The change and growth of a church community can be dumbfounding. At times the numbers diminish, and it's a sign of winnowing, cleansing, and sharpening. At other times the numbers increase and it's a sign of hero-worship instead of Jesus-worship. But whether a church's growth curve is spiking up or tumbling down -- change is more than likely reflective of what is happening in the root system of the tree called "the church".
But let me focus on growth, not decline for a few minutes. Like the old AA saying, "Sometimes quickly. Sometimes slowly." Sometimes growth comes as the result of a sovereign move of God -- catching us totally off-guard. And at other times growth comes as the result of intentionally discerning what God is doing and then partnering with Him. Sometimes when growth comes we're ready spiritually, but unprepared organizationally. And at other times when growth comes we've been looking for it for a long time but fail to see what God is up to, and quickly attribute it to our own efforts, or even "the luck of the draw."
Teresa and I recently spent time at the annual pastor's conference, sponsored by NW Yearly Meeting of Friends Church (www.nwfriends.org) and hosted by Twin Rocks Friends Camp in Rockaway Beach, OR (www.twinrocks.org). We had a great time there and during one of our meals a fellow pastor asked me what 2nd Street can attribute it's recent growth to, and here's a synopsis of what I shared with him ...
- Elders and leaders who worship, pray, and even fast together. This brings humility, insight, courage, and stamina.
- Worship that is varied, contemporary, contemplative, with many different instruments and teams ... always focusing on Jesus Christ ... interspersed with Scripture. This draws people's hearts and minds away from ego, fear and tradition.
- People telling their stories ... up front and personal about how Jesus Christ is changing the way they think, what they feel, what they're saying, and what they are doing. This helps create an "us story", not a "me and them story" within our midst.
- Teaching from God's Word that is in-depth, and yet that leaves most of the individual application up to the Holy Spirit. This helps those who gather remain God-dependent, not Gregg-dependent. I just finished teaching # 30 out of John's Gospel -- and next week I'm studying for, praying through, and preparing to teach on JOHN 9:1-7. Before John I taught from FIRST PETER and HAGGAI. Remember that the tortoise won the race, not the hare. Slow doesn't have to equal boring. Rather, intentional can equal thorough, engaging, and deep. I believe that when it comes to the teaching of Gods' WORD, this is what people are longing for in their spirits. To come to worship and drink deeply of the things of God. And people become hungry and thirsty for what they eat and drink. And so as they eat and drink deeply on Sunday, that becomes the desire of their hearts throughout the week. Little will no longer satisfy. Shallow will no longer sustain.
- A leadership team who are more concerned about their own (and one another's) faithfulness than about their qualifications. Much of the time when our qualifications are what is being focused on, we will remain unwilling (or not even see the need) for the discipline it takes to become a faithful follower of Jesus Christ. But when faithfulness is what is pursued, focused on, and desired, most of the time, God will get the person qualified (in His way, in His time, and with the person's cooperation) to do whatever He has planned for them to do in the Kingdom. This posture leads to teamwork, not competition.
- Working with other local churches in a spirit of cooperation (Community Health Day in August, Serve and Celebration in September, Feed the Need Community Food Drive in October). We pray for another church, and or local ministry every Sunday. We are contending nor in competition with no one. As each Christ-honoring church in Newberg thrives, we all become stronger. "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done".
- We "weigh and measure" everything we do against our Mission Statement and and our Values ... discerning our annual Ministry Plans before we design them and then letting our Ministry Funding Plans simply follow them, not the other way around. This keeps us lean and attentive to the purpose of our life-together. God has used this methodology to help us increase our Ministry Funding Plan by over 125K in the past two years.
- We regularly invite people on Sunday morning to make the choice to become devoted followers of Jesus Christ. There should be no shame or privatizing of our faith. The inner must turn outward with celebration and the strength of community.
- Community Groups (small groups) are growing because we have a Community Group Facilitator who is making them visible. One year ago we had 6 Community Groups meeting regularly. Now we have 18. This is where much of the pastoral care and serving takes place -- as all Community Groups have a service component built into them ... we study and learn together, we seek and find together, and we serve God and the world together. This is knitting our hearts to God and one another at a deeper level.
- We highly value and model authenticity, surrender, brokenness, and transparency. Our Celebrate Recovery (www.celebraterecovery.com) has grown from around twenty people a week 18 months ago to over 50 weekly ... including big group, small group, and step-studies. With great surrender, great healing comes, with great healing, great discipleship happens, and with great discipleship, great leadership develops, and with great leadership, more people will be drawn towards Jesus Christ and into a life with Him.