by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D. and Kent R. Hunter D.Min. & Ph.D.
The 3 Steps of the Restart Model
Some denominations have a program in place designed to resurrect an aging congregation. Sometimes called the “restart model” or the “regeneration process,” this procedure allows a church to dissolve the present entity and form a new congregation with help from nearby congregations of the same polity. Components of this program usually include the following:
The restart model is a viable alternative to closure and has been employed extensively by the American Baptist Church. While unable to preserve the traditions or history of the aging church, this approach does preserve a denominational presence in the community.
However, the advice below must be considered when considering the restart or regeneration model.
1. The church leadership must be ready to relinquish control of the new organization to a steering committee comprised of people outside the local congregation.
2. Church members must understand that their spiritual sustenance will come from a small group setting for at least six months during the transition phase.
This model is frequently successful in planting a new and oftentimes younger congregation in the same community as the aging church.
However, older members of the former congregation usually do not make it through the transition due to two important reasons.
First, aging members are accustomed to sharing intimacy and closeness through Sunday School classes which often are their smaller groups. Home Bible studies, while more popular among Boomers, do not provide an attractive alternative to aging members who traditionally have enjoyed small group intimacy through the Sunday School format.
Secondly, the restart model works best when the existing leadership is fragmented or non-existent. The restart strategy then provides needed leadership to fill the void. However, if an existing and long-lived leadership is already in place, and in most aging churches this is the case, the restart model often prunes a majority of these steadfast saints from the process. Long-standing leaders will feel they are no longer wanted or needed, and resistance to forward progress often spreads informally among the aging congregation.
Though the restart model is effective in establishing a younger church in the community context, it usually fails in preserving a Builder sub-congregation.
(This article was adapted from “A House Divided: Bridging the Generation Gaps in Your Church,” by Bob Whitesel and Kent R. Hunter, Abingdon Press, 2000).