A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Renovate or Die: Fridays with Farr (and Kotan) #1

For the next several Fridays I am going to be working through Bob Farr's excellent book Renovate or Die: Ten Ways to Focus Your Church on Mission. Our pastoral staff is currently reading the book together and discussing it at our Thursday morning staff meetings. While Farr is a United Methodist and his focus is oriented around the UMC, this book is valuable for pastors and parishioners from all faith traditions.

In the Introduction (pp. 1-13) Farr puts forth the argument that individual churches have only two choices open to them: renovate or cease to exist. Renovation is not simply redecoration, which is what too many congregations are attempting to do. Farr writes,
Redecoration is about cosmetics-- an attempt to spruce up the place. Redecoration is making things more appealing on the surface-- visually more appealing most of the time. Redecoration does not call you to make any real structural changes, so it is much easier than renovation, and it normally happens without any professional assistance and with much less expense. Redecoration is definitely less risky than renovation.

Renovation, on the other hand, is closely associated with innovation, which involves starting something new from scratch. Innovation is a result of originality and creativity. Innovation is something you birth; it's a new life. Renovation contains all these things, but begins with a shape, a history, and a form. It carries burdens and traditions from the past, which requires additional tools.... Renovation is often more expensive, risky, and is extremely hard work (pp. 6-7).
The church, according to Farr, has attempted to redecorate over the past thirty years and the results have been far less than fruitful. The time for redecoration has passed; renovation is now the only option for survival and for flourishing. And if the church is going to renovate it needs to recover and focus its attention on its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Farr ends his Introduction with an appeal to those two 18th century renovators, John and Charles Wesley, who attempted to bring renovation to the Church of England, but with some hesitation started a new movement of God because the larger church refused to renovate. "And as a result, the Methodist Church changed the culture and future for both England and the United States" (p. 13).

The questions which will occupy me personally as I read this book are: Has the United Methodist Church become the Church of England of the 18th century? Will we renovate or will someone need to start a new movement of God without us? Are we in need of a 21st century John and Charles Wesley?


Kurt M. Boemler said...

Renovate means to restore something old to a good state of repair.

One can only renovate inanimate objects. Things that are not alive. When one is done renovating a thing, it is still not alive.

Regenerate or Die would be a better title. Regeneration is when a living thing is restored to health or wholeness.

I think the Wesley Bros. were not seeking to renovate the Church of England, but fervently praying to and fervently with God to see it regenerated by the Holy Spirit.

Another point with which I question Bob Farr; does he think the CoE is dead? Or did they finally renovate, just with a slightly different floor plan than Methodism?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Thanks for your comments.

Of course, regeneration is another way to get at the problem, but I think you are trying to push the definition of renovate too far. Farr's analogy is of a house that needs renovation not simply redecoration, and I think his analogy is a good one. It quite sufficiently described our current situation and how we have failed miserably in addressing it.

Kurt M. Boemler said...

I think comparing the church to a building is an awful analogy.

How many members of dying churches already think of the church as only a shared "spiritual house"? I think the analogy inadvertently confuses the church community with the ministry tool that is the building. To a seasoned and effective pastor, this might not be confusing, but to congregations who have decades of not getting it, I would not be so certain.

I still think that the Bill Easum's book, "A Second Resurrection" is a far superior book on how to make a dead or dying church live again.

Avey said...

Some may say that Methodism is in the same position now as Anglicanism still is from Wesley's period.