In my last post I celebrated recent church planting efforts in the big cities, but raised a few concerns about over-crowding and some ecclesiological questions about these ventures. I also raised the prospect of investing less in church planting and more in church rejuvenation. For case in point let me tell you about my good friend Joe Khan and the work he’s doing at Rosalie Baptist Church in inner city Brisbane.
Rosalie Baptist Church is located in an inner city Brisbane suburb, in a classy cafe district, among the hippest of hipsters, with large concentrations of urban professionals. Despite this ideal location, the church struggled for decades, having a reputation for being too reformed and too conservative in worship style. Then a friend of mine, Joe Khan, who was serving as an associate pastor from a nearby Baptist Church (City North), was invited to lead a team to Rosalie to rejuvenate the church. Over the past two years, Joe and his small band of parishioners from City North have worked to build up Rosalie from a dying church to one now showing signs of growth and life. Here is Joe’s story as written by Joe:
“It’s easier to birth a baby than it is to raise the dead!” This was the line I heard whenever I raised the concept of church revitalisation with fellow pastors. One enthusiastic church planter actually believed that “…death was a normal part of the life cycle of a church” pointing the fact that none of the seven churches in Revelation still existed today.
Conversations like this frustrated me! When I read Revelation 2-3 I saw Jesus removing the lampstand of a church as a tragic thought for God rather than a natural and normal death. And I didn’t miss the irony that Christian thinkers would decide that resurrecting the dead was too difficult when the God they apparently serve and gospel the apparently preach are all about resurrection. So instead of convincing me to cast dying congregations on the rubbish heap, I was convinced that as much as healthy churches had a responsibility to reproduce themselves through church planting, we also had a responsibility to help the resurrecting power of the gospel breathe life into dying churches.
Rosalie Baptist Church is situated in an inner-city suburb of Brisbane which is full of people who are on average a generation younger than most Australians, a generation further removed from Christianity than most Australians, and about $30K/yr richer than most Australians. Unfortunately the last 30 years of the church’s history had seen the congregation theologically, culturally and practically disconnect themselves from the ever changing local community. When they approached our church (City North Baptist) for help they were on the verge of closing the doors.
Formal discussions began between the churches with the view of developing a working partnership in order to bring about the revitalisation of the Rosalie church. Not long into discussion it was agreed that what Rosalie needed was a complete re-start, but the question was how do you hit CTRL+ALT+DEL on a church that had been around for 130 years? It was a question we gave great thought to.
The result of this thinking was a “revitalisation plant”. The basic concept worked similar to a church plant, namely that the authority and accountability came through the mother church, however the plant would happen within the structure of the existing church. The practical details were:
- Provide a pastor (me) from City North to lead the work, whilst still remaining employed by, and accountable to the mother church
- Provide a team of people commissioned by City North to give ministry momentum and support to the pastor
- Establish a partnering membership whereby people coming across in the team could vote at Rosalie members meetings
- The pastor would lead the church through preaching, evangelism and oversight of the church
- Ultimately the pastor would appoint local elders and re-write the constitution to reflect the new work that was taking place
- Minor decisions would happen at the Rosalie level led by the pastor, but major decisions would be led by the eldership at the mother church and then affirmed by Rosalie
At a point to be agreed on by both churches the partnership would cease allowing Rosalie to stand on her own feet
While we are only about 15 months into the ministry we have already seen the hand of God move mightily. The congregation has more than doubled, we are able to fund a full-time minister and we have made significant local partnerships which have become powerful contexts for the gospel to reach the community. The vital two factors in getting this off the ground were:
- The humility of the Rosalie church to admit their past mistakes and approach City North for help
- The gospel-centred focus of City North to be prepared to sacrifice finances, personnel and effort to bless a church that had no real connection to them
When a local congregation dwindles and the life slowly flickers away it leads people from the community to think, “Dawkins is right! Religion is dead and Christianity is irrelevant.” The power of a revitalised church is that it contradicts the misinformation people have been fed about Christianity. It bucks the trend, proves the resurrecting power of the gospel and creates an incredibly attractive community. This is our prayer for Rosalie.