Health. Fitness. Conditioning. Thinking about those words makes most people tired. And, then again, thinking about working out, jogging, or just controlling our diets is about as far as many people get. The issues of health and fitness are prevalent thoughts but rarely make it into the realm of reality. It is easier to think about change then to experience it — and all real transformation takes change.
The same is true for church health. In fact, the current realities in the American church have some clamoring for better results. We are in constant search for a program, book, or speaker who can help us go from "ailing to thriving." And, to our credit, not many local church leaders back off of the challenge of the effort required to see that change take place.
What does a transformed (and transformational) church look like? The Bible gives examples of what it looks like when God transforms the people of a local church. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light (I Peter 2:9). Notice there is no designation of the size, location, or methods. Spiritual transformation is about purpose and identity.
Recently, LifeWay Research completed an extensive research project involving 7,000 churches, 250 pastor and staff interviews, and 20,000 church member surveys. It turned out to be one of the largest research projects completed on the church in America. Once the data was organized and evaluated, insights emerged into God's work of transforming lives and congregations.
The results led LifeWay to launch the Transformational Church initiative which seeks to use the research to assist churches toward greater growth and impact for the Kingdom of Christ. The initiative includes a book by the same title, as well as multiple resources designed to help churches reach the goal of seeing transformed people changing the world for the Kingdom.
Transformational Church, the book, focuses on the change that happens, not in church programming, but in lives. It is a journey through the research and biblical teachings of how God aligns people to His mission by transforming their identity. It is filled with the stories of what a church looks like when God brings change to our lives. We discovered believers who longed to see God transform communities through the local church. They had become the advertisements for the transforming power of the Gospel. When people see what God has done, it influences them.
Our research confirmed quantitatively what we all thought to be true. The majority of churches are struggling to make a transformational impact on people and communities. But what was exciting through all the research was a hopeful sound coming from churches across North America. We discovered God at work. The transformational churches we discovered are the bearers of hope. We discovered what a transformational church looks like.
But pastors who are looking for quick results with little effort might be disappointed. The church in America did not get where it is overnight. Thus, the solutions will not come overnight. The transformational churches we discovered were the congregations with people willing to question everything and ready to pay any price. Not looking for a secret formula, we found the undeniable starting points for experiencing a new season of ministry.
What we found came down to the two words that define the book and the entire initiative at LifeWay: transformation and church. We believe in the power of the gospel and the transformation it brings to individuals, churches, and communities.
Transformation happens when God takes hold of a life. We are moved from darkness to light. Enemy to friend. Orphan to adopted child. Sinner to saint. By the work of Christ, a person is transformed. Then, every thought and action begins to change. Values and attitudes soon follow. The mission for life changes. Transformation is something which happens on a personal level.
Church is the gathering of transformed people who worship Christ and follow His mission. Recognizing that the work of God's kingdom is not complete, the church is to passionately persuade others of their need and Christ's work. It is unlike any collection of people because it is through the church that God has chosen to make His wisdom known (Ephesians 3:10).
When you put these two incredibly big, biblical ideas together, you have a story worth telling. Though "church" means many things to many people in our world today, God has a plan for the biblical church, and He has a plan for the church where you attend. God never intended for it to be simply a benign gathering of rule-seekers.
The same is true of "transformation." In the American vernacular, everything from weight loss to third world relief efforts is deemed transformational. However, when you put these two words — transformation and church — together, you get the compelling picture of God's work in the world. That is exactly what happened during the journey that is now known as Transformational Church.
The work of the research once again revealed that God does His work in different ways through different people and in different places. Our research team found churches with a transformational impact in communities just like yours — whether you live in a megacity or on a rural road. We observed God changing lives in churches in different styles of churches. New churches and older churches are seeing God use them to transform their communities. Ultimately, we are reminded that God must be the One trusted to deliver transformation and not a methodology or location.
The stories discovered where "transformation" and "church" are intersecting can only be explained by God's desire to change lives and entire communities.
But to see transformation, a church needs to approach it for the long run, a marathon if you will. We discovered that for many, it was the willingness to stay the course that brought them into such a season of ministry. We invite you and your church to engage God's mission to reach more people, to show the love of Christ, and to see transformation. What would it look like if God had His way in your church and community? It might be a long road to "health" and "fitness" but the transformational journey will be worth the effort to find out.