Citing a season of "evangelical malaise" -- when people are asking, "What do we need to think about differently?" -- now is an "opportune time" to talk about church transformation, Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research, told the participants.
"Transformational churches make disciples whose lives are being transformed by the Gospel so that the culture around them is ultimately transformed," Stetzer explained. "Transformational churches are deeply committed to the essential foundations of discipleship: worship, community and mission. They practice and make disciples through vibrant leadership, prayerful dependence and relational intentionality, and they do so in their context with a missionary mindset."
Spiritual transformation is the work of God in salvation, drawing unbelievers to Himself, regenerating them, indwelling them and conforming them to the likeness of Christ, Stetzer said. Spiritual transformation is experienced in the lives of God's people and His church. They impact their communities and the world as living testimonies of the transforming power of Christ.
The initiative is designed around research which will be revealed in Stetzer and Rainer's book, and will guide LifeWay as it produces resources to help churches spread the Gospel and promote spiritual growth, Stetzer said.
"The goal is not to give a church a book, tool or research that will help them make the headlines," Stetzer stressed. "Our goal is to help churches -- any size, any location -- make a biblical impact."
For months, LifeWay Research has been surveying thousands of churches from multiple denominations that are leading examples of spiritual transformation, Stetzer said. Those interviews are providing a framework for the resources LifeWay is developing to guide local churches through the Transformational Church process.
"We're asking people who are doing what we want to do, how they do it," Stetzer said.
Consultant training for Transformational Church will begin in fall 2010, with other events and resources to follow, including pastor/staff retreats and Transformational Church training conferences, Stetzer explained. Ultimately, church leaders will be invited to involve their congregations in the Transformational Church initiative by completing an internal survey and tailoring TC resources to their people, churches and communities.
During a later session of the summit, Rainer told attendees there are two motivating forces behind the Transformational Church initiative.
First, "we want to know reality. Facts are our friends and they help us understand the current situation of the church in real terms -- good, bad and ugly," Rainer said. Second, "we see hope and possibilities in what God is doing in local churches. This is what our research has shown us, and we want to share this encouraging data with churches at all levels of effectiveness."
Drawing from the book of Zechariah and the seemingly hopeless situation facing the Jews after their return from exile in Babylon, Rainer said there are three reasons the American church has, in many respects, lost hope: lack of focus, opposition from without and dissension from within.
The new data from LifeWay Research, however, reveals many churches are passionate about the Gospel and, as a result, are thriving, Rainer said.
"The most important message is that churches are being transformed, and they are actively engaged in the transformation of people and communities," Rainer said. "Too often we've highlighted the negative realities of the declining American church, but we've missed the opportunity to magnify the God of hope and transformation."
More information about the project is available at TransformationalChurch.com.
Copyright (c) 2009 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press www.BPNews.net