While some people today lament the demise of the mainline church, the lack of adequately trained pastors, and the church’s resistance to change, we at the Center for Renewal are encouraged by the Spirit’s work of renewal that is becoming evident in many individuals and congregations. In rural areas and urban centers, in small congregations and large, members of congregations are asking, “Who are we?” and “What does God want of us and for us?” In spectacular ways that get reported in the media and in small ways that go unnoticed by the casual observer, the Spirit is moving people toward deeper faith and growth in mission. We at the Center for Renewal see our role as fostering and supporting renewal—new vitality in faith and mission—in whatever way the Spirit prompts members and congregations.
Some people approach congregational renewal like the television show Extreme Makeover approaches house renovation: toss out the old and bring in the new. We at the Center for Renewal view congregational renewal more like the television show This Old House. Research the history, keep and honor that which is beautiful and helpful, and incorporate the best of all that is available today in a way that is in keeping with the house’s character and purpose.
Renewal is an ongoing conversion of the Church, through which congregations rediscover the ability to discern, proclaim, and participate in God's redemptive mission in the world.
The day of one-size-fits-all programs designed to ‘fix’ congregations is long gone. Research on congregations that are experiencing renewal shows that they earnestly pursue questions about their setting, their gifts, and God’s call for them. Congregations experiencing renewal make Bible study and prayer the centerpiece of their life together. Congregations experiencing renewal have become intentional—in a variety of ways—about “turning outward” in service to the community and the world. Congregations experiencing renewal help their members engage in the ancient ‘practices’ of the Christian church—worship, hospitality, witness, stewardship, and Sabbath rest.
“The church of our time and our place is largely inwardly focused. It has lost sight of the world outside its walls. Which is to say, the church has also lost sight of the God who works in and loves the world. And that is a genuine tragedy. God is a missionary God.” —Walt Kallestad, Turning Your Church Inside Out
New Vitality and Vision
We only strive after that which we can envision. For many people, the vision for the church centers around memories of what used to be. “If only things could be like they used to be,” however, is not likely to lead us to new vitality in faith and in mission. What is helpful—and what is most needed—is catching sight of what can be. Bible study, prayer, and getting out of our church buildings to meet our neighbors can lead us to a vision of what God might be calling us to be and do.
Some congregations find new life only after ‘near-death’ experiences. Others have intentionally named habits and traditions that no longer serve them well and allowed them to die so that new vitality can arise. This is work that has to be bathed in prayer and grounded in scripture. It is a journey that has to be undertaken by the people who are directly involved in the ministry. It is highly contextual, and requires an understanding of each congregation’s gifts and setting. It is a long process of discernment, with no clear road map to show the way. (See the excerpt from Heidi Neumark’s Breathing Space for an inspiring example of how renewal took place at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in the South Bronx.)
There are signposts along the way, though. While there is no surefire method that will fix our problems overnight, and while what works in one congregation probably won’t work in another, we can learn from and support one another. We can inspire one another as, together, we journey toward renewal.
Our Vision for a Renewed Church
While there is no surefire method that will bring renewal overnight, and while what works in one congregation often doesn't work in another, the programs and support we offer are based on this vision for a renewed church:
- Central in a congregation's life and minsitry, prayer will be vital to identifying the congregation's purpose, identity and mission.
- The study of Scripture will be pervasive in the life and minstry of the congregation.
- Congregations will be communities of genuine care and concern.
- Congregations will be adept at teaching and employing the ancient Christian practices of the church: hospitality, study prayer, giving, discernment, doing justice, healing, etc.
- Congregations will regularly assess the spiritual gifts of their members and will seek to use those gifts in ministry.
- Congregations will speak more in terms of faith formation or making disciples than of education.
- Pastors will be as adept at equipping members for ministry as they are at providing ministry for others.
- Members will hear the faith spoken, both by the pastor and by others in the congregation, so that they will be more comfortable speaking it to others.
- Congregationsl leaders (including pastors) will be trained in the art of growing change from within rather than imitating others' success.
- Congregational learders will understand the demographics of their congreation and community, and will shape ministries to respond to them.
- Leaders will work out of a vision based on God's call, rather than from a vision that focuses on the way things used to be.
- Congregations will move from being focused inwardly to being invitational, and beyond that to a sense of being sent into the world as God's people in mission.
- Ministry in the church will be valued principally as a means for empoweirng ministry in the daily lives of our members.
That is why we exist. To inspire, encourage and support you as you seek renewal—new vitality in faith and mission—in your life and in the life of your congregation.