In Part One, I talked about the types of renewal movements that can help revitalization. They can help, but they don’t always actually help. There’s an ingredient that has to be part of a renewal movement for it to move a church forward in revitalization: the renewal must lead to a renewed focus on reaching people.
For years, Rick Warren said, "It's not about church growth, it's about church health." He’s right. But understand what he meant. In his view of church health, a healthy church reaches new, and non-Christian, people.
If you get a healthy church, it will grow, he argued, because healthy things grow. A healthy church, like a healthy fruit tree, will produce fruit like it. A healthy church is made up of Christians, and the fruit of a local church is more Christians.
What is church health? Basically, you're revitalizing your leadership structure, you're renewing spiritual formation, and a missional focus would be in that conversation. But you can’t leave out the fact that healthy churches are evangelistic churches.
However, in regards to church revitalization, sometimes evangelism gets omitted from the discussion. We all want to see renewal come to our churches. But not all renewal leads to reaching out. Remember, for a church to change, it takes two things: 1) wanting to change (the easy part) and 2) being willing to pay the price to change (not so easy).
It is obvious that a lot of church revitalization planning is built around the general idea of making the church better. We have to ask the question: If it doesn't reach people, is it actually better?
Evangelism and Renewal
We have to be aware that sometimes renewal can happen that neglects evangelism. There is a kind of renewal that ultimately doesn’t produce the kind of life change we hope to see.
You can have a theological reformation without evangelistic renewal. You can have a spiritual depth focus that actually moves you away from evangelism. You can isolate believers from a lost world. Even a discipleship (done poorly) can isolate.
Sometimes, I look back and think I helped popularize a word –– missional –– that in many cases has caused Christians to serve one another and their communities better, which is essential, but that has brought the unintended consequence of causing them in some ways to reach people less.
We need a movement of church revitalization across the country. Some will need theological renewal as a part of that, recovering a conviction about the need for salvation through Jesus. Some will need spiritual renewal, focusing more on God’s Word and prayer to see better what he said, and he is saying. Others will need leadership renewal, restructuring, and refocusing the vision of the church. But whatever these issues, the revitalization we need must have a renewed focus on evangelism, on telling our neighbors, coworkers, and our community about the saving love of Jesus.
I’ll share some concluding thoughts in Part Three tomorrow.
Ed Stetzer is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, serves as a dean at Wheaton College, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group. The Exchange team helped with this article.