Keys to Successful Church Restarts, Part 1
New Life Community Church is a multicultural, multisite church that gathers in 25 locations, each with live preaching. When we first started launching new sites, I didn't know hardly anyone else that was doing it. Today, there are many churches taking this approach, and it's a great strategy.
Of our 25 New Life sites, about 14 of them were born out of a “restart.” This is the term we use when an older church has invited us to move into their existing building that was on the verge of closing and restart the church under the New Life banner. Though we didn’t set out with a plan to engage in restarts, they’ve become an important part of New Life’s multiplication strategy.
We’re frequently approached by churches that are faced with the dilemma of what to do with their church building when they can’t sustain it anymore. We've restarted churches from across the denominational board, but they all share a similar story. At one time, they experienced the Glory Days, but then something happened. The neighborhood changed. People moved. They found themselves struggling to survive. They didn’t want to close down or have their facility turned into a strip mall.
In urban areas like Chicago, once a church closes its doors, the building will likely be turned over to the city or to developers for commercial purposes. We saw an opportunity to help save our city’s churches—a way to redeem sacred spaces instead of giving up Kingdom ground.
Restarts are a wonderful solution for preserving sacred space and the history and legacy of the congregation that came before. They can be done in a redemptive way, and they can also be severely abused. Over the years, we have developed a supporting philosophy of ministry that focuses on how to do redemptive restarts. Here are a few of the lessons we’ve learned:
6 Keys for a Successful Restart
1. The leader must value the past but take prophetic action in the present. Churches within a city have a shared destiny. The revival of our sacred spaces, I believe, mirrors what happens in our cities. Sacred spaces become run down, lose their energy, lose their effect. The city begins to degenerate. There is a link between the two. The story of the temple and the story of Jerusalem were linked together. Revive the temple, revive Jerusalem. I believe that people who do restarts well understand the narrative of that city. They understand what God has been doing historically in those places and they celebrate it, they value it, and they embrace it.
Learn practical tips on how to bring new life to an old church through a restart.
2. Avoid simply looking for cheap real estate property. There is something incredibly powerful about an existing building that was created, designed, paid for by the sweat and tears of a previous generation. People have been married there, buried there, the gospel has been preached there. This has been a place where God has been worshiped. Jesus has been proclaimed.
Sometimes, we simply look at spaces from a practical perspective. It's just real estate so we move from one place to another. But I think God has a peculiar interest in spaces. One of the pictures that comes to my mind is the temple that is built in Jerusalem and then it's torn down. God could have relocated that temple, built it anywhere he wanted, but there's something particular about rebuilding it on the original foundation.
3. Help a new generation value the bigger narrative. We can learn from the saints who have gone before us, from the churches that have come before us. This isn't just a cool space that comes at a cheap price because older people were letting the church die. No, this is a space in which we are building on the narrative of what God has been doing, long before we showed up. When we go into a church, we don't close the church. We don't erase the church. We take on the history of that church and celebrate it on a yearly basis. We say, "God has been moving way before we showed up. Thank God for the saints that have come before. Thank God for the prayers of this place."
4. Restarts cost more and take longer than what most people anticipate. Knowing this in advance, and believing it, can help you manage your own expectations and those of others. Plan well. Be patient. Don’t rush the timing.
5. Restarts lead to generational tensions that require insightful bridge building. The danger of melding the old with the new is that, if you come in with a utilitarian mentality, waving your brand, you'll have a tendency to disregard, diminish what's gone before you, look at it and despise it. One day, all of us will become restarts. One day, Hillsong will become the hymn books. One day, there will be a new generation with new forms looking at us and saying, "Well, that's old.” But there is a power of valuing what came before, building on it, celebrating it. Say to the previous generation, "Your sacrifice, your love for Jesus, what's happened here, that's powerful. We want to bring you into the new."
6. Build on the glory of the past while expecting a fresh, new level of future glory. We're transparent about what a restart will mean for the existing congregation. I have this conversation on a regular basis: "You're not going to like the music. You're going to feel like you've lost your church. You're not going to like a lot of the changes. There's going to be a whole bunch of people here that you don't know, so I can guarantee you're going to struggle with the changes. But the other thing I want to guarantee, with every restart we've done, is that we've seen a whole bunch of people get baptized. We've seen people come to Jesus. Ask yourself, 'What's the mission of our church?' If you want to be comfortable, please don't come with us. If you're not ready for change, please don't say 'yes' because we don't want to fight. But, if you want to reach the community, I promise you we'll do everything in our power to reach people for the name of Jesus and see them come to Christ."
Learn more about New Life’s restarts.