Dealing with Neighborhood Transitions in Your Church, Part 2

We began a series last week dealing with the transitions churches go through in their life cycle as the community around them begins to change. As I stated last week, I see three primary options:

  • congregational relocation to a context more in line with their congregation,
  • intentional multicultural integration in one congregation, or
  • multi-congregational partnership in one building.


When faced with neighborhood transition, a change in which some people have transitioned in and some people have transitioned out, one response often attempted is to relocate the building. Though this model sounds offensive to some, if the church body primarily consists of the people who have transitioned out of the community, why not start a new church that reflects the community where they once were? Since we believe theologically that people comprise the church, then, in all actuality, the church relocated long before.

In other words, when you move a church building, you often are simply moving the location where the church gathers (its new building location) to where the church lives (the people of the church live in a new place).

Other than church death, this may be the most common response to a transitioning neighborhood– especially when the neighborhood transition occurs in urban areas. I know of many congregations (and you likely do as well) who have relocated from historic urban settings to suburban ones within the last decade or two. I can think of several “Main Street Methodist” or “Elm Street Baptist” churches which are no longer on Main Street or Elm Street. They have kept their name, but not their location.

Sometimes these moves are for logistical reasons: both land and parking in urban centers are at a premium. Often congregations simply outgrow their space and moving is the logical response. However, more often than not, it is because the make-up of neighborhood no longer reflects that of the congregation. That requires a look at motivation and mission.

This is typically the genesis of the “should we really relocate the church?” discussion, and leads to the real question of “What are we going to do with the fact that the church has already relocated and yet its building remains in another community?” The real issue here is that we have tied our churches (gathered people) with buildings (sacred places), so when our people move and our buildings don’t, there is trouble.

I wish I had a hard and fast answer to those questions, but I don’t. Every church has a different set of circumstances and every church has a different type of people. I’d like to think most churches would embrace their local community and reach those around them. As such, relocation is not my first choice, but rather intentional multiculural transition is– which I will address soon. However, relocation is the most common choice (for surviving churches), and it can be done well.

My recommendation to churches contemplating a relocation is to consider five steps.

First, check your motives for relocation. When relocating a church, if your desire if simply to get away from the “undesirable,” you need to reconsider. Actually, you need to repent. God may have you there for a reason. Relocation to get away from people simply because they are different from you (culture, ethnicity, color, customs, etc.) is wrong. (I’ll have more to say on that later.)

Second, a relocating church must decide that their building is a tool for the gospel. (It’s a tool, not the goal, so make sure someone else gets use of the tool God gave you for awhile.) If a congregation is going to relocate its meeting space, it can (and should) ask, “How can we help another congregation start or thrive in our former space?” That might be an intentional church plant that is reaching, for example, a Korean population that has moved into the community.

Third, if some of the church members are not relocating, you might consider leaving behind a church plant that reflects its emerging context and community. This is particularly helpful when some of the members did not move to the new area and they want to be a part of a church where they live. They become core members along with your local leaders who are more reflective of the ethnicity there.

Fourth, you might also consider another location– going multisite-– and working through the wonderful opportunity to learn from other cultures and customs.

Fifth, a relocating church needs to engage its new community from the start– evangelizing, serving, engaging, etc. This will be a test– a church fleeing from one community often simply is looking for a place where they can remain customers of the religious goods and services they formerly received at their own location. The motives for moving were wrong, and that becomes evident when they don’t engage where they are going.

Relocation is always difficult. It is often (though not always) a retreat from a mission opportunity in a changed culture and context, engaging new ethnicities and peoples. However, there are times when it is simply acknowledgement that the church has ALREADY moved, and the meeting place needs to be near the living place.

What about you? Have you seen good relocations? What are you thoughts about relocations in general?

Read Part 1 of the series here; read part 3 of the series here.

Read more from Ed here.

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Ed Stetzer

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. Previously, he served as Executive Director of LifeWay Research. Stetzer is a contributing editor for Christianity Today, a columnist for Outreach Magazine, and is frequently cited or interviewed in news outlets such as USAToday and CNN. He serves as interim pastor of Moody Church in Chicago.

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What say you? Leave a comment!

Debra — 10/13/17 9:24 am

What happens when u dont have a meeting place any more. And u was forced out because the buliding wasnt available any more.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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