Over 4000 churches in North America close each year. Southern Baptist alone realize no fewer than 800 churches each year that cease to exist. A common assumption would be that closed churches are located in remote or declining areas. Upon examination of Southern Baptist Churches that ceased to exist in 2011 we discovered that 90% of the closed churches were in communities that grew in population during the previous decade. We are closing churches where we need churches.
Like most church planters of the previous decades I wanted little to do with outdated church buildings. I was convinced that the“unchurched” would find an old church building uninviting. My peers and I were looking for places where the “unchurched” were comfortable and at ease (what ever that meant). I put too much emphasis on the packaging of our church plant while I placed too little emphasis on the power of the gospel to make disciples that transform the community.
Unlike my generation, this current generation of church planters embraces the use old church buildings. In working with young planters I have discovered five primary reasons they are passionate about old church buildings.
1. They understand the primary task to which they are called is to Glorify God, not by constructing buildings but by building believers. They are focused on making disciples who make disciples that result in community transformation. They rightly conclude that the effort needed to locate land, develop a plan for that land, design a building, raise the funds and construct the building would require a tremendous amount of time, money and manpower that they would rather use making disciples.
2. They view the reclaiming of an old building in the neighborhood as a benefit to the community they seek to serve. They take a neglected and deteriorating facility in the neighborhood and bring it back to vitality and beauty. That alone blesses the neighborhood.
3. They have a desire to care for the environment and not waste resources. The repurpose an old church building is perfect way to display responsible use of resources.
4. They creatively discover ways to fully utilize the facility for kingdom purposes. Many of these old buildings have large education buildings or activity centers. Rather than viewing these big old buildings as drain on resources, creative planters see them as incubating space for new church plants and locations for communities ministry of an endless variety.
5. Church planters embrace an old building precisely because of its connection to the past. All old church buildings, from 19th century massive stone edifices to mid century modern structures, can make a very powerful statement that the gospel isn’t for a single generation. They communicate that we are just the most recent link in a powerful chain that began when Jesus established His church and will continue until He comes again. In a digital world of overpowering sights and sounds the simple beauty of an old church can be a welcome reminder that we are citizens of a different kingdom. It can help to convey that our hope is in the eternal Kingdom of God and not in the temporary things of this world.
In more than 35 years of church planting I have never witnessed a time when so many young men were so clearly called to replant dying churches or to use the facilities of dying churches. What the adversary meant for evil, the closing of thousands of Churches, God is using for His glory, the replanting of thousands of churches to be robust contextual gospel focused communities that effectively make disciples and transform the communities. Just as they have transformed the old buildings.