By Shannon Youell
I am often asked to talk about “church renewal.” As with many titles or terminologies, this term can be so ambiguous that the meanings are multiple.Recently I was asked with two of my colleagues to do a workshop on Renewal in the Church. The understanding we had of this came out of three areas that had impacted how we think about church and the activities and missions surrounding it.
The first was around context. Where a particular church community is situated can change the dynamics of our lives as both gathered and scattered bodies. Mark Doerksen shared about one of the Heartland churches situated in the heart of farmland. How that church approaches engaging their community can look quite different than an urban church or even an urban church in an economically-depressed area of the city would.
The second was around culture. CBWC world traveler Shelby Gregg shared with us an interesting observation she made while exploring the city of Lisbon in Portugal. She noted that the town itself was a series of concentric circles that formed around church buildings. The church was the focal point of the community development plan because at the time, church was a dominant cultural place of community gatherings. In our post-modern culture here in North America, that is not often the case anymore. Especially in urban centers, the centrality of a church building and the activities found within are no longer the focus of social structures.
I took the group on a story-walk around the neighbourhood and the community around it. Participants in the workshop mapped their own place, some mapping the neighbourhood they lived in, while others did their workplace or church location neighbourhoods. The purpose of this exercise is to raise awareness in us that we all live and work and shop in the mission field. This is the third area: We are the renewal in our churches. As we share our lives in relationship with those we are surrounded by in our everyday lives, people introduced to living life the Jesus way, and we ourselves find new wonder and joy in seeing how Jesus works in mysterious and amazing ways through us to bring his redeeming, reconciling, restorative hope right here in our neighbourhoods!
Often, we think of renewal in the church as internal changes to programs, to music selections, to small groups. We should continue to reflect on these elements of our culture and context, but systems theory tells us that if we want to change something, changing the system is the wrong way to do it. Systems effectively change when we change our thinking about the things we do. Imposing changes on a system just changes how we approach a particular task, not why we do it in the first place. That was a part of our task at the workshop – to stir up the whys of what we are doing and how effective or ineffective those things may be in differing contexts, cultures and generations. If the why of what we do is to see the kingdom of God advance, then everything we do as gathered and as scattered should reflect that. And since the church is no longer the central community hub in many of our contexts, we will need to rethink how we meet and be salt and light to the world God so loves.
Over the next several blogging articles, I will be sharing with you stories of our CBWC family who are hearing God’s leading into their neighbourhoods and creative ways they are connecting with people beyond their Sunday service gatherings. I would love to hear from you out there in the blog reading galaxy with your stories too! Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can chat and share with our tribe how you’ve discovered connecting within your context and culture to those where you live, work, play, and pray!
CBWC Church Planting Coordinator