3 Signs of a Transformation Church
I fly a lot. It seems as if each week I find myself in a different state and with a different group of church leaders. I meet lots of folks who are dissatisfied with their church’s impact. They want more. They have a growing desire to see lives transformed. They want their church to make an impact in their community and around the world. But how widespread is this passion for mission?
A couple years ago, LifeWay Research set out on an ambitious project to find some answers. In the months that followed, we completed 7,000 telephone surveys, 250 on-site interviews with Protestant pastors, and more than 15,000 church member surveys.
We gathered a massive amount of both quantitative (numbers) and qualitative (human experience) data that has given us a better understanding of how God is working in many congregations. As one who has been the bearer of bad news about churches in our day, the project had an unanticipated side effect: hope—not a characteristic normally associated with statistical research.
What did we discover that engenders hope? A detailed report is found in my book Transformational Church, co-authored with Thom Rainer. But let me share some top-level impressions from that study.
Despite their imperfections, many churches are having a transformational impact. And these transformation churches are measuring their impact by a whole new scorecard in three areas of focus:
Individuals. These churches realize that their work is to help people understand who Jesus is and follow Him. Transformational churches have moved past the old scorecard of merely looking for more bodies, bigger budgets and sprawling buildings. They are determined to see life change as normative in the people they come across because of the Gospel’s impact.
The Local Church. As their people become more like Christ, these congregations begin to act like the body of Christ. The transformational churches in our study have their passions set on creating environments where relationships naturally deepen. The leadership releases the members to do the ministry, and the members, in turn, trust the leadership. What we saw in these churches was actually reflective of the body of Christ as described in 1 Corinthians 12.
The Community. With a mission to help people become more like Jesus and a congregation that hopes to better resemble the body of Christ, it is inevitable that the community surrounding such a church will be changed. Rather than prop up the tired tradition of “destination religion”—come to our place to get spiritually nourished—these churches focus on their ability to scatter into the community.
The new scorecard of transformational churches has this scattering as its basis. Being more concerned with the community's transformation than program preservation, they encourage members to serve in and out of the church. The great goal transformational churches hold in mind is to help every community experience the impact of the kingdom of God. Moving away from the church property, they hope to deliver Jesus where He is not known and justice where oppression rears its insidious head.
Church matters. But we have too many churches that are about themselves and not God’s kingdom agenda. Talking to churches experiencing transformation has increased my hope in what God is doing today. I am more confident than ever that He is using His people as a symbol and a sign of His kingdom.