Christ Covenant Church Replant Update August 28, 2018
Now that we have become Christ Covenant Church, we need to consider our condition and what God is doing and needs to do about that condition.
Considering Our Condition
Most people are interested in knowing their current health condition. We go to the doctor to get a physical, to have blood work done, or to get routine check ups. We await the doctors assurance that “everything looks good”, or the not so sure words, “we have some concerns.” Either way, we’re interested in knowing our condition.
It is important that we not ignore the condition we are in as a particular church. All across our nation churches are struggling. When I came to Christ Church in April 2013 it was struggling. It had suffered a split and was experiencing decline. When I received a call from Bob Allen of Covenant Presbyterian in January 2018, he expressed how CPC was rapidly declining, and would have to close its doors if something was not done. The check up on both of these churches would have been, “We have some concerns.”
Regardless of setting—urban or suburban, rural or metropolitan—churches in America are struggling. According to the North American Mission Board 80 percent or more of churches are plateaued or in decline. They estimate that 10 to 15 percent are in crisis and facing the reality that they may close in a few short years or even months. This leaves 5 to 10 percent of churches in America in a healthy multiplying condition. Christ Church was in the 80 percent category and Covenant Presbyterian was in the 10-15 percent category. Neither of these churches were in a healthy condition.
The specifics between Christ Church and Covenant Presbyterian Church differed, but as declining churches they had their similarities. Both congregations were continuing to gather weekly to worship the Triune God. These congregations gathered in two parts of the city that had changed from their original settings, but this was not reflected in the congregations.
CPC was meeting in a building that was once a center for serving the community to reach non-believers. Though the school continued to meet there during the week, the church had become silent throughout the week. Christ Church has been meeting in a building that was designed to house worshipers from near and far on Sunday mornings and evenings, but had a quiet presence in the community during the week.
CPC has been an aging and physically tired congregation, gathering to sing and pray, hope and wait. Some have even told me they were praying in unbelief and had lost hope. CC has continued to worship faithfully, also hoping and waiting. Yet it has been haggard by conflict, decline, and struggling finances. Both churches have been discouraged by having to cut budgets for several years limiting their mission to the community and the world.
It is in the midst of this condition of concern that God has come. As the God of our salvation he has lifted our heads to bring us together as one congregation. I believe Christ Covenant Church is moving beyond being a church in decline and is becoming a vibrant movement of the gospel in the community of Columbia once again.
However, while we reflect on what has been our condition and what we believe God is doing among us we need to think and pray about what is necessary for Christ Covenant Church to be revitalized or replanted as a healthy growing church that evidences God’s work as a movement of the gospel.
Movement of God
We will not see CCC regain life and vitality apart from the movement of God by his gospel of grace. Strategies, formulas, processes, and paradigms do not ensure a movement of God that affects healthy spiritual growth in the church. God must bring about a movement of the gospel that affects conversion and renewal in the hearts of God’s people. A movement where the grace and truth of the gospel is discovered or rediscovered, and the church is formed into a community that looks with an outward face to the community where God places her.
I had a neighbor who constantly came by my house to tell me what was wrong with me and the church. Suddenly I quit getting those unwelcome visits. I wondered if it was something I said or did? Then as I walked by his house one day I discovered he had been set down by some serious health issues. He had been humbled by his condition, and the criticism and judgements stopped. It takes grace and humility for a plateaued or declining congregation to become an honest one. Grace and humility is necessary among the church so that she looks at the realities with honesty, stops ignoring the struggles, and gives up the vain efforts of control in order to see God work. Grace and humility are necessary for a congregation to be dependent upon a movement of God.
Courageous Leaders and Submissive Saints
Church revitalization or replanting is not for the timid or proud. There are difficult conversations, bold moves and strategic actions required. The context for these often occur in the midst of preferences, fear, misunderstanding and conflict. The leaders in these situations must be humble servant leaders filled with the Spirit of God, living in union with Christ, and bearing fruit for God’s glory and others good. Their courage and confidence, and gentleness and kindness must be Christ’s. The congregants in these situations must draw from their encouragement in Christ and fellowship with the Spirit, so that they are considering others as more important than themselves learning to submit to one another in love. Courageous leaders who serve and congregants who submit are necessary to follow God’s call on their lives to replant and revitalize a dying church.
Whatever It Takes Commitment
In our early Session meetings with CC elders and CPC elders I asked the men if they were willing to do whatever it takes to stop dying? Their response was, “Yes!” In plateaued and dying churches change is necessary. However, it is possible that the commitment to change, to do whatever it takes, wanes when the changes required results in having to change some — thing personally, or that change bumps up against particular preferences. Some people are glad to affirm the need for change in the abstract, so long as they are justified in their own preferences and persistence in the familiar. Peter was willing to change and call clean what he once considered unclean, so that he would no longer be a hindrance of God’s grace to the Gentiles.
Process and Plan
Christ Covenant Church has a unique call to live out the gospel in our particular context. The leaders and the congregation must continually rediscover our:
- Mission (what we do) - Worship, Life and Ministry Together
- Vision (what we want to see) - A movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion and renewal, community formation, and generous lives serving others for cultural renewal.
The leaders and the congregation must work together to discover God’s future for Christ Covenant Church in Columbia. The rediscovery and the work will involve our lives, our gatherings, our facilities, and our involvement in the community. This process will necessitate plans, and the working of those plans.
We are trusting our Lord together to see Christ Covenant Church as a movement of the gospel that will be a part of God’s vital growing kingdom work. In the midst of the excitement of becoming one congregation let's not lose sight of our condition and what we need God to do, and what we need to trust God to do in us and with us.