“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
Energy and resources have poured into church planting over the past decade and a half. Isn't the most effective way to reach people with the gospel to plant new churches? Isn’t it too hard to change an established church’s culture? Should we let languishing or dying church just fade out and make way for new ones?
Just like every Christian needs to be transformed by the renewing of their minds, churches need to be renewed. No Christian is done being formed till glory, and neither is any church. Churches have an ongoing need for sanctification.
Every church needs renewal. Some churches are in severe decline and need revitalization, or in extreme cases, replanting. But every church needs to be renewed, just like every Christian needs to be renewed, in the gospel mission of Jesus.
What is Church Renewal?
Flourish Director Matt Bohling, and the Presbyterian Church in America’s Mission to North America Coordinator Paul Hahn, developed the following definition of church renewal:
Church Renewal is the process by which a person or church body experiences a new awareness of their sin and need for God’s grace; their privileges as ambassadors of the kingdom and as sons and daughters of God; a new appreciation for their place as they anticipate the kingdom of God coming and reaching that place; a new prayerfulness and passion to share the good news; holistic discipleship; a new curiosity to know God, the self, and the world; a new awareness to the missionary opportunity around them; a new joy and reverence in worship; a new personal commitment to the means of grace.
Church renewal is a process, a missionary calling to a place that repeats over and over again. It’s the process by which we come back to that mission of being the “city of God within the city of man,” as St. Augustine says.
Renewing vs. Planting Churches
If it’s true that new church plants are more effective at reaching the unchurched and dechurched with the gospel, why not just focus on that? Paul planted churches in his first missionary journey, and it’s good that the evangelical and reformed church has emphasized church planting.
But when you flip over to Paul’s second missionary journey, what’s he doing? Visiting established churches, strengthening them, calling them back to their mission, and pursuing their renewal. The bulk of the New Testament epistles including Hebrews and Revelation are written to churches that have lost their way. Jesus is interested in both the planting of new churches and bringing established churches into greater health.
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