This is an "opportune time" to talk about transformation, said Ed Stetzer, director of LifeWay Research. During this season of "evangelical malaise," people are asking, "What do we need to think [about] differently?"
Stetzer was speaking to attendees of the 2009 SBC State Conventions’ Summit held Dec. 8-11 in Nashville, Tenn. He went on to reveal the rationale and creation process of LifeWay’s Transformational Church (TC) initiative, a multi-year project set to launch in mid-2010 with the release of "Transformational Church," a B&H Publishing Group book co-written by Stetzer and Thom Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO.
"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."
The initiative is designed around groundbreaking 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.
"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. 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. 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 at 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." 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.
But new data from LifeWay Research reveals that many churches are passionate about the Gospel and, as a result, thriving.
"The most important message is that churches are being transformed, and they are actively engaged in the transformation of people and communities," said Rainer. "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 is available at TransformationalChurch.com.