By Ben Spalink
The result of faith and repentance is new life or renewal. The invitation to experience personal renewal is ongoing. We are continually being renewed and transformed. Paul writes, “And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
What can be said of individuals can also be applied to the church. The church should be a community of continual renewal, growth and transformation. Even a definition of Reformed includes semper reformanda, the idea of always reforming.
So all churches need renewal, and none more than the church which has stopped being renewed. If nothing is changing, if things are static, one can be sure that there is a deep need for renewal. This is not to say that everything that is old is bad. There should be many old things, many elements that are unchanging: the preaching of the Gospel, the fellowship, the practice of the sarcraments and church discipline, the centrality of the Gospel, etc… These things are old and should never change. But some old things need to be renewed and changed and adapted. In this category we include: programs, styles, decor, methods, strategies, ways of doing and being church together.
A church is not in need of renewal just because it hasn’t jumped on all the ministry bandwagons of the 21st century. Maybe you don’t do small groups. Maybe you still use the organ on Sunday morning. Maybe you use the grey hymnal instead of Powerpoint slides. That’s fine. But your church might show institutional signs of aging and need to experience renewal if you observe the following:
your membership is aging, raising questions about sustainability in the next 5-10 years
you seldom see baptisms
you’re shuttering once vibrant programs (and not replacing them)
you struggle to retain visitors (it could mean your worship is not contextually relevant)
most of your people commute in (this could reflect that you’re not reaching new neighbors)
most of the people in your church are long time members (as opposed to recent converts)
your facilities are aging, and you lack resources for upkeep
you’re reducing staff hours/positions rather than adding them, trying to save money
you struggle to find volunteers and leaders (a few select individuals are doing most of the volunteer work)
your pastor and other leaders are burnt out and frustrated (for years on end)
If you answered “yes” to most of these queries, it means that your church is in need of renewal. This is not a criticism. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. But it does mean that something drastic is needed before the situation becomes irreversibly difficult. Waiting too long to address these factors can mean that when the time comes to complete the journey, hardly any members are left to shoulder this burden. While there’s still time, there are good options to consider. There are resources available for renewal, for fresh missional engagement, for new approaches to evangelism and discipleship and community engagement, as well as resources available to help churches through a restart. If you are facing these realities, will you courageously follow God on mission to revive your church?
Use the Congregational Assessment Tool with your leaders and discuss God’s vision for your church. This can help you know what options your church has. Ask about our Discerning a Path for Congregational Renewal Questionnaire.