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Church Planting Tutorial: 21. Legacy / Restart

Very little has been written on the subject of church restarts or church relaunching.   Slightly more literature has been written on turnaround churches, but the pool of resources are very limited.  This tutorial provides some basics and explains the differences between relaunching, restarting and renewing / turnaround.

Why do churches face these tough decisions in the first place?

We live at a time when more churches are either stagnant or dying than are being started or growing.   Such a time as this for change.   The church is called to be the light of the world and to live out the Great Commandment (love God, love people) and the Great Commission (reach the lost, grow disciples).   God does not intend for His church to be powerless in the community.

When a church’s leadership team becomes convicted that things must change, the first step is most often to consider questions like “how do we turn things around…how do we revitalize…how do we change our culture…how do we get our members taking ownership…how do we become more relevant…how do we become more outreach focused…how do we grow?”  In some cases, churches decide the best thing for the Kingdom is to shutdown and use the church’s assets to start a brand new work (a new church plant).

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

Options to Consider

Church leaders are faced with at least four options:

  1. Legacy Approach – Allow the church to die gracefully and gift the assets to another organization (a great way to leave a legacy is to gift the assets to a church planting organization for the purpose of starting one or more new churches.  This “Legacy Approach” requires the death of a dream and hence, the biggest sacrifice by the decision makers.   It is through the death of one dream, that the birth of a new dream is made possible.   This option has the highest success rate but is the most difficult decisions to make.
  2. Complete Restart Approach – Shut down for a period of time and “relaunch” as a new church with a new name, new leadership, new vision, and new location (at a minimum, this option will require coaching from a person or organization who was not involved in the old church).  This “Complete Restart Approach” requires “outside” help (difficult for more churches to accept) for success.   In this approach, there is a break with the past to start the new thing. Often this results in the old church closing for some period of time before restarting the new work.
  3. Hybrid / Partial Restart Approach – Church leadership attempts to address underlying weaknesses / cultural problems by changing some of the things listed in option 2, but not all.  Option 3 is a much “softer” approach than option 2 and often does not result in a change in leadership or a full death of the old before starting the new.
  4. Turnaround Approach –    Has a lower success rate than options 1 through 3, as the leadership team has a difficult time letting go of all that is unhealthy.  The same leadership team (i.e. Elders, Staff, etc) that has been unable to turn things around in the past is responsible for turning things around in the future.   With past performance being the best indicator of future performance, this option typically proves challenging.

Leveraging Your Strengths

In discerning the best path for your church, start with an inventory of your strengths.   What do you do really well?  What are your best assets (e.g. facilities, location, equipment, leaders, key community influencers attending, etc)?  Make a list.   Be candid. This assessment should identify your strengths as the average church leader in your community, state or nation would see them…not as you see them relative to yourself.   For example, you may feel that your leadership team is one of your relative strengths when in fact it is weak compared with the average healthy growing church.   On the other hand, you may own a facility is one of the best locations in town…by anyone’s standards including many businesses that would pay top dollars for your property.    Call this a strength if it would be broadly recognized by the average person as a strength.

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

Facing up to Your Weaknesses

Do the same inventory with your weaknesses as you did with your strengths. No matter what path of change you take (option 1 through 4 above), trust that God wants to do a new thing in you. The question becomes “how does God want to use us to do a new thing?”  Look hard at your strengths and weaknesses.  Pray.   Check your motives.  What is driving your decision making?  What is the likelihood of success?   Is there broad and compelling ownership / buy-in by your key decision makers for the path being chosen?  What will the different options cost to do them effectively?  Are you willing to make the investment?   Do you have the right leadership (the toughest question you will face)?   Are you relying on your leadership to perform at a level markedly above where they’ve been in the past?

Spend some time looking at Aubrey Malphurs’ recent study and book on church revitalization:

A Vision for Church Revitalization


Some Resources