Some Churches Should Die & Be Reborn

Also, those who come to the replanted church also need to know that they are part of something new.

If you’ll allow me to get a little biblical: You can’t put new wine in an old wineskin.

There must be definitive and purposeful separation between the old and the new. As a general rule, I would say that anything having to do with the former congregation—except the building—needs to be begin anew, even if only for a time.

The new church will be moving in a different direction, doing different things and, hopefully, seeing different results. Continuing with the same name, though it could have some historical significance in the area, will add baggage to an already difficult proposition. Developing a new identity starts with a new name. And a new pastor coming into the area who will have a vision for reaching the community. (If there is no new vision, what’s the point of closing anyway?)

Leaving Behind Some of the Old

There are reasons the old church died, and they will be associated with the name.

To use a common example, if a restaurant has a bad reputation and closes down, it is renamed before it reopens. They often put up a new sign saying they are, indeed, a new place.

Make a point to the community by saying, “This church is under new management.” A new name will communicate that the new church is different than the old.

Building a New Team

The church’s new leadership will also need to communicate and build a core team that resonates with the new mission and vision for the church. That may, at times, mean asking that people who were left over from the former church not be a part of the core team for the new church.

That may seem harsh, so let me put it this way: The team that closed the church is not going to be the team that rebirths it. People from the old congregation may want to be a part of the new, and they will think they are not part of the old wineskin, but they often are.

There may be a time down the road when there can be a healthy re-entry of people from the old congregation into the new, but the core team must share the mission and vision that give the new church its identity.

A new name on a new sign in front of the building changes nothing if all the same people are doing all the same things inside.

(I should add a brief note that multisite changes some things—a new group comes in with the new campus and their numbers, often larger than those who might have stayed from the old church, and that can change the culture while the former church members remain.)

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.

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