Reclaiming Glory, gives the practical implications and paths to seeing dying churches brought back to health. In today’s world, more and more churches are closing their doors. This may be because of church splits, an aging congregation, lack of outreach, or a combination of all three. The statistics are alarming when it comes the amount of churches that cease to exist per year in the SBC. But as author Mark Clifton observes that the attitude on the dying churches is simply to avoid them, let them pitter out, and begin something new. Clifton, who had been a church planter for twenty years, believes that starting a new church is easier than replanting or revitalization of an older church. What brought him around to seeing the necessity of revitalization is that there is “nothing about a dying church that brings glory to God.”
The key contribution that Reclaiming Glory gives is the foundation upon which all replanting and revitalization must be based: the glory of God. Clifton writes, “If replanting is an act of worship, then the struggle the hardship, the pain and the burden that comes with it, for the leader and the flock, have a real and powerful purpose.” Replanting is difficult work. It is not easy for the congregation or the pastor. But when the foundation is laid that the work being done is for the glory of God, then there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome and no trial that is not worth walking through to see healthy churches bringing glory to God.
In the rest of the book, Clifton walks through the process of identifying dying churches, choices to see health brought back to the church, imperatives for replanting, and stories of success. The book helps future replanters to think through how to properly diagnosis a dying church. Often, the younger generation can point to things that they dislike but these are not necessarily causes for the decline of the church. Clifton notes eight different characteristics of a dying church. A broad summary of them would note that they look inward and backward rather than outward and forward. In other words, the church that is dying remembers how things were and want to return to those days and so struggle to allow new leadership to help them move forward. They see the community around them as an obstacle to overcome or reject rather than people that God has placed near them to reach with the light of the Gospel. After identifying if your church is dying, the next step would be to see what direction the church should go. There are at least four different ways in which a dying church can replant. But once that process begins, Clifton marks six imperatives that every replant ministry needs.
Two imperatives stick out as foundational while the others build off of these. The first is to pray without ceasing. The biblical command should be followed in each church, but in a church that may have forgotten how to pray biblical prayers this must be the first step back to health. Our complete dependence on God is shown in our posture of prayer before God. When we begin to pray for God’s glory and the Word of God to bear fruit in our community is when health begins to return. The church begins to confess sin and put priorities where they belong is when healthy growth starts
The second foundational imperative is that of loving the remaining members. The remaining saints are not an anchor to be discarded or sheep to be driven to the final destination. Rather, they are brothers and sisters whom Christ died for. Loving leadership and caring vision are to be given to these dear saints. Replanting ministry cannot leave these brothers and sisters behind in any way during the process. They are the ones who voted to replant, and they have seen much good and bad in their lives and we must glean their wisdom and connection that they have made in the community. They are fellow soldiers in this battle, and they must be discipled as well as others.
To conclude the book Clifton shares five stories of churches that were dying and came back to health. These are stories that show that the pain and suffering is worth going through to see God bring life where there once was death. Clifton also walks through some personal refection that each person desiring to replant must think through.
This book is a helpful foundation to replanting. It sets the shape of and the struggles of replanting ministry while never losing the goal: the glory of God. The church is not a business that must be salvaged, and the bottom line boosted. Rather, the church is the bride of Christ that is to reach out with the good news of the Gospel to the surrounding community. The church is made up of believers who need to be shepherded and discipled into mature saints who will run the race with patience. The local church is to have a vision for the world as the Gospel goes forward and not just for their desires for bigger buildings and better programs. The goal of replanting is to reclaim the glory of God that has been lost for years. That goal is only achieved through faithful, Word centered ministry over the long haul.
All church replanters need to read this book, no matter at what stage they are in the process of replanting. And church leadership that believe that their church may be struggling and on the verge of dying should prayerfully read through this book.
Review by Caleb Nedimyer