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PTR Renewal

by Frederick W. Baltz (WordAlone board member)

Date Unknown

A Model for Congregational Renewal Through Renewed Evangelism

(Pastor Baltz used this program seven years ago in his congregation, St. Matthew in Galena, Ill. They are again planning a PTR Renewal and he wanted to share the plan with WordAlone. For more information, call him at 815 777-1134. He has said he can offer names of potential speakers for “Renewal Sunday” events. He would like to hear from congregations that use the program so he can follow up on how it works.)

What is PTR Renewal? The name comes from a pan-Lutheran phenomenon in North America during the 1950’s and ‘60’s called the PTR, Preaching, Teaching, Reaching mission. The lasting value of PTR’s is debated; some would say the gains in church membership during these years did not last, and might have happened anyway. Others would counter that there were real gains in membership, that the disintegration of growth had more to do with events of the 1960’s than any failure of the evangelists, and that it is reasonable to suppose that membership gains did come about in part because of PTR’s, and not just the “spirit of the times” (post World War II and Korean wars).

PTR’s were a characteristic of Lutheran churches in the United States the last time they were growing.

PTR Renewal is a second generation of PTR, drawing on the wealth of knowledge that has been gained since the first generation. Church growth research has provided invaluable information for congregations about how best to evangelize, and about what must first happen to congregations if they are to make evangelism their priority. Congregations that are healthy and growing are congregations that have learned to reach out. Therefore the renewal of the congregation cannot happen without attention to its evangelical ministry beyond itself.

The PTR Renewal experience in a congregation can be the means for all necessary parts of a complete evangelism program to be put in place. For those with little knowledge of evangelism the PTR Renewal can be invaluable.

Planning Phase

PTR Renewal must begin with prayer and substantial commitment from the congregation. Ideally, the program should be introduced well before the Annual Congregational Meeting or another congregational meeting. Leaders will need to carefully estimate dollar and time costs in advance, and stress that the costs of this program in terms of time are extraordinary. They should note at this won’t happen again for at least seven years, a natural time for turnover in the congregation as well as a “good Biblical time.” The introduction of PTR Renewal should stress that a great problem for many in mainline churches today is the “Mission Reversal.” The Mission of the Church is to be outward, not only inward, as it is for some congregations. When congregations reverse the proper direction, they inevitably fail at the very thing they try to do, keep their congregations healthy. PTR Renewal may be God’s means of bringing life to a struggling congregation.

PTR Renewal work should begin at least six months before Renewal week, the central week of the program. Best times for PTR week are in the fall or near Pentecost, with fall probably the better choice.

The following should take place during the months before PTR week:

  • The Congregation Council must understand and accept the concept of PTR Renewal. The Council’s active support will be important.
  • Forums should be held to introduce PTR Renewal to the Congregation. Care should be taken so all understand that this program should not be attempted again for seven years, and that extraordinary commitment of time, ability and money will be necessary from the congregation. This encourages a sense of heightened expectation in the congregation.
  • The Congregation Council must plan the PTR Renewal in detail and arrive at an estimated financial cost.
  • At the Annual Meeting or another legally called meeting of the Congregation, the Congregation should say yes to PTR Renewal and its cost. This is an important step to maximize the ownership and involvement of the members.
  • Members are now challenged to take part in the planning phase. A whole range of possibilities should be provided to them from which they may choose, such as:
    • Committing to read the Gospel of John (provided);
    • Committing to pray for the congregation and for PTR Renewal throughout the full course of the program;
    • Committing to help with a particular project such as a video. The production of at least one resource (video, leaflet, gift program for visitors such as a coffee mug with the church’s name, etc.) should be part of planning phase. This resource must be seen as Gospel-centered, not simply a PR piece for the congregation;
    • Committing to adult studies led by capable leaders on the ministry of evangelism;
    • Committing to seven Sundays of church attendance without fail (This may really be a significant commitment for some who are not comfortable with other things. Establishing the worship habit in individuals who have not yet developed it is a significant accomplishment for them.

Notify other congregations of PTR Renewal and issue early and repeated invitations to the events of PTR week. Ask their help in sharing their gifted persons. For example, invite choirs from other congregations to join yours for PTR week worship events. Offer to do the same for them if they should decide on a renewal in their congregations.

Careful and effective use of the news media should be part of planning phase.

Important: Have leadership begin planning follow-up measures for those they may encounter in PTR week and afterward. These measures might include plans for new inquirer classes, ways to remain in contact with inquirers, the assigning of sponsors or special friends so that no inquirer is overlooked, establishing greeters if there were none before. (Consider having greeters who do not stand at the entrance to the sanctuary and are not designated with a badge. Instead have a large number of greeters who are “on duty” whenever they are in church, and ask them to find guests wherever they are and talk to them.)

Ask every member to be at the events of Renewal Sunday, and to invite guests to the dinner and the evening worship service.

Within two weeks of PTR week send volunteers with leaflets or door hangers through the neighborhoods of the community. These items should accompany a printed invitation to the public events of Renewal Sunday. (For most churches this will be the first time this has ever been done.) If the resource produced for the congregation during planning phase is finished and appropriate, include it.

Renewal Sunday

  • Morning worship is at regular times with special guest preacher(s). Consider a different site if your church does not have enough meeting rooms and dining room facilities. There is something to be said for changing the venue, anyway; it adds to the special nature of the event. You may choose to hold the final service at the church, even if the rest of the day’s events were at another site. Offer child care if you ordinarily do not, and pay someone other than a member to do this, so no one misses the event because of helping.
  • Provide a catered, simple lunch so no one has to go home, and so that no one from the church has to miss any of the events due to serving. (Help all be Mary, not Martha.)
  • In the afternoon run simultaneous workshops for all identifiable groups within the church on their special place within the congregation: parents, teachers, elected leaders, senior citizens, women’s and men’s groups, youth groups, etc. Repeat these, because there will be people who wish to attend more than one. Add other workshops as you see fit, but only if they have to do with central issues of discipleship such as prayer or stewardship. Leaders for these workshops will have to be identified early. They should be people from beyond the congregation, normally. Pastors and others in your conference would be logical ones to ask. Plan to give them mileage and an honorarium. Again, have child care. Helpful and interesting resources may be available in a central area where people wait for those in workshops. Refreshments should be there, too.
  • The catered dinner follows. It is important to have extra tickets to this dinner simply to be given away to people you are trying to reach in the community. Place them early into the hands of people whom you know will aggressively invite non-members and inactive members. The purpose of this dinner is not to break even or make a profit, but to bring people within hearing of a speaker whose theme should be: A God for Real. This dinner address is one of the most important single opportunities of Renewal Sunday. The speaker should be from beyond the congregation, and capable of making clear why knowing Christ is a life-changing experience no one should be without. This address is meant to explain to all, and especially the guests, the very basics of what Christians believe.
  • The final event of the day is a special worship service immediately after the dinner. Give thought to including the occasional service for healing at the beginning of this service, and publicizing this to the community. Like the dinner, this is the opportunity to have among you those you hope to reach. Praying for healing was a way the first Christians drew outsiders to their message. The guest preacher’s theme: Who Is Jesus?