Review of "Roadmap to Renewal: Rediscovering the Church's Mission" by Douglas W. Ruffle
by Douglas W. Rufflev General Board of Global Ministries, 2009
"We want our churches to grow." Denominational leaders and pastors utter those words on a regular basis. Growth within an existing church requires more than slick marketing or clever programs, however. Spurring growth within an established church requires the hard work of rediscovering your church's purpose and mission. It means choosing whether to live or die. It means discerning what God has in mind for your congregation right now. Few books deal with the real choices involved with church renewal with such honesty and grace as Doug Ruffle does in Roadmap to Renewal.
Not Your Typical "Come to Jesus Meeting"
We often refer to honest conversations as "come to Jesus meetings." The phrase generally conjures the belief that some wrongdoing will be revealed and that any culprits involved will be summarily punished forthwith! None of that foreboding exists in Ruffle's writing. He walks readers through the topics that must be addressed when assessing a congregation's present condition.
The chapter presenting the "reality check" process explores the why of a church's existence. The content compels the reader to assess why the church exists. What spiritual purpose does it fulfill? Is church to be a sanctuary? Is it to be equated with the realm of God, or should it point people to God's realm? Is the church's purpose to demonstrate Christian community such that, as Henry Nouwen says, it causes onlookers to say, "See how they love each other!"?
Most churches can recall when they were most vibrant and offered relevant ministry among their constituency and community. As time progresses, some churches cling too tightly to the sentiment surrounding "the good old days" and need to reconnect with relevancy as God presently defines it. Again, Ruffle shares a range of prerequisite topics designed to reenergize a congregation including the following: pray, listen to God and one another, build a team, and set ground rules. Nothing new here, this section simply douses each topic amply with plain old good sense.
Who is My Neighbor?
After completing the preliminary work within the congregation, Ruffle turns our attention outward. Some things take on meaning only when experienced firsthand. Such is the case with doing demographics. When was the last time you drove through or walked through the neighborhood surrounding your church building, all the while asking the questions "why" and "what"? Why are so many children playing unsupervised? What could we do to help? Why do so many people suffer from the same health problems here? What resources could we gather to provide relief?
To Do or Not to Do
After the brief foray into the community, Ruffle returns the book's focus to the congregation's culture. First, he says "let's party!" Celebrate what you do well, question continuance of stagnant efforts, and dream about what could happen in the near future.
The dream stage includes learning from other churches. Why reinvent the wheel?
Putting it All Together
The book culminates with a sensible process for developing a plan of action. Ruffle's experience in congregational development shows here. He includes a useful list of topics to address and presents the information in a very user-friendly manner.
For a book of such length (94 pages), Ruffle manages to provide content that is both practical and sufficiently substantive. This is a book to be read by leaders and church leaders who desire a renewal process that people will both understand and use.