So what is wrong with wanting to create a new church with vibrancy, life, and energy in hopes that it will grow and survive? Well, there is nothing wrong with this aim. But if the aim to become a new organization is your primary focus, you will never become uncommonly new. Let me explain why. Here are four types of new:
1. Church newness
Often church leaders think that creating a new church organizational structure will revitalize their church. Sometimes they do this by streamlining their hierarchy, simplifying their programs, firing or hiring staff, or merging a church with another congregation. The hope is that some organizational newness will foster a freshness that can revive the church. But if this is your strategy, you will fail at becoming a uncommon church.
Attempting to restructure the organization will not cultivate the supernatural community that God designed his church to be. New programs, staff, and structures will only survive until the next new thing emerges, and then the church will be antiquated (and common) again. Restructuring the church into something new, while laudable, cannot create a long-term uncommon church. This is because God desires that his church’s newness emerge from people, not structures.
2. Newcomer newness and transfer growth
Still other congregations hope that improving their hospitality and assimilation of newcomers will create a new church. And, many helpful books can assist a church in better connecting newcomers to a congregation.1
But while connecting newcomers with a community of faith is an important task, it will not create the all-encompassing sense of newness that is needed to revive a common church. Newcomers certainly bring a sense of expectation, innovation, and camaraderie. But the fact is that in many churches the newcomers are refugees from other churches, visiting your church in hopes of something they are not getting at their previous congregation. In fact, there is a name for church growth that results from Christians church-shopping: transfer growth.2
While transfer growth is important since it helps ensure that Christians are getting plugged into a congregation, it does not create the kind of newness that an uncommon church needs. Donald McGavran said, “By transfer growth is meant the increase of certain congregations at the expense of others . . . But transfer growth will never extend the church, for unavoidably many are lost along the way.”3
For true newness to spread through a congregation, the supernatural newness that God intended is needed. This sense of newness arises from people in spiritual need being spiritually and physically transformed. Such newness pervades a congregation with a hope and a passion that no other newness can match.
3. Churchgoer newness
Sometimes leaders pick up this book because deep down they want to see their church attendees changed. Leaders are often tired of the wrangling, petty grudges, and poor attitudes that many churchgoers exhibit. Thus, they say to themselves, “If I could only change the people in the church and make them new, that would then change the organization.”
Changing people’s attitudes is important. But churchgoer newness is not the vital type of newness that God intends to characterize the uncommon church. Another more never-ending newness is at the heart of God’s purpose for his church. There is an eternal newness that springs forth when humans receive supernatural power to change their lives for the good and begin afresh.
4. Newness for those in spiritual need
This is the true newness that will permeate the uncommon church. It is an expectation and invitation for people to be trans- formed physically and spiritually by a reunification with their loving heavenly Father (and among a community that embraces such newness). Figure 7.1 gives an overview of why and from where supernatural newness comes.
In the previous articles we saw that the term missio Deidescribes God’s quest to be reunited with his wayward offspring. Once this reunion is made, a real newness in personal lives emerges, a newness toward which the uncommon church will be orientated. Though growing O.U.T., S.M.A.L.L., and L.E.A.R.N.ers are part of the process, a church will not become uncommonly supernatural unless it welcomes and expects spiritual and physical transformation.
People today (but probably no more than in any other period) are in search of newness. They want to alleviate bad habits, over- come harmful enticements, curb destructive behavior, and be more loving, kind, and generous. But something deep inside of each of us seems to pull us back toward bad actions. The cure— the real, long-term cure—for uncommonness is a church where supernatural encounter and expectation is woven into the fabric of the congregation. And so, an uncommon church will exhibit many of the characteristics of Figure 7.2.
Excerpted from Cure For The Common Church: God’s Plan to Restore Church Health, by Bob Whitesel (Wesleyan Publishing House 2012). For further online notes: See Chapter 7 Complete Notes.
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Bob Whitesel / Bob Whitesel (D.Min., Ph.D.) is professor of missional leadership and founding professor of Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. A sought after speaker, church growth consultant and award-winning writer of 12 books on missional leadership, church change and church growth; he also holds two earned doctorates (D.Min. and Ph.D.) from Fuller Theological Seminary where he was awarded “The Donald McGavran Award for Outstanding Scholarship in Church Growth.”