I recently posted about the things I miss from church planting serving in an established church. Church planting can be daunting, but the rewards from seeing people far from God get excited about Him makes all the efforts worthwhile.
After that post first appeared, a friend of mine, Tom Cheyney, texted me with a challenge – and a needed one. Tom is one of the leading experts in the field of church revitalization. His Renovate Conference is the largest conference with a primary focus on revitalizing established churches.
Tom’s challenge – Ron, I enjoyed your article about what you missed about church planting. Look forward to your follow up article about the established church!
Touché! Good call, Tom. You’re right. I agree with you completely.
There are some things I miss about church planting – some of those I even believe we could stand to see in the established church. But there are also many opportunities and advantages to being in the established church, which is one reason I believe God has called me in this season of life into church revitalization.
So, here goes, Tom.
7 things I love about the established church:
Experienced servant leadership. One thing we were always scrambling to find in the church plant were people who had any experience leading within the church. It was refreshing to be in an established church with leaders from multiple generations. Some of our lay leaders had more experience serving in the church than I had spent in my entire adult life. It should be noted we didn’t always make the best use of this experience – which is one aspect of church revitalization – but established churches often have good, capable leaders willing to help.
History to build upon. I loved to find those high points in the life of a church – where everyone was excited – and renew the passion behind them. You can’t do this in a church plant. Everything is new. There’s a value in learning and building upon history. Some history will not need to be repeated, but most established churches have periods within their past where the church was vibrant, people were motivated, and God was clearly at work among them. If you can renew the excitement you can build upon these times.
Structure. I’m usually anti-structure – especially structure that gets in the way of moving forward quickly. This is one of the attractions of the church plant to me. But even in a church plant we had times where we knew we needed more structure. When I arrived back in an established church I quickly learned we knew structure well – perhaps a little too well. But there were also benefits to some of that structure, especially in the early days of revitalization. There were areas of the church I didn’t have to focus on, because they were fully functioning without me. They may have needed improvement – at some point – but for at the time they were working. In a church plant it sometimes seemed everything needed my attention as pastor.
Intergenerational. This happens some in a church plant, but it seemed to happen more naturally in an established church. This is one area where the church must be intentional. It won’t simply happen, but we already had lots of seniors when we arrived at the last established church. We quickly found that younger generations don’t shy away from a church because older generations are there. In fact, they like it. They want programs and ministries geared to their specific needs, but they love the intergenerational church. I used to tell our seniors – remember, grandparents are cool!
Resources. Whether it’s a building, or budget dollars, or people – established churches usually have more resources available than you will find in most church plants. When I arrived back at an established church my jaw was left hanging open the first six months just looking at the facilities we had available to us. There were budget concerns to those who had been there, but coming from a growing, budget-stretched church plant, I was so thankful to find the established church usually also has established givers.
Community influence. Granted, the church may not be utilizing their influence to its potential, but if a church has been in the community for an extended period of time there are connections and built-up influence which can be leveraged to help the church grow. It was amazing to me the credibility with community leaders I found as a pastor of an established church, simply because our church had been there 100 plus years.
Restoration joy. There is something special about seeing new life in an older church. I had the experience of seeing new growth in a church plant – twice. It’s awesome. But seeing an established church thrive again – regaining momentum, restoring hope and potential to a church – there’s no way to describe the joy of knowing God allowed you a unique privilege of being a part of something that special.
Thanks, Tom for the challenge. Whether it’s church planting or encouraging church revitalization and growth of an existing church – if God calls you to it, and you are faithful to the call – you’ll feel His pleasure upon your obedience and service.