The following is part three in a five-part series based on a dialogue begun at the 2015 Susquehanna Annual Conference around stories and experiences of congregational vitality. The team that presented included Pastor Janet Durrwachter, Rev. Rich Morris, Rev. Dr. Randy Willis, and Jaime Carpenter. The video of this session (held Friday morning, June 12) and a full transcript can be found at tinyurl.com/susumcAC2015.
Rev. Dr. Randy Willis
Centre Grove UMC, Clearfield
The first time Janet Durrwachter and I spoke on the phone — we met each other by way of that phone conversation — she referred to us as a vital congregation. I reacted against that and said, “I’m not really comfortable saying that we are a vital congregation. I think I’d be OK in saying that we’re becoming a vital congregation, or we’re trying to become a vital congregation, but we’re not there yet.”
Over the last thirteen to fourteen years — I’ve been there seven — the church went through this ten-year slide, where its average worship attendance went from 136 to 86. That’s a thirty-seven percent decline. And I was there for the last three years of that. Then in the three years since that ten-year-period, we’ve bounced back twenty-two percent. A lot of that happened in 2013 and we definitely thank God.
God is at work, but as Rich Morris said (September LINK), there are a whole lot of other areas where we still need to grow and do well.
One of the areas that we really have excelled in is reaching out. For those ten years this is a congregation that I think I would say we were there, but we weren’t really there. Now some of the outreach that we do inlcudes free monthly dinners for the community. That’s been pretty effective for us. In the summer, which is kind of our peak season for outreach, we’ll do some free car care clinics and a lot of other outreach events, such as a block party.
Worship attendance is one number, but the number that we’re really excited about is the number of people who are getting involved in hands-on ministry that went from a very, very small number of core leaders to a lot of people.
I think the church is at its best when it’s actively reaching out. That’s the part where Janet said we wouldn’t tell you anything new — we all know we need to be reaching out. We need to be doing outreach. We need to be engaging our community with the good news of Jesus Christ.
I want to share just three quick elements that help answer, “How do we get from here to there?” Three elements from Acts Chapter 6, which was a very different situation. They were a vibrant church, experiencing a lot of vitality. And they were responding to that. But I think those three things also work in a turn-around situation, a church that needs to be turned using the same elements. I’m not going to cover them in the same order that are in the Book of Acts, and in no particular order of importance.
Proclaiming the Word
The disciples, they mobilized people for ministry. They said they would devote themselves to prayer and proclaiming the Word. I think that’s about casting vision. It’s about preaching the gospel, not so that people will just be informed by the Word, but that the people will be shaped by the Word. I don’t think first century preachers were information dispensers. I think they were culture shapers and movement makers.
Mobilizing People for Ministry
Preaching professor Michael Quick says that missionally defective preaching leads to missionally defective people. I think the flip side of that is true. I hope it is. Missionally effective preaching leads to missionally effective people. So preaching and proclaiming the word, casting the vision, calling people to action, turning consumers into contributors is huge. Then, of course, mobilizing people for ministry.
At Centre Grove that happened primarily through Matthew 28. Rich Morris was our coach. Our consultation was at the end of that ten-year slide and in the next year, we saw just a slight bump, and then we continued on growing. Matthew 28 was huge for us in getting people mobilized for ministry.
And then the last thing is prayer. We could say a lot about prayer, but I just want to say one thing — I think prayer is key for us. It’s the way that we are empowered for ministry. We receive God’s power through prayer. The word power was extremely important in the New Testament. Jesus said you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses.
As important as words are to us — they’re our primary means of communication — the Apostle Paul said God’s kingdom isn’t about words, but about power. He said, “My message and my preaching weren’t presented with convincing wise words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power. I did this so that you’re faith might not depend on the wisdom of people, but on the power of God.” —1 Cor 2:4-5
So we proclaim the word. We mobilize people for ministry, and we pray, so that lives will be transformed.
Look for part four in the next LINK or go to tinyurl.com/susumcAC2015 for the video and full transcript.