Church Replanting – A Difficult Intersection

Church replanting is the intersection or the merging of two key ministry centers; a Chaplaincy and a Church Plant.

The Chaplaincy focus consists of loving the people who are there.  In most New England church plants, those who are there are elderly.  They have worshipped at that church for much of their life with a particular style of worship and particular way of relating to one another.  They have seen pastors come and seen pastors go.  They have also experienced significant change over the course of their life but the one consistent factor has been this church. Chaplains provide pastoral, spiritual and emotional support for people and conduct religious services.  The focus is on care and maintaining the status quo.  The emphasis is on encouragement and care of those already attending the church rather than reaching out to the unchurched and growing the church.

A church plant is about creating a new body of believers in a given geographic community. Evangelism is central to a church plant as well as creating expressions of worship that communicate the richness of the gospel message in forms and language readily understood by a new generation.  As our culture cuts its moorings from its protestant & catholic biblical foundations, it is increasingly more challenging to explain the breadth and depth of the gospel message.  The result is that often what speaks to an elderly generation steeped in biblical concepts & imagery does not communicate to a young post-modern twenty-something.  This includes such things as terminology, music style, relational styles, dress and so forth.  Thus a church plant worship service and relational style often feels and sounds very different from the tried and true protestant service the elderly members of the congregation are used to and like.

The older generation deserves to be loved and respected.  Their experience, wisdom and knowledge of the history of that church can be important to growing health of the church and a wealth of insight for any church replanter.  They often have long term connections to the community and their support can greatly aid in outreach efforts to the community.  The replanter must embrace the mindset of a chaplain.

However, the older members of the congregation are not the future hope of the church.  Their capacity to serve is dwindling and their ability to handle change is low. Unless the church is located in an over 55 community, the majority of age groups are not being ministered to by a declining historic church in its present condition.  Jesus commanded his followers to go and make disciples.  A church must be consistently reaching out with the love and message of Christ.  A church that has dwindled to a small number of older people has let this calling of the church to “go,” to drift into the background and disappear.  Thus, for the church to be replanted the church replanter must also embrace the mindset of a church planter.

It takes a unique individual to be able to carry on both of these callings of a replanter, to be both a Chaplain and a Church Planter.  Often what happens is that the church replanter is attracted to one of these two particular ministry foci to the replanter’s detriment. If the replanter’s focus is on the chaplaincy then the church will continue to decline and head towards closing.  If the replanter’s focus is on church planting, they usually run roughshod over the older members and get fired or hamstrung in the process.

It has to be both.  The church replanter must embrace both of these callings, chaplaincy and planting. As the replanter embraces both of these callings, it will still take clinging to the gospel, wisdom, patience, a good coach and especially the movement of the Holy Spirit to successfully replant one of these historic, declining, New England churches.

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The Author

Jim Harrell is president and co-founder of Overseed. Jim has his Doctor of Ministry in renewal ministries and Masters of Divinity from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Jim's background is in discipleship, mentoring and church planting.

Jim is also the Vice President of Systems Engineering for Winslow Technology Group, LLC.