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What Is Transformation?

Transformation is the collective process, practices and methodologies of change for congregations and churches that lead to re-discovering what we are called to be as a church.

Churches in decline often need to re-connect with the very definition of what we are called, by God, to be. Disconnecting from God's will means that we quite likely have disconnected from those outside of the walls of the church and those not in our own faith community; we nurture only our brothers and sisters inside our congregations but have ceased to care or even engage with those on the outside. In doing so, we lose our mission and our way.

80% of all mainline churches are in the last half of their lifecycle, and fully 60% are in the last quadrant of the lifecycle; all must transform or face the inevitable end-stages of their decline. In the final end-stages of their decline, realizing genuine transformation will be almost impossible. While this is frightening, the decline is not the only possible outcome. We can re-discover our mission, re-engage and re-emerge as healthy thriving churches.

Some churches will transform and re-emerge into a new life cycle, stronger for their journey. Others will not transform and will most likely fade away as viable individual institutions while their members seek other churches. Which course is taken depends on the willingness of a congregation to embrace change.

It is easy to see when something isn't working; it's harder to know how to change for the better. It is not about doing the same things we have always done and hoping for different outcomes or using the same thinking and approaches that landed a congregation in decline. It is not just making changes for change's sake or some implement of someone's personal agenda. Real transformation is not merely a mechanism for only restoring numbers or dollars to what they once were or restoring some by-gone memory of what church was perceived to be in the past.

Transformation is about the change that re-connects us to being what we are called by God to be as a church in mission. Transformation is about re-connecting to God's will and means that we have to change: first as people and, in turn, as a congregation.

The outcome of change can be improvement or deterioration; good or bad; real or imagined; long-term or transitory. Change resulting in deterioration usually means we are only changing on the surface. Genuine transformation means we change deeply and become a more effective faith community.

But how do we know how we need to change? As Christ's church, the guidance we need is found in the prayerful discernment of God's desires for our congregation.

Transformation is about listening to God, deepening our relationship with God, and acting upon what we discern to be God's will. If we restore the spiritual connection between God and the mission of our church, we will usually find that greater health follows.

Transformation must be God-centered. It's not our church; it's God's church. Therefore, we can't do transformation alone. If we think that we have the answers and can do the transformation with just our own ideas and work (even hard work), without God's intervention, our vision is too small! We must pray expecting God to answer. We must be willing to take faith risks together with God.

Transformation is a spiritual journey that has an intentional beginning but no end; we are always on the journey, never finished. Transformation is a strategic journey because it addresses change in proactive intentional processes, giving attention to how and why we are making certain changes. Transformation has a clear vision of the journey but one that can be re-cast as needed.

Transformation is systemic because it is about everything that any one congregation is and does and because each congregation is connected to the greater Church. Transformation is not a program or just one aspect of a church's total programming. We must being willing to review everything we do as a church in the framework of God's mission and presence in our world today, without merely personal preferences, traditions and agendas. 

Transformation is not an overnight process; deep change takes time. If you are not an already-transforming church, you cannot begin too soon.