In January of 2003 my wife and I began Renaissance Church with about a dozen friends. We met in the old Columbus Theatre on Broadway in the West Side of Providence, RI. Being in New England and being inexperienced as a church planter, we did not grow very fast. In fact, the first three years we remained at about 30 people and met in hotels, storefronts, dance studios and even outside in parks on occasion. Being on the West Side we focused mostly on serving local artists. We created a small arts venue for them to perform and display their art and built many friendships.
By an act of divine providence we ended up on the Eastside and the church tripled within months as we were invaded by college students from Brown University and Rhode Island School of Design. About 2009 the church experienced an awakening after a season of 40 days of prayer and fasting. After that powerful visitation from God we became much more serious about prayer and walking in the fear of the Lord. The Gospel also took a much greater center place in our lives and the presence of Jesus was notably stronger as we surrendered more fully. We were growing up. In this time of dramatic reviving God gave birth to a fresh vision of relocating the church into an area of urban decay in Providence's South End.
We then took a crazy step of faith, at a time when we were struggling financially, and found a large warehouse-type space in the heart of the city. In less than a year, our church doubled in size and became much more diverse in every way. The church formed wonderful relationships with Burmese refugees, the homeless, urban teens and kids and all kinds of beautiful colorful people living in the surrounding neighborhoods.
After a solid 5 year run in that location I started feeling a stir that perhaps God was moving us on. Though the location had many great features one weakness was that it was hidden away and not as visible and accessible as we desired. Also, during these 5 years we grew from about 7 children to 70 children and we desperately needed more space for our kids programming. So I started once again on my prayer drives in search of a new location.
After much prayer I kept feeling drawn to the densely populated area around Classical High School where Southside, Westside and downtown converge. We found an amazing three story 18,000 square foot building smack in the heart of everything at 184 Broad Street with a top floor sanctuary that overlooks the downtown skyline. We are now surrounded by three high schools, Johnson and Wales University, hundreds of homeless and the city's largest shelter, thousands of under-resourced families, a thriving local artist community, young professionals in downtown lofts and seniors in high rises. The need here is tremendous as we are surrounded by people of all races, economic classes and cultures. God has positioned us to become a “house of prayer for all nations”.
This is the basic outline of our history but there are hundreds of amazing stories that could be told filling in the details. From the start there has been a sense that Ren Church was very much God's idea and we have just been chosen to come along for the ride. God is building His kingdom in this city and is making the name of Jesus famous. And this is just the beginning.
- Pastor Scott Axtmann
[also be sure to listen to the Dec 2012 sermon History of Ren, in which Pastor Scott reminisces about the ways God has guided the church through tough times to bring us to where we are today]
WE EXIST TO GIVE GREAT GLORY TO JESUS
We are striving to be a people who are:
We are very firm in the essentials of the historic Christian faith as expressed in the Nicene Creed. There are people at Renaissance who come from a variety of faith traditions including Baptist, Reformed, Pentecostal, Catholic and so on. People within the community do not all agree about peripheral issues of theology, politics or personal convictions but we have created an atmosphere where peaceful dialogue can happen. It doesn't mean we aren't passionate about these issues, but we have decided to create some space for differences out of the conviction that in the next life, all those who are in Christ will be sitting around the same table. We also believe that the gracious posture that allows for differences results in a richer understanding of Christ.
That being said we do not dance around any issues. It actually helps that we are not affiliated with a particular denomination. We are not tempted to be loyal to a “camp” more than we love truth. We preach the Word in blazing fashion, and we refuse to dilute it. The preaching is very potent and often searches the heart deeply. And we love that. We have seen over the years that this is something that has attracted people to Renaissance. There has been a desire for the raw, untainted, straight and blunt teaching of the Truth. We strive to be teachable and like newborn babies we crave the pure spiritual milk of the Word that transforms our lives.
One of the most important qualities we cultivate in the church is deep gratitude for the amazing, scandalous grace of God. We understand that we are who we are by grace. The Lord chose us not because of any good thing in us. He set His affection upon us before the creation of the world. We were lost, rebellious and guilty of cosmic treason. While we were dead in sin Jesus revived us, adopted us into His family, and has given us an eternal inheritance. We work hard to keep this central and allow this truth to produce in us gratitude and a longing to give ourselves fully to Him. We never tire of reveling in the idea that Jesus stood in our place and took the punishment we deserve. We are spiritually alive because He is risen! This Gospel is at the heart of everything we teach and do.
We are keenly aware that apart from Christ and the power of the Spirit we cannot be what God is calling us to be. We believe it may be possible for a person to be devoted to religion, active in prayer, diligent in giving, knowledgeable in the Bible and morally above average and yet not even have the Spirit. We believe that our preaching, our devotion to one another, our love of enemies, our virtue, our bravery, our wisdom, our works and so on should be such that they could only be explained by God's power. We pray constantly that our gatherings would be marked by the tangible presence of Jesus and that our lives would be marked by supernatural love. The underlying secret to being filled with the Spirit is to cultivate hunger and thirst for God through classic spiritual disciplines like prayer, contemplation and fasting. We devote ourselves to the lifelong pursuit of these things both privately and as a community. Because we believe that the power of the Holy Spirit flows through us we dream big. Our dreams are not based merely on what we can do in our own strength and ability. But rather our dreams are according to the unlimited resources of the Eternal God who we are collaborating with in this great work.
We are very passionate about the great call of Jesus to go into all the world and to shine brightly with our lives and the message of the Gospel. We see Jesus in Scripture eating and drinking with a cast of characters that could be described as unsavory and irreligious. We want to follow Him in that. It doesn't mean that we are careless in our interactions with culture - we are aware of the dangers of sin on every side. But we believe that we are called to boldly step into danger. We believe the grace of God is sufficient to keep us. We are constantly building bridges into the surrounding neighborhoods so that we might demonstrate the love of Jesus to our city. We believe that God chose the foolishness of preaching to save people therefore we do everything we can to communicate the Gospel to those who do not know Jesus.
We share the common conviction that mediocrity is not an option. We believe that the local church matters and that every member is called to play their part well. We think of it like a symphony in which every instrument is important. Isolated, the sounds of any individual instrument would be meaningless and even perhaps unpleasant. But when every instrument is in harmony and playing the music of the composer, under the guidance of a conductor, the result is stunningly beautiful music. We don’t believe in just attending church, but in being fully devoted to one another in the spirit of the early Christians. We are convinced that only this sort of church will be taken seriously in a cynical world. One of the catch phrases we like to say is that we are “fusing together our best to build what God is building for the fame of Jesus”.
The Word of God tells us that God intends his church to be a house of prayer for all nations (Isaiah 56). It’s a very human thing that people gravitate toward other people who are similar to them. It starts in grade school and eventually cliques develop by high school. People join together because of similar interests, ethnicity, economic status, color of skin, education and many other things. Because of this tendency to be divided into categories in society churches have fallen into the same pattern. Some denominations are almost entirely white or entirely black. Some churches have all wealthy people and others have all poor people. In some churches everyone is under 30 and in other churches the average age is 70. It is our desire to reflect the diversity of the city we live in. There are so many beautiful people in greater Providence and our prayer is to display the power of the Gospel to break down cultural barriers that divide. We pray constantly to become a house of prayer for all nations.
Some of you may have been raised in religious environments that suffocated you with condemnation and fear. You may have seen the beautiful way of Jesus turned into an oppressive system of dos and don'ts. You may have witnessed people going through the religious motions out of the fear of going to hell or out of a desire to impress people. The problem with this is that it often produces self-righteousness and hypocrisy; it produces people who profess Jesus with their lips but have hearts that are far from Him. What we have come to see is that when Jesus really comes into our lives He transforms us from the inside out. We are totally morphed; our appetites and affections change. We want to please God and we begin to repel the old sinful passions we used to love. We are like the bride who willingly, joyfully and unreservedly marches to the altar to dedicate the rest of her life to the groom she loves. We believe that though the Christian life is not easy it should be marked by passion.
In times past we have believed that it would be ideal if every person attending the church tithed (gave 10% of their income). In some ways this would be pretty spectacular and a lot more than most church people are doing. But we have become deeply convinced that this is not Jesus’ desire. We believe He wants every member to take ownership of the finances of the church by giving sacrificially and joyfully. And secretly to please God and not to impress people. For some that may mean selling a piece of land and giving the profit to the church. For others it may mean giving 21% of their income. For still others it may mean dropping the only two coins they have into the bucket on Sunday. We don't talk a lot about money and are very sensitive to not manipulate people in the ways we encourage giving. But at the same time we believe that the way we relate to money tells something about the state of our hearts. We trust God with our finances and as a result we are willing to take risks and step into things that don't always make sense with the calculator.
We frequently hear from people who dropped out of churches due to the plastic nature of the relationships. The pressure to be happy and "spiritual" 24-7 was exhausting. The atmosphere did not welcome doubts or deep questions or even dark nights of the soul. In this environment the great temptation is to be fake. We refuse to do that. We are bent on being real. From pastor to pew we have come to realize life is way too short to pretend. We are not afraid of showing our flaws and admitting our failures. We are comfortable being who we are. We know that we are weak - works in progress - and far from perfect. So we do our best to provide an atmosphere where broken people can come to be healed. And it's happening all the time!
We believe that since God is the Creator that we were created to create. We are made in the image of the creator. We believe that the local church should be on the forefront of making great art and that the full orb of creativity and imagination God has given us should be harnessed to communicate eternal ideas in a way that is compelling. This plays out in our thoughtfulness of space design, worship, writing, websites, print design, installations, sermons and innovative outreaches. Art is employed to serve the purposes of God. Often artists in culture challenge the status quo and are much like prophets who speak to important issues. Artists can be disruptive in needed ways to shake society and get them talking about what matters. We feel a special calling as a church to utilize the arts as much as possible to make Jesus known in this generation of information overload. In a society flooded with competing ideas art can sometimes cause an idea to stand out. And we believe that the idea of Jesus deserves to stand out!
Perhaps the most important thing we can express is that we are about Jesus. While we strive to do all things with excellence it is not to make a name for ourselves. He is our obsession and our treasure. We exist to know Him and to enjoy Him forever. We desire to display His greatness, splendor, and beauty to the world. This world is not our home. Christ is our life and our all. We make it our goal to please Him and bring Him honor and glory in everything we do.
That's why everything we do points to Christ and everything we do is for Christ. In every aspect of this church we constantly ask “how does this glorify God?”
This is in no way an exhaustive list of what we hold dear but hopefully it provides enough to help you decide whether you should take a Sunday to visit us. Renaissance certainly is not the only healthy Bible church in the Providence area but we do know that God's mighty power is streaming through because we are eyewitnesses to the workings of God in our midst. We invite you to come as you are and experience the grace of God in all its fierce and blazing dynamic.