.

Why do we sit around asking “why is my church dying?”

We need to remember that we serve a God of resurrection! If we are willing to die to ourselves, including our fond memories of the church that used to be, we can be resurrected to become something new.

Here’s are six bold moves I’ve seen or studied that  can be used by God to resurrect your church.


1) Foster a Fresh Expression

Have you ever seen a sapling growing off the side of an existing tree? It thrives because it can rely on the resources of the other plant.

A Fresh Expression is a new church or congregation that develops out of a new approach is used to share the message of Jesus with a different group of people. An existing church can foster a Fresh Expression by providing meeting space, finances, and friendship to men and women dedicated to reaching this different group.

In the U.K., the Fresh Expressions movement has brought new life to the many churches. It has led to planting 518 Fresh Expressions over the between 2002 and 2012. This has also led to the launch of Fresh Expressions US, committed to bringing the best ideas and practices from FXUK to the Americas.

2) Adopt a Church Planter

All around the country, there are missionally-minded, apostolically-gifted church planters that “parachute” into a new city.

These women and men have a strong calling from God to see new churches planted for specific cities, neighborhoods and people groups. However, they often are outsiders. They desperately need help finding their place in their new home.

Find a church planter to adopt. Invite them to speak on a Sunday. Buy them a beer. Ask them their story. Cover the cost for babysitting or for their kids to go camping. Be their friend.

Your church might never turn around. Which is okay, especially if you’re using your remaining time to help build something new. (Tweet this)

3) Re-Plant

A replant is the probably drastic, ambitious and the most difficult of all the options. Re-planting basically means pretending that your church is gone, and reorganize the remaining members into a church planting team.

You take down the sign. You stop meeting on Sundays.

Your goal is not to re-envision your church. The goal is to become a different church, with a fresh understanding of what it means to be a church and a new take on your role in the surrounding neighborhood.

Legend has it that Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” You can’t do this without outside help and new thinking. Probably you would need completely new leadership.

If your church is brave enough to change and focused on their locality, this is the bold move for you.

4) Reboot

With a new version of Batman and Spiderman coming out every eight years, we all know what a reboot is. You take the most important features of a character and their story, and reimagine it for a modern day and place.

So how do you discover and revive these key elements of your church’s identity? Mark Lau Branson suggests the process of Appreciative inquiry in his book Memories, Hopes, and Conversations: Appreciative Inquiry and Congregational Change.

AI is a change management technique that involves the entire body in the process of discovering what is best about a church,and building on that. Branson suggests that you should look over the history of your church and use these steps to form “provocative proposals” about what the church could become.

  1. Focus on an area of the church’s life and mission.
  2. Name the best examples of this in recent memory.
  3. Name specific factors that contributed to the church’s ability to be faithful to this mission.
  4. Building on the “best of what is/was,” envision “what might be.”
  5. Write out a proposition of what is possible, express as it is already true.

Granted, this is more of a renewal process than resurrection process. Some churches maybe “too far gone” for it to help. However, the process is worthwhile no matter what, even if it only serves to bring back good memories of the church’s heyday.

5) Transfusions

Some churches may never turn the corner. That doesn’t mean they can’t have a meaningful kingdom impact somewhere else.

I’ve seen a few churches do this. My favorite example was an older church that merged with a new plant. The new plant had succeeded in reaching young adults and young families. The older church helped them even things out.

It’s sad that church transfusions don’t happen more. The reason is that it is hard, and one group will have to completely surrender their identity.

But we’re all on the same team here, right?

6) Retire

One of our supporters at Austin Mustard Seed is a small house church that used to be a much different church. As they got smaller, they sold their building. Then they began meeting in a home, and put all their money in a foundation. They’ve used the cash they have from selling their building to build up the next generation.

Retirement is one of my favorite options because it allows you to “choose how you end.” Instead of fading into obscurity or squandering resources, you get to be a blessing for untold generations to come.

The truth is, all churches have a beginning, middle and end.

But with Jesus’s resurrection power and the Holy Spirit as our guide, new life is possible.

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