Yesterday I had a series of twitter interactions with one of my former students about the importance of balancing church planting with revitalizing existing churches. That got me thinking about the importance of keeping both of these aspects of missional work in balance. Over the past eighteen years, I have found that one of the best ways to revitalize a plateaued or declining church is to help them recapture the excitement of planting a new congregation. In my current ministry, for instance, we just completed a multi-year relationship with a new church plant in DeKalb, Illinois. While we were not the primary sponsors of this work, we did play a vital role and I can honestly say that we received far more than we gave in this relationship.
As our church members prayed, gave and labored in this new church plant they began to recapture a vision for the work of spreading the gospel through church planting. It was amazing to me to see a church that had little interest in church planting regain a passion for this vital work. But there is more to this story than just getting excited about planting a church. At the same time we were helping a new church plant get off the ground, we also were sending multiple trips to other countries, such as Niger and Haiti. As our members went on these trips we began to notice that they were coming back with a renewed passion for sharing the gospel in our own community. The more people we sent to other countries the more passion we saw developing within our church for sharing the gospel at home. This observation has lead me to rethink the way that I have attempted to lead the church to experience revitalization in the past. Let me explain what I mean.
In the past, I have tended to think that the way to get people to be involved in foreign missions and church planting was to first focus on revitalizing the church and its local outreach. But what I have seen over the past five years has made me rethink this pattern. At First Baptist Metropolis, we have actually seen the opposite happen. As we sent people to help with church plants and foreign missions trips they returned with a passion that resulted in a revitalized church and local evangelistic efforts. Tomorrow I will share a few more thoughts that I have about this pattern.