Declining Churches Searching for the Silver Bullet Pastor

  The problem of declining churches in America was nothing new when the COVID-19 pandemic first struck in March 2020. I tend to ignore 2020 through 2022 when measuring whether a church has declined. But let’s be honest: if you look back to March 2020 and compare your attendance and financial giving back then to that of today, in March 2024, and both are lower, on average, by more than a few percent, your church has declined. If you had a children’s ministry before the pandemic, and you now struggle to wrangle up more than a few kids on a typical Sunday, you have declined. Your church needs revitalization. Sure, there are other, less tangible measures of health. How are you doing evangelistically? Are you reaching your neighborhood with the gospel? Are you making disciples? Maybe your church has already taken proactive steps in the direction of revitalization. Perhaps you’ve already decided to make some hard decisions rather than kicking the can down the road. If so, good on you! Sadl

Tactical Patience: A Church Replanter's Greatest Asset

I spend a great deal of time studying church replanting, and, for me, it’s more than academic interest. No, I haven’t replanted multiple churches (just one), but I am hooked. It’s exciting to see God bring renewal and growth, opening a new chapter in the life of a local church that may have feared there was no hope for its future. One aspect of church replanting that particularly interests me is the characteristics that make a successful replanting pastor. One trait that comes up over and over again is patience—tactical patience. If delayed gratification is not your thing, being a church replanting pastor is probably not for you.

As Bob Bickford and Mark Hallock write, “progress and pace are unique are unique in church replanting. Some things can be addressed immediately; others have to wait—either for the congregation to be ready to move or for the resources to be present.”[1]Tactical patience requires knowing when to change something and when not to change it. Tactical patience recognizes that some hills aren’t worth dying on. As Mark Clifton observes, a church may need facility modernizations, a new website, updated bylaws, and a host of other changes. However, changing everything at once is not only impossible, it is inadvisable. Says Clifton, “A replanter must realize that this is not a short-term mission trip; this is his life.”[2]

Church planting—the founding of new churches—is a vital ministry and can have some intersection with church replanting. However, the church replanter should be careful not to get into the business of comparing his church with that of a planter because the pace is entirely different. A church plant that does not gain traction within the first three years probably won’t make it. However, it takes a church replanter an average of four or five years before he feels like he’s even gaining attraction. The church replanter cannot become discouraged when it takes a long time to get the church moving—because it’s going to take a long time, maybe even a really long time.

I’ve heard that we often overestimate what we can do in a year and underestimate what we can accomplish in five or ten years. The tactically patient church replanter must always keep the long view.


Photo by amirali mirhashemian on Unsplash

[1] Bob Bickford and Mark Hallock, Am I a Replanter?: 30 Days of Discerning God's Call. Littleton, CO: Acoma Press, 2017.

[2] Mark Clifton, Reclaiming Glory: Creating a Gospel Legacy throughout North America. Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2016.


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