“If we have more butts in the seats but more drugs on the streets, we have failed.” This is a one-line summary of ‘transformation’ given by John Avant, the author of “If God Were Real: A Journey into a Faith That Matters” in an interview.
In the last decade, several groups and organizations going by names like ‘transformation church’ have been created globally. They have a presence in cities, villages, workspaces, schools, and even television and social media. So, what is a transformation church?
What Is a Transformation Church?
Transformational Christianity is an initiative to use the teachings of the Bible to unite and transform entire communities. On an individual level, it means transforming one’s habits and lifestyle through prayer and introspection. It involves tackling problems like alcoholism, drug abuse, crime, domestic violence, sexual abuse on a collective level.
John Avant described it as:
“working with city leaders, business leaders, education leaders and churches to bring the transformative power of the Gospel into the real issues of our community.”
How Did It All Start?
In the 1990s, George Otis Jr. presented two documentaries named ‘Transformations’ and ‘Transformations II’ in the USA. They contained interviews and visuals of people from four cities in the world where the alleged presence of God had radically improved people’s lives.
The film also claimed that certain events like arrests of drug traffickers or the growth of extra-large vegetables in these cities resulted from God’s presence. These claims were later proved wrong by evidence, like, for instance, the use of chemical fertilizers to increase the size of the vegetables.
But, these videos became very popular, and many people began to think about how the religious and spiritual teachings of the Church could be used for community healing seriously. More people started coming to Church.
The term ‘transformationalism’ came into use through prayer groups and sermons. Books were written, and conferences were held about taking Christianity’s teachings to schools, workplaces, homes, and governments.
In fact, a scale known as the Transformational Church Assessment Tool (TCAT) was developed in 2012. It gives churches a demographic report about who attends their services, shows areas of improvement for the pastor, and points to potential growth areas. It is supposed to help a church understand how effective they are in the community.
An interesting feature of transformational Christianity is its emphasis on marketplace ministers. The idea is that religion is not restricted to places of worship. It is relevant in business, school, government, and every other aspect of our life. The message is that whatever work you do in your professional life is God’s work as long as you do it with that sentiment in mind.
It says that people don’t need to be passive receivers of knowledge shared by their pastors in Sunday service. They can actively extend religious conversations beyond churches and prayer groups. So, marketplace ministers are those who put their religious teachings to use outside the church. They engage in voluntary service, advocacy, and mentoring based on the values of the Church in their workplaces and social circle.
City reaching is one way in which transformation churches try to make a difference in the community. City reaching means playing an active role in solving social problems in the city where the church is located. Churches identify specific problems like juvenile delinquency or foster homes’ condition and bring people together to work on them.
It also means cooperating with and helping the authorities who are supposed to do the job. It also includes responding in times of emergencies like natural disasters, accidents, and attacks. The aim is to transform the city in terms of safety, ambiance, people, education, health, infrastructure.
Alan Patt, the founder, and leader of the City Changers Movement says in an interview, “We want this region to become the place where people say, “We want to go there. We want to raise our kids there. We want to start businesses there. We see that there’s a good quality of life there.”
Examples of Transformation Churches
Let’s take a look at the vision of such transformation churches and their lead pastors to fulfill it. Here are some examples of churches and religious groups that work with the idea of transformation:
1. Transformation Church (Tulsa, Oklahoma)
The most interesting thing about this church is its pastors- Michael and Natalie Todd, who have been serving as lead pastors since 2015. It is not just their personal philosophy but also their enthusiasm and charisma that have driven people across the world to become followers of this organization.
They aspire to present the gospel to the coming generations in a relevant and progressive way, and Michael Todd does that just right on their YouTube channel and podcast. Moreover, they enlist ‘fun’ as one of the core values of their culture code. They made the news when they bought The Spirit Bank Event Centre in 2019 for sermons and broadcasts.
They describe their vision as “to represent God to the lost and found for transformation in Christ.” While there aren’t many known voluntary service initiatives of this church, they mostly shine in online broadcasting, community building, and making religion relatable for the younger generations.
2. Transformation Church (South Carolina)
Founded by their lead pastor Derwin L. Gray in 2010, this organization describes itself as “a multi-ethnic, multigenerational, mission-shaped community in Indian Land, South Carolina.” Their vision is to create a society where people love each other across boundaries of race, ethnicity, age, and gender.
This has been translated into a 5- year vision with specific targets like more campuses, microsites, and communities, more baptisms, expansion of their online broadcast, and bringing justice and unity in people’s lives.
They believe in valuing people for what they are over what they produce. They express a commitment to give away 30 % of their income as financial generosity on their website.
The church has worked on several charity initiatives like Community Food Collection and TC Extra Mile- Delivery Driver Appreciation. They have special programs like career guidance workshops, online prayer meetings, and panel discussions on mental health for people going through a tough time during the pandemic.
3.Transformers Church, Chicago
Founded in 2016, this organization was inspired by major events and crises in the life of Pastor Cory. What sets this church apart from the others is not just his touching story but also their vision and values, which are radically different from those of others.
They believe that there is divinity in every person created by God, “Black, White; Straight or Gay; Hispanic, Asian or Middle Eastern; Cisgender or Transgender; Documented or Undocumented…” and go on to say that “You are the beloved of God, and therefore we recognize and honor your value.”Their vision is to help people find their place in life, develop their faith, and live to their potential. For them, the transformation Church is more than just a place for socialization and religious conversation.
They focus more on the personal and spiritual aspects and the hope, healing, and transformation that religion brings. Although the organization is quite progressive in its outlook, they are still at a developing stage. Its initiatives like Transformers Camp for At-Risk Young Males and Project 762 (A Gun Buy-Back Program) are still at the stage of gathering funds and approaching people.
4. Transformation Church (Pensacola, Florida)
Served by Lead Pastor Brad Livingston, this Transformation Church, Florida expresses a vision to help people know God, find freedom, discover purpose, and make a difference. They wish to transform people into “the way God wants them to be.”
The organization also runs weekly courses for children, mentoring programs for leaders, guidelines for worshipping from home during the pandemic, groups for socializing, and a platform for people to share their stories.
5. Transformers Christian Church
Founded by pastors Les & Joy Gomes, the creation of Transformers Christian Church was inspired by the rapid and unexplained recovery of Joy Gomes, who had been diagnosed with bowel cancer and ovarian cancer. Their vision is to create people who spread love and hope and live by their faith. Their mission is to transform lives through a relationship with Christ.
6. Transformation Ministries
Transformation Ministries is a fellowship of churches in California that was created when the group split from the American Baptist Churches, USA, in 2006 because the group failed to take a firm stand against homosexuality. Dr. William Nolte has been serving the fellowship as Mission Lead and CEO since 2011.
Their vision is to help pastors grow as spiritual leaders, make churches healthier and transform communities. They intend to bring this about by planting new churches, making their presence international, and forming partnerships with other organizations. They express a commitment to come closer to fulfilling their vision by the end of 2020.
Apart from churches, here are a few parachurch organizations that work with the idea of transformation. A parachurch organization is a faith-based Christian organization doing community service and evangelism alongside the Church.
Transform Our World
This organization describes itself as “an alliance of marketplace and ministry individuals working together to make the world a better place.” They also describe their initiative as being more spiritual in nature than religious. They are dedicated to maintaining their presence in workplaces and other platforms outside churches.
For example, they run online courses like ‘School of Transformation’ and ‘Ekklesia Excelerator.’ Ekklesia Excelerator is taught on three levels of transformational equipping. There are several other seminars, prayer events, and initiatives that the organization engages in.
The organization is holding its 30th Transform Our World Virtual Global Conference in November about religion’s importance in different spheres of society. It covers aspects like marketplace ministries, revolutionizing education, government engagement, expansion of local churches, and impact on arts and entertainment.
2. Transform World 2020
This organization emphasizes seven challenges that changing times have brought, including abject poverty and injustice and religion’s role in facing them. They are soon to have their 9th Transform World Global Leadership Summit.
3. Transforming Center: Strengthen the Soul of Your Leadership
Transforming Center caters to the needs of church leaders like pastors by helping them stay focused spiritually. It provides retreats, academic opportunities, job opportunities, resources, and so on to help them rekindle their motivation and enthusiasm. It provides Continuing Education Units (CEUs) in the form of certificate courses. It also provides job listings and facilitates connections with organization alumni.
Compassion has been a central value in not just Christianity but almost all world religions. Regardless of the beliefs and approaches of transformation churches, all of them believe in being compassionate to those in distress. All of them talk about issues like poverty, disease, hunger, abuse, trafficking, antisocial behavior, disasters.
The emphasis on compassion is evident in the number of churches and parachurch organizations working for orphans, victims of natural disasters and accidents, people who are grieving, patients having terminal illnesses, and more.
Indeed, most churches, even those working with the idea of transformation, are still conservative about homosexuality, gender roles, and marriage. But they are much more accepting of ethnic, linguistic, and cultural differences than before.
Most organizations have opened up to new avenues like social media and other broadcasting programs. They have thrown their doors open for anyone just to give it a casual try. They are trying to appeal to the youth by talking about their issues, and some have even thrown in millennial lingo in their sermons for their young audience.
Apart from the examples mentioned above, several other groups identify with the idea of transformation. But all of these, including the ones above, seem to understand transformation differently.
Some churches focus on transforming communities, while some talk about spiritual transformation on an individual level only. Some people talk about making religion progressive; some talk about appealing to younger generations while staying conservative. Some talk about transforming the way churches operate, while some talk about taking churches to more people just the way they are.
But most of them believe in one thing- taking religion outside closed groups and impacting people’s lives with constructive efforts.
Here are some books and websites that you can look up for more insights into transformational Christianity.