(this is kinda an “in-house” post for folks that are a part of our church community, but I don’t have another good place to publish it at the moment –> As we start our new year, I wanted to publish some of my report from our December Congregational Meeting for those of you who weren’t there. – Pardon typos it was basically intended for me to read outloud)
What You Wanted to Do
Six months ago, at our last congregational meeting – I presented a project that we worked on for the previous year. For most of 2014, we had a series of meetings where almost all of you answered questions. I wanted to hear your favorite memory, strengths and weaknesses, and your prayer for church. I wrote down most of what you said, put it in a graph and categorized it because I was convinced that we should focus on what was most important to you our conversation.
Six months ago I presented the conclusions that you came to and said – “This is what we need to work on”. It came down to three things: Raising Godly Kids: Many of you rejoiced in the memories and lamented the present state of children in our church. You also Focused on Community. You told lots of great stories about how we help each other, we support and give to each other. But then you also told bad stories – conflict, church split, families breaking down. Everyone Focused on Growing. Most of you, the majority by far, said things like “we used to be big, now we’re small”. Many of you told terrible stories with sadness about how small our church had become. It took me a long time to figure this out, but I decided to take this that all of you, overwhelmingly want our church to grow. You want to have more people in church. You want to help more families and kids and to get better at reaching out community with the gospel.
So six months ago, May 6th. I said that we’ve found some direction – This is what we’re going to work on: Reaching kids, building community and growing.
What We’ve Done
It has been a hard 6 months. Lots of you don’t even remember our last congregational meeting because the next week Ed Van Der Molen passed away. Then Martin Bast passed, then Ewoud got sick and moved away. These last 6 months could easily be remembered for its hardship. But God is so kind. I suspect many of you will instead remember some of the progress we’ve made.
We’ve made progress with raising kids:
(numbers aren’t everything, but numbers represent kids and God loves kids.) A little over 6 months ago we had our first Easter Egg Hunt with almost 400 kids plus their parents. We taught over 120 kids at VBS about Jesus. This fall, our preschool added one day, and an entire class (now up to 40 kids in school). Attendance in GEMS/CADETS and Youth Group is up. We had several kids come in from things like VBS or the Egg Hunt. Now, our nursery is often packed. We now have a healthy PreSchool “Wiggling Worship” Program with 7-11 kids. (it started a year and a half ago with 3 kids.) This fall we started a new revamped kids Sunday School – with 6-10 kids during our morning service. We just had first ever parent seminar a couple weeks ago. Since May, we’ve averaged one baptism per month. (more bad news for nursery workers :-)). We have a long way to go, but we’re seeing progress. God is really blessing our efforts.
We’ve made progress with building community.
We’ve had a bunch of potlucks and other events for fellowship. We’ve hosted churches like the Hudson Valley URC to join us for Reformation Day and Christmas. Joint church events have been really fun. We’ve done them partially because it’s exciting to have a packed building, but we also wanted to be intentional about healing some of the relational damage done by the church split. We’ve started things like GriefShare tonight, more people are being helped at GriefShare in the school gym than are at this business meeting. We’ve had things like Gym Nights where you’ll see 50 kids/young adults getting to know each other and building community.
But, the last focus point was Growing: –
What can we do about “we use to be big now we’re small”?
This one is the hardest goal. I didn’t know how impossible this was until I started asking for help from the CRCNA.
Each year more traditional CRC churches are closing then growing (most are just shrinking). According to Home Missions, most CRC churches (90%) are stagnant or shrinking, (5% of CRC Churches are talking about closing this year.) – I told our story to a board member at Home Mission, he advised me to prepare the church to slowly die – “churches have life-cycles, they are born, they grow, then they die”, he said.
Our Classis is no exception… We have 16 churches. Two closed during our last meeting. Most churches are numerically in decline or stagnant. Only 1 church reported any substantive growth this year. That one church was Goshen CRC.
In the last 6 months, we have had 17 professions of faith plus some transfers. Plus we probably have close to a dozen people on our “they really should take the next membership class” list. We’re growing!!!
It hasn’t been easy. You all have worked really hard – We did challenging outreach events like the Great American Weekend, we helped with the Village Picnic to support kids who died. Last week you all went out singing Christmas carols in our village. Harder still is welcoming new people. You’ve showed love to newer folks by caring for them. Or maybe even harder then that is that you were willing to compromise preferences to love other people. – that’s hard. Growth can be awkward and uncomfortable for everyone… just ask any junior high student.
Our council has been a HUGE part of this – Our Elders and Deacons have done so much often behind the scenes with little credit. You did a great job six months ago in electing these men. Each month we’ve been reading from a book called ComeBack Church – it’s a statistical study on almost 400 churches that did what we’re trying to do – grow after a period of being in decline. It’s been a good discussion starter. Usually we talk about a really big topic – then we walk away saying “Wow, we have a LOT of work to do here” and then we start tackling it.
I’m ending this year with simple gratitude to God and to you – we’ve followed courageously and God has begun to bless us.
So what do we do next?
Next May what do are some things that I’d like to be reporting on?
First, we should keep doing what we’re doing.
We’ve tried lots of things, some of it has worked, some of it need improvement, we still have lot on our “we need to fix” list. But overall we should keep on doing the same sorts of things that we’ve been doing successfully.
Second, we’re working on revamping committees:
We’re working hard on re-structuring how we do ministry together. We want to help leaders focus on mission and get more people involved in doing more ministry. Since August, a “vision committee” has met several times to try and figure out how we can do ministry most effectively. I’m really excited about progress. Hopefully will be able to present some ideas in the next several months. Our goal is to equip more people to do more ministry in ways that makes the church function the best we can together.
Third, We need to get better at community.
You’ve probably already seen an announcement about this. As we are able to get more people involved in doing ministry, the Elders want to focus on shepherding people (which is what the Bible and Book of Order says we’re supposed to be doing). We want to figure out how to get better at feeding healthy sheep and going after lost sheep. Starting this month we’ll be trying to be better as an elder team to contact and pray for our members.
Fourth, We need to start some projects:
If we’re really serious about accomplishing goals of raising godly kids, building community, and growing we need to work toward some improvements in our buildings and grounds. You can already see progress downstairs. One of our Sunday school classes has outgrown their tiny classroom so the deacons are renovating and making their room bigger. We have a committee that’s been meeting to proposing some ways to make things a little more comfortable, effective and accessible for people. We want to work toward improvements that will make this wonderful facility even just a little bit more welcoming and comfortable because we want you to invite your friends and relatives here and for them to walk out thinking about God’s glory rather than how hard it is to get a stroller down the steps, or how hot it is in the summer. I’m looking forward to seeing their proposals.
This is a snapshot of some thoughts about where we’ve been, and where God is leading us.
Thank you for being a part of what God is doing here. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or comments. Please continue serving HIM and praying that he blesses us. I think He still has a lot for us to do.
– Pastor Sam