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Lay Renewal Weekends lift churches

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Cornerstone Baptist Church members were “thrilled, encouraged and challenged” by a recent Lay Renewal Weekend, pastor Brian Credille reports.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Credille said. “I didn’t even know how many of our people would want to come … [because] a big part of it is small groups and interacting with others, and some are not comfortable with that.”

But 105 members attended the Lay Renewal Weekend at Cornerstone, which averages 155 in attendance each Sunday in Jefferson City, Mo.

A renewal weekend — in a nutshell — is a lay-led event conducted by a volunteer team trained in raising a church to a new level of ministry and service.

Cornerstone and more than 20 other Southern Baptist churches in five states — Missouri, Illinois, North Carolina, Virginia and Vermont — conducted Lay Renewal Weekends April 24-26.

Bob Foy, a missionary and national coordinator for church renewal for the North American Mission Board, reflected, “It just seemed to be God’s idea to use that weekend.” Foy, based in Mooresville, N.C., has been either personally attending or coordinating three or four Lay Renewal Weekends each week so far in 2009. Another 75 or so are on the calendar for the remainder of this year.

In 2008, Foy helped coordinate 125 renewal weekend events in 25 states, with nearly 12,000 Southern Baptist church members and LRW team members participating.

“Our initial Lay Renewal Weekends are ‘awakening weekends,'” said Foy, whose passion for church renewal goes back 30-plus years. “We want to tell churches that God wants you to do more than sit in the pews.

“We’ve got Baptist churches full of laypeople who are not being used by God. They’re just coming and attending church. The goal of renewal is not to get them in church, but to get them equipped and serving outside the church. The biggest problem we have is that most laypeople think God calls only preachers and missionaries, not laypeople. We try to awaken them to the idea that God calls them, too,” Foy said.

At 65, Foy could be retired, fishing every day or playing golf. Instead, he turned over his electrical business to his family to do church renewal full-time with his wife, Phyllis. Foy said it took a long time for him to personally realize that while he was saved from something, he was also saved for something — service to God.

“If we can help laypersons find out how God has called and gifted them, and find a way they can use that gift empowered by the Holy Spirit, they’ll find it’s a joy to serve,” Foy said. “We have churches full of people who are saved but who don’t have the joy of being saved because we haven’t taught them how to serve out of their giftedness. Christians know about the plan of salvation but with these weekends, we’re trying to teach them a plan of discipleship.”

Some 1,700 trained volunteers are part of the national church renewal network. For a renewal weekend, seven to 24 or more volunteers usually travel to the church. These volunteers have specialties: Some are worship leaders, music leaders, youth leaders or children’s leaders. Others lead small-group discussions.

The weekend actually begins on Thursday for the church members, who hold a 24-hour prayer vigil. For the visiting renewal team members, the weekend kicks off with a fellowship meal on Friday night. Afterward, the members and volunteers move into the sanctuary and the visiting team takes over as LRW volunteers give testimonies and lead in song.

Then, the church members — adults, youth and children — break into small groups and are asked what they would like God to do for them and their church that weekend.

Saturday sessions begin with coffee groups of 10 or more at church members’ homes. Members may be asked to tell their most vivid memory of an answered prayer or to reflect on the state of their current spiritual walk. Saturday afternoon is spent in larger groups — separated by men, women, youth and children.

Saturday night’s session includes more testimonies by visiting team members and small-group discussions among church members. The session may be in the form of a “catacomb service” with dimmed lights during which families sit together, memorializing how early Christians met secretly in the catacombs of Rome. Early Christians had no organs, hymnals or even Bibles. They simply shared what they knew — songs, Scripture and letters from fellow Christians. In a LRW setting, the catacomb service is a 30-minute time of spontaneous sharing and singing, followed by family prayer at the church altar. Foy described it as “powerful, totally under the control of the Holy Spirit.”

The wrap-up session on Sunday directed by the LRW team is the day’s worship service but without a sermon — just songs and testimonies. Following the Sunday session, the LRW team turns the reins back over to the church’s pastor. On Sunday night after the volunteer team has left for home, the church holds a post-LRW evaluation session to reflect on the weekend and begin steps to turn ideas and plans into action. The session usually runs three hours or so but has been known to go as long as five hours.

What kind of SBC churches could profit from a renewal weekend?

“I think a church at any stage could find it valuable,” said Credille of Cornerstone Baptist. “Even one on fire would be that much more encouraged and would see even more of its laypeople involved in their local church and in missions outreach.”

The pastor said Cornerstone recorded one decision for Christ, two new members and about 20 rededications as a result of the weekend. Because of the small-group discussions, church members also came to know each other better, leading to some reconciliations. “God used it to bring people together in a stronger way,” Credille said.

“What God’s doing through lay weekend church renewal,” Foy said, “is one of the greatest things going on in the Southern Baptist Convention. But it’s a well-kept secret. No one knows about it.”

With 2009’s calendar pretty full, Foy is now signing up church renewal weekends in 2010. It takes at least three to six months of “cottage” prayer meetings in church members’ homes, he said, just to get spiritually ready for a renewal weekend.
Mickey Noah is a writer for the North American Mission Board. For more information on Lay Renewal Weekends, access NAMB’s website at www.churchrenewal.net or e-mail Bob Foy at [email protected]. Foy can also be reached at 1-888-634-2462, ext. 6481.

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  • Mickey Noah