Disaffiliation from a denomination is a long and bumpy road. It is a road few of us wanted to take and most of us hoped we could avoid. Things didn’t work out that way.
Disaffiliation is hard. Denominations were not structured to let people out. They are like interstates with next to no exit ramps but for whatever reasons, your church navigated the exit, stayed the course and you are now out. You are probably in one of four situations right now: 1) You have transferred to a new denomination 2) You are independent 3) You are independent but in a network 4) You are waiting to decide what to do next. Regardless of your decision, there is a sequence that I would recommend, now that you are “on the other side.”
We became an independent church in 2021, so we have a bit of history now. A tiny bit but a bit. This was our “What Now?” process at Christ Church.
- Shift to a “peacetime” administration Your leadership has been in trenches. Let those who are wounded roll out of leadership and give them time to heal. Thank them profoundly for their service. Replace them with leaders with hearts of peace who don’t have the “smell of smoke.” A warring spirit, in the absence of a war, serves no one well. People who have been “fighting,” will sometimes tend to continue fighting long after an armistice. You must intentionally usher in a spirit of peace.
- Restructure for the long game If you are joining an existing denomination, this is a piece of cake! Everything essentially is poured from “one jug to the other.” If you are going independent, there is some heavy lifting to do. Have an attorney look things over. You need to set up legally, establish faith and order, figure out how to handle ordination and the list goes on and on. No need to reinvent the wheel. Seek the counsel of respected pastors and congregations who are where you hope to be. See if they will “share their stuff” with you. They will help. Don’t cut corners. Do the work. Legend says there was a sign on the Oregon Trail that read, “Choose your rut carefully, you will be in it for the next 1000 miles.” This is that.
- Rebrand Re-establish your mission and your beliefs. Put things on the table. Make no apologies for where you stand. Be who you are! Preach a new REBRAND series. Next comes the fun part: New logo, new banners, new swag. New invitation cards, new marketing, new swag. New Facebook group. New everything! Have old members join the new church. Invest in some new wineskins! This creates energy!
- Cast vision Share your core values. Preach a CORE series. Let people know who you are and where you stand! It is one thing to “leave Egypt,” it is quite another to enter the Promised Land. You successfully made a case for the former, work that hard to establish the latter. Get people excited about your “great about to be!” Be as intentional in making your next step as you were in making your previous one. The people you have in your congregation are united, aligned in mission and ready to go. Leverage that energy and focus on the future! The big idea is, “We are going somewhere exciting, come with us!”
- Stabilize With this all done, catch your breath. You have planted new seeds into the ground, get some downtime and let them germinate. You have been under great stress and strain. You are human. You are drained. Your people are drained. Some people have left. Friends may have been lost. That being said, the healing process I thought would take a year, took only a couple of months.
- Evangelize Churches must do three things to be vital: 1) Make new Christians 2) Turn new Christians into disciples and 3) Send out disciples to make new Christians. Evangelism has gone “back burner to off the stove entirely” over the past handful of years. No one wants to invite people to the First Church of Hiss and Spit. It is time to start inviting people to church and equipping your folks to share the Good News!
You own something more important than a building; you own your narrative. The mantra at Christ Church is “Biblical Truth in Christian Love.” This is our calling card! What is yours? Does the community know what it is? Are they familiar with your “new” church? Once we get control of the narrative, we get to say who we are and it is a powerful ministry tool!
We have experienced renewal and revival “on the other side.” These processes served us well. I trust they will be of help to many of you.
You are disaffiliated.
You have set course upon a new future.
There are no excuses.
Be strong and of good courage!
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997. His most recent book is “That’s Good News” (Invite Press).
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