This is perhaps the most debated topic when considering a restart. I heard it just recently from a group considering a restart in Virginia. The concerns are valid. Members of the old church get really nervous when you start talking about scaling the worship and ministries way back to nearly nothing. I understand the argument.
How can we keep the members of the old church if we don’t continue to serve them?
In our case, I knew enough about the history of the church to be able to cast a vision for what was about to happen. I shared with the group of 30 very anxious members about how their church had begun. A handful of people gathered in a home doing a Bible study. Out of that home study, the vision for their church emerged. I cast a vision for the group to follow that same path. We were recreating that journey more than 60 years later. We continued to meet inside the church, but we met around tables in a common use area.
Of course, there were times when I got pushback. They wanted to know why we would not use a perfectly acceptable sanctuary that was sitting upstairs. I asked them to trust me. It was nearly impossible for the group to understand that they needed to have a visual and spatial reset. This is a difficult conversation to have. Here are some thoughts I wrestled with:
First, I knew that closing the church one Sunday and showing up in the same sanctuary the next Sunday and pretending to be a new church would come across as a synthetic fabrication.
Second, I also knew it was a rare chance to help this group understand that worship doesn’t live within the construct of an 11 AM worship service. Worship could happen at any time and anywhere. We were preparing their hearts for a radically different worship experience when the new church opened. This scaled down experience helped us begin to deconstruct what they thought worship was about.
Then there was a third reason dealing with the stewardship of our time and resources. At that point, there were hardly any ministries left in the church. Ninety percent of the energy and resources of the church, including my own personal energy and resources, were put towards sustaining the weekend worship service. There was no way we could launch something new with so much of our energy still focused on maintaining a worship service.
I’ve shared three important underlying reasons for a period of shut down. You may very well be able to address those reasons in some other creative ways. But our recommendation is that you do something substantial to signal a shutdown. It is absolutely worth it.