News of the decline of the church in the U.S. abounds. Numerous headlines and studies describe how congregations are shrinking and closing their doors, but Southern Baptists have been working to reverse those trends.
That’s one reason why Send Network Oklahoma will be hosting a series of events this October called “Renewing the Church Summit.” National revitalization and church planting leaders with the North American Mission Board’s (NAMB) Replant team will be on site to encourage and equip pastors and church leaders in seeing churches restored to vitality.
“Every time a church closes its doors, it’s a sad thing,” said Mark Clifton, NAMB senior director of replanting. “Every church is a Gospel outpost that can be used by God to proclaim His goodness and glory in that community. If ever a church loses sight of that, it’s a tragedy. Revitalization and replanting are about helping a local congregation stay engaged in the mission for the sake of their neighbors.”
NAMB’s Replant leaders are simultaneously practitioners currently serving in local churches across the United States. They have decades of experience in the local church and in training associational and state convention leaders.
“Associations and state conventions are telling us, from their best estimates, that about 85 percent of the churches in our denomination are either plateaued or in some state of decline,” said Bob Bickford, associate director of Replant at NAMB. “To get back to a state of vitality, it takes prayer, strategic conversations and considering what the Lord would have them do in their local context. It requires change.”
Clifton and Bickford will be joined by JimBo Stewart, a replant specialist with NAMB, during the event. They work with churches throughout the year that are wrestling with the next steps they need to take to reengage their communities with the gospel and begin evangelizing and discipling believers.
“Sometimes, the narrative is that struggling churches are in communities that have seen a lot of attrition,” Stewart said, “but a large number of churches that are in need of renewal exist in areas where the population is actually growing and is in need of a really strong gospel presence.”
Send Network Oklahoma seeks to assist churches in the area of church planting, launching new congregations, but church revitalization and replanting are both a part of the vision for bringing the hope of the gospel to growing cities and towns.
The strategies that NAMB’s Replant team might recommend for a church will depend on where the congregation is in its life cycle. Some churches are declining and are in need of small to mid-level changes, but for churches that are in danger of closing their doors within three to five years, more drastic steps might be necessary.
“Many congregations have, for years, committed their resources to support the ministries of their local church,” Bickford said. “If they’ve found themselves in a place where they’re close to pulling the plug, a replant provides an opportunity for a church to say, ‘Let’s not let this die.’ There are Southern Baptist ministry partners who can step in and help restart that church so that those resources continue supporting God’s kingdom efforts in that community.”
The “Renewing the Church Summit” is free to attend and will take place in Tulsa on Monday, Oct. 2 at Tulsa, Church Inside Out at Red Fork and in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, Oct. 3 at Oklahoma City, Trinity. To register for the Tulsa meeting on Oct. 2, click here. To register for the Oklahoma City meeting, click here.