The findings of six months and fifty thousand miles of travel.

What does the parachurch renewal movement tell us about potential new life within the institutional church? That is the question my wife, Nancy, and I repeatedly asked ourselves as we spent six months visiting what Donald Bloesch calls “centers of Christian renewal.”

Six months was not long enough and fifty thousand miles crisscrossing the world was not far enough to gain a comprehensive view of what God is doing outside normal church structures. But in that time and space we visited forty-three Christian communities scattered across the United States and the world and spent from one to ten days with each one. Those forty-three communities are only a fraction of the more than fifteen hundred retreat and renewal centers that can be identified. They are hardly a base for dogmatic generalizations, but it was a broad enough sampling to profoundly enrich our lives and to rekindle our expectations of new life in the church. The communities we visited covered a broad spectrum—Catholic and Protestant, evangelical and ecumenical, church-sponsored and independent, charismatic and conventional, permanent and temporary. They included not only formal retreat centers and traditional monasteries but communal groups, new Protestant monastic orders on the continent that have emerged from the youth revolt of the 60’s, the European residential schools of evangelism based upon community life and governed by a common discipline, variations in Christian group living associated with the charismatic and Jesus people movements, and human laboratories applying principles of behavioral science to Christian interpersonal relationships. Each movement wants to share ...

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