The messy work of renewal

From The Alban Institute:

If you've ever remodeled a house while attempting to live in it, you have a sense of the chaos and complexity of congregational renewal. It will take far longer, cost you more, and prove messier than you ever imagined at the start. People who have worked with both church starts and church renewal will tell you that starting a church is easy compared to renewing one. The difficulty lies in the work itself. Pogo's line holds true here: "We have met the enemy and he is us."

The church seeking renewal must look beyond simply improving its programs and its building, though both may ultimately be changed. Pastors and laity leading renewal in their declining congregations are asking people to make fundamental shifts in their perspectives, their attitudes, and their behaviors. The work demands a great deal from a people and a pastor.

Continue reading "The Messy Work of Renewal" by Daniel P. Smith and Mary K. Sellon

Comments (3)

Not to say that the church is bankrupt, but I see strong parallels between trying to renew a church, and trying reform a company. Take this quote from David Brooks:

"DAVID BROOKS: But some companies have a culture of innovation. I think we know Toyota does. Some companies have a culture not of innovation. And those cultures are extremely stubborn.

Management studies have shown you can keep just a few people from an old regime and they will preserve the old culture. And that's not only a decision that you make -- "we're going to do X instead of Y" -- that's a subconscious paradigm the way you think about things, the way you behave, sense of urgency, really hard to change."


I think the word you used, "culture" is key here. How do we create a culture in our churches in which the whole congregation, not just the priest, are at work inviting new people in, inviting new ideas? Hearing new voices as wonderful challenges instead of as threats?

I think this is the part of the article people most need to hear:

"Your congregation is what it is today not because of what a bad pastor did to it, or because the neighborhood has changed, or because our culture is going to hell in a handbasket. Although those occurrences and many others have had an impact, your congregation is what it is today because of how it responded, or failed to respond, to the realities it faced."

I wish, though, that the authors had not focused so much attention on the "inner work" that parishes need to do to transform themselves. This work is important,I guess, but I've been in more than a few places where so much time was spent on navel-gazing inner work that the congregations never did anything.

There are parishes I am familiar with that could begin to transform themselves by buying a big screen television and a subscription to Direct TV and opening their halls so the local Latino community had some place to watch soccer. There is anotehr that just needs to invite the local community college, which had almost no public space, to use its hall as a coffee house one or two nights a week. There is another which shares a parking lot with two organizations that bring many employees and visitors to the cusp of the church's property, but hasn't figured out how to appeal to this largely captive audience at lunch time. These initiatives would significantly alter the churches relationship to the surrounding community. And none of them requires consultants and verstry retreats and re-written mission statements, which is what "inner work" turns into in too many places.

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