Rick Warren
What are the five stages of church renewal? (Facebook)

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If you are being led to change the way your church serves God’s purposes, it's helpful to understand the process of renewal.

Many leaders want to start by changing the structure of their church. However, this can be destructive for you, your leadership and your church.

People don’t like to change unless their hearts have been warmed and prepared for change. We believe that when God wants to work in a church, He takes it through five renewals.

Personal Renewal

The first renewal is personal renewal; it starts inside the heart of the leader. We cannot take people further than we have been ourselves. We cannot expect other people to be more committed to Jesus that we are. We cannot expect other people to grow or sacrifice unless we are willing to continue growing and sacrificing. We cannot expect other people to change if we are unwilling to change ourselves. We must model this in our leadership.

Personal renewal is basically when I get my life right with God. It’s when my heart warms up to Jesus and I become more aware of the presence of Christ and the filling of the Holy Spirit in my life. It’s called a lot of different things: making Jesus Lord, rededicating your life, being filled with the Holy Spirit, the deeper life, consecration and more. It doesn’t matter what you call it; it just means Jesus is real to you—you are in a deep, personal relationship with Jesus.

The book The Purpose Driven Life is about personal renewal. It starts with the sentence, “It’s not about you.” Life is all about serving God by serving others. It’s a paradigm shift in a very self-centered, narcissistic culture that says it’s all about me. Jesus said, “Lay down your life for the sheep if you want to be a good shepherd.” He said, “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant” (Mark 10:43, NIV).

Here’s the problem in ministry. We often start our ministry in order to serve others. But as time goes by, we fall for the great temptation of ministry, and all of a sudden we want people to serve us instead of us serving them. Service to others gets reversed to “Serve me.”

We all need to renew the condition of our hearts and our relationship with God.

If you are going to have renewal in your church, it has to start in the heart of the leader.

It is also about the hearts of our people. If you try to change your church without personal renewal in the hearts of your people as well, it isn’t going to last.

Relational Renewal

The second renewal is relational renewal; it is renewal between us and other people. First you get your heart right with God, and then you get your heart right with other people. The first two renewals are simply the Great Commandment of Jesus.

When Jesus was asked what is the most important commandment in the Bible, He said this: “First, love God with all your heart” (that’s personal renewal), “then love your neighbor as yourself” (that’s relational renewal). We must love other Christians; we must love other denominations; we must love Muslims; we must love Jews; we must love everyone. We have no right not to love someone.

You can always tell when a church has experienced relational renewal—the singing gets better! When a church doesn’t like to sing, it means that they don’t like each other. But when they love each other, they like to sing together.

Another way you can see relational renewal is that people like to stay after the church service to talk. When you love your neighbor as yourself, you want to talk to your neighbors! Through relational renewal, gossip goes down and love goes up. Conflict goes down and unity goes up.

As a pastor and church leader, one of your first responsibilities is to help your church go through these first two renewals.

But understand that many churches go through these renewals. They have retreats or a revival meeting or an annual Bible conference. People get right with God and with each other; people are happy, and the church starts growing.

But then it hits a ceiling and it goes back down, and they go through another renewal, and they hit a ceiling again and then go back down. Why is it that so many churches never get beyond 100 to 300 people? It’s because they never move on to the next stages of renewal.

Missional Renewal

The third renewal is missional renewal, or purpose renewal. This stage of renewal has to do with purpose. In missional renewal, our church realizes that we are not here for ourselves; we’re here for a purpose. God has a job for us to do. We have a mission, an objective; we have some work to accomplish. We’re not just a little “bless me” clique, where we get together in church, have a good time, love God and one another, and then go home. No, God has a purpose for us. He has a kingdom to be built.

Understanding this and making God’s purposes our leadership responsibility will inevitably cause our church to grow. The book The Purpose Driven Church is all about purpose renewal and how to structure and organize around God’s purposes for His church.

Structural Renewal

The fourth renewal is structural renewal, or organizational renewal. As your church begins to grow, the way it is organized—the way it makes decisions—has to change. This is the principle Jesus taught when He said, “No one puts new wine into old wine skins” (Luke 5:37, LB).

Many of us are trying to put the new wine of God’s Spirit into an organization our churches used more than 50 years ago. When you will see a good pastor but the church is not growing, what is the problem? Many times it is not structured in a way that will allow the church to grow healthily. If you insist on keeping the old wineskin, it’s going to stifle growth.

No animal can grow above nine inches without a skeleton. A small animal can exist without bones, but a big animal has to have bones to support the structure. The bigger the animal, the bigger the bones need to be. This is what is meant about changing structure. The structure, or organization, is the bones that hold the body of Christ together.

When we were children, our bones were very small. As adults, we’d look quite funny if we had the same bones. Did you know that you get new bones every seven years? Your body is continually eliminating old cells from your bones and creating new bones from your marrow. Similarly, this must happen in our churches as they grow.

How do you create a structure that can keep growing and never stop? The organization that keeps a church growing is small groups. A small group is six to 10 people who meet together regularly. When you get more than 10 people in a small group, then someone stops talking and all they do is listen. In a small group, small is better.

A great example of this principle is in Korea, where one of the largest churches in the world has more than half a million members and more than 50,000 small groups. This is how a church can grow and still be personal. If you have more than 30 people in your church, you need small groups. There are many more examples all over South America and Africa that have small groups in the tens of thousands. This is the principle: If you have small groups, there is no limit to your growth.

Your body is not one big giant cell; it is thousands and thousands of little cells put together. This is true of the body of Christ. So, in structural renewal, it is important to understand the need to change as the church gets larger. When a church grows from 50 to 150, there will be changes needed; when it grows from 150 to 300, additional changes will be needed.

Cultural Renewal

The gospel is about renewal—renewal in our own personal life, renewal in our relationships and renewal in our churches. The result of these renewals can be to make a difference in our communities. This is the fifth renewal—cultural renewal.

The Bible tells us we are to be salt and light in the world. A lot of people take “salt and light” to suggest we need to be actively involved in the political system. It is important to vote and take a stand on values. But you don’t change culture through politics. If you want to change culture, you start upstream with music, entertainment and sports. You start with the influences on the way people think. This is the task of the church; a renewed church affects society.

Cultural renewal is when the attitudes of the people in the entire nation begins to change, even those who are not Christians. The Bible calls this change in culture “the kingdom of God.” This is our ultimate goal—the kingdom of God. It has nothing to do with politics, and it has nothing to do with government. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and so government cannot bring in the kingdom, and businesses cannot bring in the kingdom, and even individuals cannot bring in the kingdom. Only the church can bring in the kingdom.

What is the kingdom of God? It is wherever Jesus is King. When Jesus is King in my heart, then the kingdom of God is within me. When Jesus is in charge in heaven, the kingdom of God is in heaven. When Jesus is King in our community, the kingdom of God is on earth. In the Bible, Jesus said all three of these things. Our ultimate goal in all that we’re doing is not to be “purpose driven.” Our ultimate purpose is the kingdom of God. It is to the glory of God—it is the global glory of God.

Rick Warren is the founding pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., one of America’s largest and most influential churches. Rick is author of the New York Times best-seller The Purpose Driven Life. His book The Purpose Driven Church was named one of the 100 Christian books that changed the 20th century. He is also founder of Pastors.com, a global Internet community for pastors.

For the original article, visit pastors.com.

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