Two years ago, I had just finished a series of interviews for a tenure-track faculty position at Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN. I was finished with my doctoral work at the University of Buffalo and was working on my post-doctoral appointment. In a series of events transpiring afterward, I found myself in a ministry position in Buffalo, with the hope of cultivating church partnerships and who knows, maybe even some church plants (something that had already gotten underway over a year-and-a-half earlier). Ultimately, the goal that was set out, was to give every man, woman, and child a repeated opportunity to hear, to see, and to respond to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. From that, what is now known as the Renovation Network was birthed, with particular emphasis on the Northeast and the Midwest (more particularly, The Rust Belt). Such geographic intentionality has stemmed from that, because Buffalo represents a city that straddles both domains of influence. It possesses Northeast composition along with blue collar living. It’s part of why I love this town so much.
What has transpired since that time has been encouraging, but it has also provided me with a stark reminder, that the journey that we are on is not in the 3-5 year timeframe. Granted, we have seen some great wins along the way, and we have been encouraged during that time. But what we are truly looking at, in my belief as a social scientist, is the next 30 years of our lives. The United States has Europe in its foresights if something does not happen with the church in the west. Sometimes, followers of Christ are overrun with the reality of what we are facing here domestically, and it slips their mind that God is doing amazing things all throughout the world. Africa, Latin America, Asia—the Gospel continues to move forward in ways that leave many of us pining for that to happen here. However, after the overwhelming feeling of the task ahead of us sets in, there are a couple of things that we can do. First, we can evoke myopic thinking. In essence, we can pretend that it’s not all that bad, keep our head in the sand, and go about doing things methodologically the way that we’ve always done them. Or, second, we can awaken to the challenge ahead of us. We can start to look at our view of Christology, Missiology, and Ecclesiology (see Hirsch, Forgotten Ways), and examine them under the guise of where culture situates us today. It is my opinion, that the second approach would suit us well.
But here is where the rub lies. We have to methodologically examine where it is that we should start. Missiologist Dr. Dwight Smith proposes two questions that have been the foundation for Renovation Network: 1) What does God want? and; 2) What would it look like if God did what He wanted? These two questions have driven the desire for churches to partner and work with one another, primarily because, they have helped us to arrive at two key answers to the proposed questions. First, God wants relationship with His creation—more specifically, He wants to give every man, woman, and child, the repeated opportunity to hear, see, and respond to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Second, it likely is going to take multiple expressions of the bride to make that happen (e.g., high church, low church, seeker church, etc.). Given that being the case, what could happen if churches started working together to fulfill the mission of giving every man, woman, and child in Niagara and Erie County, that repeated opportunity for a relationship with Christ?
Transitioning from theoretical to practical, this journey has been fun, but difficult as well. Working with other churches on a variety of initiatives has been incredibly exciting for our churches within the Network. While it is simply not just about planting, God has allowed some church plants to be birthed, and the stamp on some of these churches has been that they were planted by multiple expressions of the local church in Buffalo (e.g., Northgate Church—approximately 15 churches representing seven different denominations planted this particular expression of the bride). While that has certainly generated pause for excitement and enthusiasm, it is also clear that we have so much to learn about working together with one another. There are clearly things that challenge us as we partner: geography, methodology, denominationalism, prior and/or existent ecclesiology, to name a few. That being said, what has been encouraging to me in particular, has been that churches have remained open to the idea that, even though we may not know how to work together well as of current, we’re willing to dialogue and not give up on the key hope that drives us in Renovation Network—saturation of our geography. Certainly, we want to see men, women, and children come to know Christ. But that is not the exclusive mark that we’re working toward. In addition to that, we want to see representatives of the local church (lay people) building intentional relationships with unbelievers (what we would identify as presence). We want for those people to also be available to share their grace story as well, talking about how God brought them to faith in Christ (past) and how that decision has continued to shape them day-by-day, and in future days to come (what we would identify as proclamation). As our people do these very things, we then begin to saturate our geography with the Gospel and opportunities for a response to it. As we focus on saturation, a natural by-product is that some of those very people will come to know Jesus Christ.
Yes, this is a 30 year venture. But even in writing this and reflecting upon what has been happening, I’m thankful for what God has been doing in and through this conscious effort to partner with other churches within the Church at Buffalo. I can only hope for more and pray that God would continue to develop and cultivate partnerships around the mission of every man, woman, and child.
Ryan Kozey, PhD is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for The Renovation Network. In addition, he is an adjunct professor of Organizational Communication for Canisius College. He and his wife and children reside in Buffalo, NY.