Fixing our broken bikes

Michael Kellahan

Sydney needs new churches to be planted. It really does.

To keep up with a growing population, let alone reaching more people, we need to plant churches.

So I’m pleased that New Churches is up and running.

It’s good that so many are putting so much time, sweat, prayer, people, and money into seeing new churches established.

Sydney also needs to see good churches grow big, not sit on their laurels, and reform to reach more people.

Again, much effort is being done on this front.

Some of our larger churches are looking over the fence at charismatic churches, and looking at American ministries to see how to grow big.

If that kind of gospel growth happens then praise God.

But the greater need Sydney Anglicans have is that of reforming and renewing dead or dying congregations.

There are plenty of churches that have plateaued or are in decline. 

Maybe we should be fixing all the broken bikes instead of buying new ones or making the good ones flashier.

But church renewal and reform doesn’t look as sexy as church planting or big platform church.

We don’t get international speakers coming out calling young hairy chested men to go and serve in dead or dying churches.

We don’t do much as a diocese to encourage and equip these struggling churches or those serving in them.

Sometimes we even speak against this strategy: ‘There is a reason they are dead’ or ‘It’s easier to bring about new life than raise the dead’.

And this counsel has some wisdom.

New churches don’t have the same baggage.

Some old churches would fight against changes that may be vital to see new life.

Renewing a church may mean years of conflict, much time dealing with run down properties, and constant financial challenges.

So why do it?

1. This is a good mission strategy to reach Sydney.There are plenty of ‘broken bike‘ churches that could, in God’s kindness, be brought back onto a mission footing. It’s been done before, and others are doing it now. Churches really can make a comeback.

2. Dead and dying churches are sitting on property we could never afford to buy. Letting them continue like this is burying a treasure in a field, instead of seeing it used for gospel ministry.

3. Ministry like this can be the answer to the prayers of the faithful old saints who long to see the pews filled again. We should be slow to write off these churches and start afresh down the road. It is a tremendous encouragement for them to be part of God’s work of renewal.

4. New churches will quickly build their own baggage. Maybe its better to go the path of renewal and apply the gospel to the baggage?

5. Decayed churches can sometimes have a sense of urgency for change. (Where they don’t they can sometimes be persuaded that the situation is more urgent than they realise.) They can therefore be far more flexible and nimble than the ‘succesful’ church that is set in its ways.

6. Renewing churches can grow faster than trying to grow good existing churches. Churches in need of renewal will typically have space to grow. Add the spark of new work being done there and locals are able to join at the ground floor rather than having to force their way into a busy place.  I’m not aware of any Sydney Anglican church that draws 1000 people on a Sunday. I can’t count how many draw 200. Maybe rather than trying to grow bigger churches we should content ourselves with smaller churches and look to see more of them grow. If the church of 600-800 wants to go beyond 1000 the easy way would be to link up with a couple of struggling little churches of 40 and grow them to 200.

7. When a church is revitalized a gospel witness is established and a bad witness can be removed. (Mike McKinley writes about this in his book Church Planting is for Wimps)

Don’t misunderstand me. We do need new churches. We do need bigger churches. But I’m also persuaded we need dead and dying churches renewed.

Michael Kellahan is senior minister at St Barnabas Anglican Church Roseville East