4 Things I Learned From Church Adoption
In December of 2017, College Park Church voted to adopt a struggling church on the southside of Indianapolis and to replant the church the following September. This plant would be composed primarily of former members from the adopted church, alongside members of College Park who were interested in having a College Park Church on the southside of town. Here are four valuable lessons I learned along the way:
1. Hit the reset button
Probably the most helpful thing we did in the adoption process was to build in a “reset” season. This included closing the doors on the existing church building and having everyone who would be a part of the plant worship together in a different location for about five months. This afforded us plenty of time to do some building renovations, while at the same time allowing the new church body to begin worshiping and growing together at a place that was new to all involved. The result: We came back as a new church plant into an updated building with a brand-new congregation comprised of people from a variety of previous churches.
2. Get with people
This is true for any pastor coming into a new church, but I found it extremely helpful in the adoption process. A church that is being adopted has agreed to willingly submit to new leadership, but with obvious uncertainty regarding how it will all work out. They just don’t yet know the men who will be shepherding and leading them. Allowing them to get to know their new leaders over a meal while at the same time hearing their testimonies and church experience has gone a long way in building trust and community. Having meals with people has been ones of the very best uses of my time during the church-planting process.
3. Require new membership
The church we adopted had church membership, but we chose not to simply transfer memberships from that church to the church plant. We invited every member of the adopted church to become members of the plant, and encouraged them to do so, but we required them to go through the membership process afresh.
Why? Because it allowed us to make sure they knew what church membership would mean for our new church plant—including the DNA of our church, our doctrine, and our philosophy. After sharing these foundational things, we gave them an opportunity to ask questions before committing to membership.
This model also allowed us to have elder interviews with each potential member to hear their testimonies, get to know them better, and individually answer any questions they may have. Finally, it was one more way to communicate that we were a church plant, not a merger, and that people would need to make the effort to join like they would any other new church they may go to.
4. Enjoy the ride
One of the most rewarding aspects of this process has been to see the Lord work in the hearts of the members being adopted. The previous church was full of many godly saints who were committed to the Lord and to the gospel. However, as often is the case with a church needing adoption, a series of difficulties developed over time which led to declining attendance, financial strain, and decreased morale. Many members became weary and discouraged along the way.
We are only eight months into our church plant, but the way God is already working to restore and redeem, is incredible. I hear testimonies of many who, not long ago, were discouraged and uncertain about the future. Now, they are hopeful and excited about the direction of their church. This has been a wonderful blessing from the Lord.
Seeing the gladness in their hearts towards our Lord and his sovereignty throughout the process is one of my greatest joys in ministry here thus far. Praise the Lord that our God is a God of hope and redemption, for people individually and for churches alike.