Dying Churches and the Church Planter

As I look across the landscape of our country and that of Europe, I can’t help but to notice the remnant of once thriving churches that are now run down buildings or historical buildings with no life of a church. This breaks my heart.

Almost five years ago I came to Valley Center as a church planter to restart an almost dead church. Through the journey of restarting Valley Baptist Church I have come to appreciate the unique challenges, struggles, and rewards of this type of ministry. I am convinced churches today need to invest in the process of restarting dying churches for a number of reasons.

Stewardship. The average church planter in Southern California will never lead his church to purchase property because of the sheer prices. There are benefits to not owning property, but that is not for this discussion. What I don’t like about this is there are many healthy church plants that are thriving while there are many dead churches sitting on property that is paid off and not being used. It just seems like poor stewardship not to unite two of these churches to reap eternal rewards.

Legacy. Almost without a doubt (sure there are exceptions) the founders of these churches loved Jesus and wanted to impact their community through Christ. Almost without a doubt the people of these churches did not change with the culture (contextualization, not distortion of the Gospel)and ultimately failed in their effectiveness in being able to share Christ with their neighbors. There is great potential if an established dying church can humble themselves concerning preference of form concerning worship, they have an opportunity to continue their legacy. I had the joy of becoming great friends with the man who pastored VBC through the 60’s and into the 70’s. It brings me great joy to see his joy as he watches our church thrive.

How to move forward? I don’t know exactly. I think the first step is to specifically pray for this sort of opportunity. God has to lead the way for sure. Second, I believe the local church should be actively involed. We couldn’t have done what we did without the emotional, prayerful, and financial support of FBC Mira Mesa for the first three years of this journey. I am praying and currently working with a church planter and dying church going through this process. I hope that we as a church can help other churches stay alive and become defective again in carrying out the Great Commision.

The right man for the task. The man called to restart a dying church needs certain gifts to enable his success in the journey. He needs to have a balance between firmness, gentleness, sensitivity, and most of all patience. Patience is key because restarting a dying church is like turning around an aircraft carrier-it takes time, but the rewards at the end are totally worth it!

5 replies
  1. Trip Kimball
    Trip Kimball says:

    Gunnar, I like this post & your points a lot. I particularly like the point on stewardship. I think this is happening in more urban areas, but still not as much as could be. The legacy issue is also important & may go hand in hand with the stewardship angle— you & Jeff J have done that, and I’m blessed to see it.

    The last 2 points are also related (imho) and I think it comes down to vision— having a clear sense of direction (near & far) and purpose. Having vision defines forward motion & action, but what’s critical is getting it communicated and transferred to others who will be the church. It doesn’t have to be a big or ambitious vision, but clarity of direction & purpose is extremely valuable. I think this is where it ties into legacy/culture, people need to see something to work for and how it relates to them, but why there’s a good reason to make the necessary changes… hope that makes sense.

  2. Miles DeBenedictis
    Miles DeBenedictis says:

    I have a plan for moving forward, but it probably won’t work and it has ethical concerns 😉

    Many of these once thriving works have a congregational form of church government. If you walk in you find 20 or so [aging] members with a paid off facility. So, I propose that as a church “re-planter” you move 50-60 new people into the church, have all of them become members and then vote you in as the pastor 8 or so months later.

    Problem solved!

    • Gunnar Hanson
      Gunnar Hanson says:

      I agree with you in part. I don’t think the church polity is the issue…the issue is the leader’s ability to lead and the heart of the church to follow. I have seen restarts fail or resist the opportunity to give it a shot in a variety of church polities. The bottom line is every church is congregational as people vote with their attendance and giving.

      I think the issues you mentioned are good, maybe I didn’t develop my thoughts completely. But,

      1) The old church needs to realize sacrifice and painful change must happen for the sake of the kingdom.

      2) The new pastor (and group if he is bring one) my be sensitive to them and go slow with gentleness. Too many young guys come in ripping and roaring with no respect for the years many slaved away to provide them this great opportunity–sort of like spoiled kids that blow an inheritance. This really ticks me off…if you couldn’t tell already. Going slow…even if it takes 2-5 years will ultimately provide much fruit. But this sort of patients is difficult for young guys who grew up with microwaves!

  3. cindy groskopf
    cindy groskopf says:

    our church has a big problem.the former pastor of 9 yrs resigned. he refused to do any outreaches to the community. no new programs.or new style Bible studies..he wouldn’t visit people.only sun.wed.preacher. when he left. took half of the people. the former constsntly hammered strong salvation message.many people felt beaten down instead of uplifted.lots left before he left. boredom. he scattered the sheep. we have nice interm pastor.but we need new young energetic man.please pray.is it the peoples fault when pastors fail us?

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