Helping Pastors Plant and Renew Churches

Unless we are planting new churches and renewing old ones, the church is dying. Organizations do not naturally move toward health. There’s enough pathology in every organization to ultimately ruin it. Churches need to renew, regenerate, and reproduce. In dependence on the grace of God, the leaders of the church need to take responsibility to make sure that is happening.

That’s what the regional church planting and renewal conference in Chattanooga, TN this past week was all about. I had the privilege along with 100 other pastors and church leaders to attend this three day conference. It was put on by Tennessee Valley Presbytery’s Mission to North America (MNA) committee and Flourish Coaching with support from our denomination’s MNA committee.

Each morning began with a time of worship and preaching. Robby Holt and Brian Fikkert spoke to the whole group about individual renewal in the Gospel that leads to a vision of Christ renewing all things. For example, Pastor Holt pointed to the prophecy in Zechariah 3:9: “I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.” This is a reference to Christ’s atoning sacrifice that brings forgiveness of sins. He then told us to look at the next verse. “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” It made me think that justification and forgiveness are unto flourishing that leads to hospitality. It made me ask and still makes me ask, do I think about the Gospel in that way?

After the worship services, the large group divided up into several workshop tracks. There were tracks for urban church planting, rural church planting, renewal, pastor’s wives, missional communities, and a few others. I attended the workshops on renewal. The renewal workshops followed a pattern of what they called “head, heart, and hands,” that is, something to think about, something to move our hearts, and something for us to do. The first workshop gave us a framework for thinking about renewal through three phases: incline, recline, and decline. In the “heart” section, Pastor Matt Bohling, Executive Director of Flourish Coahing, simply preached the Gospel to us, encouraging us to find our identity in Christ. In the “hands” section, he taught us a simple method for doing strategic planning. He encouraged us to do a SWOT analysis (what are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats?), develop a few specific actions out of that analysis, and assign them to specific people.

Those who attended the conference also had many opportunities for building and renewing relationships during lunches, dinners, and breaks. In my view, the best opportunity was through cohorts or small groups. During the workshops, we broke down into groups of four or five to process the various talks. These small groups provided a context to get to know people on a more intimate level. I walk away from this conference knowing several gentlemen much better because of these small groups.

Finally, there were other opportunities throughout the three day conference to learn and grow besides the worship and workshops. Dr. Tom Hawkes from Uptown Church in Charlotte, NC spoke at two different gatherings at Chattanooga’s Mountain City Club. I attended one of them along with a number of Ruling Elders from area churches. Dr. Hawkes spoke about how to keep the Session on mission. I got a long list of ideas from Dr. Hawkes’ description of the work at his church.

I am certain that the people who attended the conference valued it highly. How do I know this? Something happened on Wednesday morning that gave the highest testimony to the quality of this event. When I saw that the official activities of the conference ended at 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday and did not start again until Wednesday at 8:30 a.m., I told my wife, “I bet half the people will leave and go home on Tuesday after the workshop.” This was based on dozens of experiences of church meetings and conference through the years. So, Wednesday morning I was shocked when I walked into the worship service and saw that it was just as full as the previous two days. Everybody stayed!

Several leaders of our denomination want to re-produce these conferences in the various regions of our nation. I hope that they do so and that if they do, you will make an effort to be a part of them. Highly recommended!