On Thursday, November 12, 2009, the amphibious transport dock ship, USS New York, steamed onto the Hudson River en route to fulfilling its mission of intercepting and destroying enemies of the USA and her allies. The USS New York is renowned among the U.S. Navy flotilla in that seven and a half ton of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center destroyed by Al Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001, was recycled, reformed and cast into the ship’s hull.
The World Trade Center had symbolized the movement of American entrepreneurialism and international cooperation. It is very existence conveyed confidence and triumph. It housed more than 430 companies engaged in a wide variety of diplomatic engagements as well as import and export, transportation, insurance, banking, and finance from 28 countries. It is estimated that 50,000 people worked there with another 140,000 daily visitors.
On September 11, however, it all came crashing down. We all have haunting images in our minds of the lives that were destroyed and of the broken and twisted steel framework that collapsed that day.
Here is how this defeat was turned into victory. The steel that once supported the Twin Towers still had value, but not as it lay in ruins. To be reclaimed, it had to go through a recycling process that included cleaning, shredding, melting and reforming. It came out the other end of this procedure recast into the forward section of a warship equipped and staffed to do battle with the very enemy that brought it down. The bent, broken and fallen was redeemed and reshaped into a powerful symbol of regeneration and transformation.
The recycling process
The recycling industry has become a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry as the “Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle” mantra calls for the preservation and conservation of existing resources. The purpose of the recycling process is to harvest and reclaim materials that have lost their value in their present or previous form.
The recycling process has two major outcomes: downcycling and upcycling. Downcycling is the process of converting redeemable materials into new products of lesser quality and reduced functionality. Most recycling fits into this category. A clear example is plastic recycling, which turns the material into lower grade plastics in lower valued products.
On the other hand, upcycling is the practice of transforming material of diminishing worth into products of greater value. A clear illustration of this is the transformation of the plastic of an empty liquid container being upcycled into fleece for a jacket, stuffing for a sleeping bag, tread material for a house deck or material for backpacks and clothing.
Recyclers are not changing the material’s essential DNA. They are merely reducing it to its basic element(s) so that it can be recast into forms that are valuable and usable.
A similar process can be applied to the revitalization of many empty or emptying churches. Foundational ministries of many declining churches can be redeemed and reshaped into powerful offensive weapons for the Kingdom of God. An upcycled church will be a powerful testimony to Jesus’ restorative and redemptive power and a prevailing weapon against those who work to destroy the Church.
The upcycling process in churches
Many excellent books have been written to stem the tide of church decline. They refer to comebacks, turnarounds, and breakouts. I would like to offer a different model: The Upcycling Church.
Upcycling is a fitting metaphor to describe the potential existing in many diminishing churches that are willing to submit themselves to being transformed into what they can become, rather than focusing on restoring themselves into what they once were. Ponder the vast human, physical and spiritual resources that reside in these once powerful churches that could be employed for greater fruitfulness in the Body of Christ.
The scriptural foundation
The Church of Sardis was in dire straits – and may not have known it. It was enjoying a good reputation in its community. It is good works were well known. However, in the eyes of the Head of the Church, it was on life support.
“To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive,but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. 3 So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. 4 But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’
What would an upcycling process look like for a declining church and what could consultants suggest and leaders of churches, movements, and denominations do to introduce and produce revitalization in dying churches?
Excerpted from the article “Upcycling Church: Becoming Agents for Transforming Declining and Plateaued Churches” by Richard J. Frazer.