Church Vision that Rescues through Institutional Renovation

The following post is an excerpt from God Dreams: 12 Vision Templates or Finding and Focusing your Church's Future.

In part three of the book I walk through the 12 templates starting with a simple definition and providing a personal snapshot from my point of view as a vision consultant. Then, I explore the template biblically, providing historical and contemporary church examples and metaphors for communication. For the complete guide with team assessment questions, I recommend that you buy the book. You can also see all of 12 templates in one visual overview or visit the God Dreams resource site.

Quick Definition

Your church’s vision is to rejuvenate an institution that matters to God, most often a ministry that historically has been significant but has lost a degree of relevance, focus, or momentum. You might state it as, “We will renew a God-ordained institution like marriage, family, or church that has suffered decline, collapse, or neglect.” The key is that churches in this template see the concept of institution in a positive way.

Personal Snapshot

It was brisk summer morning in Billings, Montana, and I couldn’t wait to meet with the leadership team of Harvest Church led by Vern Streeter. Harvest is a fast-growing, contemporary-styled church with the mission of living life as if Jesus were living through you. Within the first hour with the team, we focused on the story of the church’s founding. This “creation story” of the church would eventually influence the team to select the institutional renovation template for developing their vision.

How did Harvest get started? Vern was a youth pastor at an area church of the same denomination. Someone had given money to the denomination for the purposes of starting a new church. The money had a ten-year expiration date. Every year Vern would inquire about the money, asking his denominational leadership if anyone had taken it yet. When the tenth year came on the horizon with no takers, Vern still wasn’t sure if God was calling him to plant. Then a local event changed everything.

A large master-planned community was developing in a new area of Montana. To Vern’s shock he read a news article stating that city planners were restricting the development of new churches because they said churches represent zero value being added to a community. The news was like a bomb going off in Vern’s heart. How is it possible that churches could be perceived that way? Vern decided to start a church that would renovate the value of God’s people and God’s institution—the local church—in the eyes of people in his corner of the world.

The day I visited I saw the amazing progress the people of Harvest have made. The foyer of the church was decorated with camping and hunting gear (including a dozen elk-head mounts) for a teaching series designed to reach unchurched men who love the outdoors. I also toured the Oasis Water Park that was a gift to the community in 2012 valued at five million dollars. When Warren Bird interviewed Vern, he conveyed his passion with crystal clarity: “We need to be so relevant and so tangible that even the most ardent critic of Christianity would be bummed if we ceased to exist. If our doors close, we want the most vocal atheist to say, ‘I never believed a thing they said about God, but they were certainly good for our community.’”

I like this story because it illustrates the versatility of the institutional renovation vision template. At first, it’s natural to think about brick and mortar, which certainly fits. But in addition you can think of institution in the most positive way—as God- ordained vehicles—expanding its meaning to the ideas of the local church in general or to families, marriages, and governments as alluded to earlier.

Biblical Reflections

Romans 11 explains how the Gentiles have been grafted into the blessings of Israel, much like a wild olive shoot can be grafted in to “share in the nourishing root” (v. 17). This teaching speaks to the renewal and rejuvenation needed among God’s chosen people during the time of Christ. In some ways the movement from Old Testament to New Testament is a “renovation of agreements” between God and men. Hence Jesus speaks of the “new command” in John 13:34 (NIV) and elsewhere.

Even the cryptic nature of Jesus’ verbal sparring with some Jews hints to this massive renovation in John 2:19: “Jesus answered them, ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’” They were thinking about the physical temple, and Jesus was referring to His body.

In contrast to the epic “renovation” in God’s redemptive plan, we find a more concrete illustration in the days of Nehemiah when the walls of Jerusalem needed rebuilding—as did the vision and hearts of God’s people. Nehemiah’s amazing fifty-two-day city wall rebuilding project is a perfect example of an institutional renovation vision.

In this case the institution is the holy city of Jerusalem.

Starting Point Metaphors

Figure 8.3 shows an established pattern that’s now falling down, collapsing, or crumbling—all in need of rescue, rebuilding, and innovation.

Another image to depict institutional renovation is a once-solid wall now in need of attention but buttressed by a new foundation. In the old a few bricks are missing, the sense of freshness is gone, but the new is building on the old, forecasting a sense of fresh start.

Other images that convey this idea are the restoration of the Sistine Chapel (or other historic sites), reconstructive surgery, a stained-glass window being rebuilt, or an antique dealer working on an old stately chair.

Renovation can also carry ideas and images of innovation. Imagine an upgrade of software, installing a new strategy or model or a new invention. Picture the change from filament bulb to an LED bulb or the movement from film processing to digital photography. Imagine a house where every appliance is Internet connected and Wi-Fi enabled.

A great picture of going back and forward is when Volkswagen introduced the new Beetle in 1997. The car was altogether new and updated, yet it was inspired by the original design of 1938 that had become the longest running and most manufactured single design in history. The “bug” design was essentially renovated. Steve Jobs did the same thing to the cell phone.

Use this list of words to expand your idea of renovation that moves from light-duty ideas like “cleaning” to more substantial ideas like “reconstitute”:

  • Clean, recondition, refurbish, spruce up, face-lift
  • Repair, rehabilitate, revamp, overhaul, refit, retreat
  • Remodel, remake, restore, update
  • Revitalize, rekindle, reactivate, resurrect
  • Recreate, reconstitute, renew, reactivate

Historical Examples

The Sunday school movement has been a major instrument of breathing new life into established churches. In previous eras the revitalization of Sunday school was a community-wide event. Typical was Brooklyn, New York. Beginning in 1829, when that area was known as the city of churches, churches began holding rally day parades that were the focal point of community life. In 1905 the state legislature created Brooklyn Day as an ongoing official holiday, closing the public schools in Brooklyn for the day so children could participate in these massive Sunday school parades. Churches pulled out all the stops to recruit children into their Sunday school programs, with those events often forming a trigger point to rejuvenate a long-standing congregation.

 Contemporary Examples

There are countless examples of churches that have engaged long-term renovation projects when it comes to location, facility, brand, and mission of the church. For example, Willy Rice took the helm of Calvary Baptist Church in Clearwater, Florida, in 2005. At the time of this writing, Calvary is preparing for its 150th anniversary as the first church in both its city and county in the 1800s. Before Willy arrived, the church had suffered decline in several troubled interim years. But over a five-year period, Willy led through a massive turnaround season including relocation, building, rebranding, and reestablishing a culture of mission. Within just a few years of clarifying their mission of building relationships that bring people to dynamic life in Christ, the church conducted a congregation survey with remarkable results. One open-ended question asked, “What do you like best about the church?” Twenty percent of the people answered that they liked having a clear mission.

Another example of the institutional renovation template is the Church of the Y. David Newman started a church and church-planting network with the vision of using fourteen thousand YMCA locations globally as community gathering points to plant churches. The hub is Antioch Church of the Y in Lebanon, Ohio, where thirty-five thousand residents are associated with the significant YMCA presence. When sharing the vision, David references the officially stated but practically overlooked global mission of the YMCA: “The Young Men’s Christian Associations seek to unite those young men who, regarding Jesus Christ as their God and Savior, according to the Holy Scriptures, desire to be his disciples in their faith and in their life, and to associate their efforts for the extension of his Kingdom amongst young men.”

Realizing that the Y has drifted from its vibrant evangelical bearings, the church planting movement is partnering with the 172-year-old organization to refurbish the original intent.

As Nehemiah began his rebuilding project by spending a period of time inspecting the broken walls of the city, David felt the Lord stir him to spend five years studying the history and mission of the YMCA through a doctoral program that focused on institutional renewal. He also traveled much of the world, meeting with YMCA leaders and seeing God’s ongoing work through this global institution. He wanted to have a true sense of God’s heart for this institution and the “status of the walls.”

When defining renovation as upgrading or innovating, I think of, led by Craig Groeshel, and the investment the church made into the YouVersion Bible App developed by Bobby Gruenwald and the “digerati” team. The popular mobile Bible platform launched in 2008 and currently contains more than nine hundred Bible translations in more than six hundred languages. Having passed 207 million downloads, one church’s vision to “renovate” how God’s Word is made available (even though Scripture is not an institution per se) is making a dramatic impact across the globe.

Realizing Your Own Vision

Are you ready to move away from the nine forms of generic vision to develop s vivid description of your own? God Dreams was written to accelerate team dialogue and decision making with the 12 templates. It then provides "how to" steps to select and relate your church's top two templates. From there I walk you through how to develop a powerful and compelling vivid description. And finally, I reveal the visionary planning tool called the Horizon Storyline, to create practical short-range action steps in order to fulfill your long-range God dream.

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