By Jason Blanton
My wife and I have taken up gardening. My sister gave us a variety of plants from her greenhouse, and we planted them in our little table-top garden patch, high above the reach of prowling rabbits, and the dogs who chase prowling rabbits!
At first, we thought we might have totally bombed, since our little plants limped along for several weeks, showing very little life. Then, as if over night, whoosh! Up they went! We are now looking forward to all the goodies we're going to be making with our homegrown tomatoes, squash, peppers, herbs, lettuce, blueberries, raspberries, etc.
We didn't plant the plants, we REplanted them, and we're now about to reap the rewards.
I read an article recently that the Southern Baptist Convention is setting aside $15,000,000 for church planting funds. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (our little home in the Baptist world) has church planting teams and conferences. All over, it seems like "new" is the driving force for missionaries across North America and beyond.
The idea is one that we learned quite well in my religious education degree at Gardner-Webb University. New units, whether they be Sunday School classes or entire churches, create excitement and growth. From a missional perspective, the idea is that by planting a church rather than doing social missions, you create a lasting influence in a community (and hopefully that lasting entity will then turn around and perform the kinds of social ministries that help spread the Gospel).
Can I tell you my honest response? My first thought was, "Why aren't they setting aside money for REplanting older churches?
First, lets not confuse the issue. I wholeheartedly believe in planting new churches. I think that some of them even need to be focused on particular age groups. This isn't an either/or statement I'm trying to make.
It just seems to me that in our drive to create new, exciting, fast-growing congregations with slick multimedia worship services and "cool" music, we have forgotten the generations that are watching in horror as their own churches stagnate, and sometimes decline into nothing. Generations that have carried on the faith, and even funded and created the very structures that are now neglecting them!
I can hear some of you getting ready to clack out a response on your keyboards that goes something like this, "OH YEAH, WELL IF THEY WEREN'T SUCH OLD FUDDY-DUDDIES THEN THEY WOULDN'T BE IN THIS POSITION!!!!." Frankly, there is a mixture of truth and error in that statement. Yes, there has been a good deal of stubbornness on the part of traditional congregations, and yes some of the wounds have been self-inflicted. So what?
Why is it that we can bend over backwards to create churches for people who have never been a part of our churches, but we can't forgive a basic human failing like "stubbornness" in those who have been believers for decades, faithfully giving money and service to our churches?
Are we only graceful to those who haven't yet received God's Grace?
In case you haven't noticed, this is my passion. I was told by my pastor (Larry Fleming) long ago that I should become a church planter. Frankly, the idea really appealed to me, because I love modern worship, and I love youth and 20- and 30-somethings, and the way they worship and stress relationships over structures.
What God had in store for me was something I never saw coming. He called me to a little town called Belhaven, N.C., and a little church called First Baptist Smithton to basically "replant" a church. The strangest part? I absolutely loved it!
I love the challenge of getting generations of believers into the same room, because we have much to learn from one another.
I love seeing the cornerstones of faith within a community filled with pride as their congregation sees new life and new purpose.
I love seeing just how willing those "fuddy-duddies" really are to go the extra mile to meet the younger generations where they are.
It’s the reason I'm here now, at Grace Crossing, undertaking the very same challenges on a larger scale. Would it have been easier to take some of the other jobs offered during the search? Yes, probably for me and for Grace Crossing, but we do church the hard way because we believe it has value.
We are pushing hard toward a truly "blended" service because all generations deserve a voice in worship.
We are congregational rather than led by leadership teams, because we believe that all the members of the church deserve a voice.
We open our doors to all people because we believe that God is bigger than our differences, and Grace covers all sins.
So I guess my question is: Where is our help? We certainly aren't the only church in need of a replant, so why aren't associations and conventions setting aside funding for churches like ours?
Where are the funds for hiring young worship leaders to help revive music? Where are the funds for training in media, or hiring media specialists? Where are the funds for consultants to identify community values and demographics?
I don't ask this for us, we have already undertaken most of these things (although if you know of a good worship guitarist, we'd certainly love to have a little help there!) but there are hundreds of churches like ours, some that don't even realize they need to change, that could be replanted all over this country.
They already have facilities, families, workers and name recognition. All they need is a little help from the very structures they built and maintained locally, statewide and nation-wide for decades. On a practical scale, it seems like the idea is a no-brainer!
Just like moving plants from the greenhouse to the garden, there is a little pain and a little risk involved, but the reward is so great. The fellowship of multiple generations (re)filling our churches, energizing them, creating new life out of old. The witness to the community at-large that says God can redeem and reclaim all things, even old fuddy-duddy churches!
-Jason Blanton is pastor of Grace Crossing, a metro Charlotte, N.C., congregation, and blogs at jasonblanton.blogspot.com.