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From Renewal to Mission
The head of the Vineyard Churches Canada reflects on their changing denominational identity and the challenges all Evangelicals face.

In denominational terms, the Vineyard family of churches is a relative newcomer. We have been in existence for just under 25 years, born out of the Jesus People revival of the 1970s. Like adolescents in any family, we’ve had a wonderful opportunity to explore and experiment. Without the restraint of a long and established set of traditions, we’ve been able to venture outside the box for both good and ill. We have been privileged to see God use our journey to bring refreshing renewal to many within the larger Church in Canada; we’ve also experienced the pain and sense of regret in witnessing the damage some of our well-intentioned adventures brought to that same group.

Almost three-quarters of our members report they are more outward focused than two years ago.

Our history, of course, is not particularly unique. Many other denominations in Canada have begun as renewal movements with similar charismatic beginnings. Understandably, we have had to face what all these others encountered long before us: that revival and renewal (like all “re” words) describe an action of returning to a place rather than the place itself. We have had to learn what every married couple understands – that the key to marital love is not living continually in a honeymoon but rather bringing the essence of that passion into the ongoing context and challenge of life.

It is not that our identity or sense of purpose failed to recognize the call of the Great Commission. In fact, our core message has always simply been a reminder to the evangelical movement to which we belong that this commission is an empowered one and that it must include all Jesus did, including His works of power. The renewing and (in many cases) life-changing experiences that occurred in our church meetings and conferences were always seen as secondary and as an empowering for service.

Nevertheless, it is clear that over time our identity was formed more as a renewal organization and less as a community of cross-cultural missionaries to our own nation. The good (our experience of God) actually began to become the enemy of the best (taking this experience to others who do not know Jesus).

Over the past decade we have come to the conviction that this must change and it must change with us. To actually put into practice what we theoretically teach has not been easy or quick. Quite frankly, it is much easier to hold a power evangelism conference than it is to do power evangelism. It seems noble to talk of ministry to those who are poor; it challenges all our insecurities to develop community with them. It seems much harder to be “successful” in the task of mission than in the business of renewal.

Recently we conducted an anonymous online survey of all our adults across the country to see where we are in this transition.

Some things were very encouraging. Fifty percent of our people have come within the past five years (ten percent in this past year alone). We are increasingly getting younger (a strong majority of our people are under 40) and that is being reflected in our leadership demographics. Contrary to a disturbing trend in the North American Church, we are not only holding on to our 15- to 29-year-olds but we are gathering others as well.

For 20 percent of our members, the Vineyard is their first-ever church home (not a percentage to be proud of but certainly far beyond where we were).

Our people are engaged with their neighbourhoods and surrounding culture, having numbers of significant friendships with those who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. We’re not very good at connecting Jesus’ grand story with the life stories of people yet, but at least we are incarnationally present and we care that the stories connect. Almost three-quarters of our members report they are more outward focused than two years ago.

Yet this transition has been costly: many have found the journey too challenging and frustrating to continue with us.

Church growth through evangelism is a considerably slower process than growth through renewal and it demands entirely new skills and gifts. In many ways it feels as if we are starting over again.

Of course, the Vineyard is not the only family of churches going through this transition. Most denominations are trying to rise to the challenge of fully living out God’s invitation within the emerging post-Christian culture. The Church does not occupy the central place in society we once enjoyed but the Church has always been most effective from the margins – particularly when it has been unified. And I don’t believe there has ever been a time when denominations have been as united as they are today. This gives me great hope!

Gary Best of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, is national team leader of Vineyard Churches Canada, which has 63 congregations in Canada.

Originally published in Faith Today, May/June 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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