Every year, each United Methodist Church conducts a Charge Conference or Church Conference to go over some business of the church. It’s also a time to reflect on the past year and dream about the future. Instead of having every committee share what they’ve done this year, they asked me to summarize the work of the church and share it at our Church Conference. This is what I said:
I grew up near Garden of the Gods, in Colorado Springs. It’s a big, National Landmark park, full of these huge red rock natural structures. I still love going there anytime I visit. One of my favorite parts of visiting Garden of the Gods was watching the rock climbers. And what I loved most about watching the rock climbers was watching them eat lunch. ‘Cause at Garden of the Gods, the rock climbers would climb up hundreds and hundreds of feet to get to the top of a rock, but your rope could only get you up about a 100 feet at a time, so the first climber would climb up to a stopping point, a belay station, and then hold the rope for the second climber to come up. When the second climber got to the first climber, they’d start the process over again until they made it to the top. And if you were lucky, you might catch the rock climbers strapped into the rock, hundreds of feet in the air, taking a break between climbs, and just eating a sandwich. I thought that was such a funny sight. These people, half way up a vertical rock face, just eating a sandwich. I loved it. After they’ve had their rest, and their lunch, they’d begin to head to the top of the mountain.
I love rock climbing as an analogy for the church. First, we don’t do this alone. We climb together, we need each other. We’re tied together–but not just each other, with God as well. I think about it like this, God the Creator is at the top of the mountain, Christ, whose already been there is our guide and lead climber, and the Holy Spirit is the rope holding us all together. Second, we have a destination, a mission, we are moving. Church is an active thing. Finally, it isn’t promised to be easy, but it is promised to be worthwhile. And it is worthwhile, when we see people connect to God for the first time in years, being baptized, growing in their faith, when we hear the ever growing sound of babies and children running in the halls, when we serve people in need, whether in Idaho Falls, Brazil, Oklahoma, or Louisiana. There are some sight to be seen. Absolutely.
Well, we have been climbing here at St. Paul’s for the past couple of years, no doubt about it. We have been going hard, and God has given us amazing experiences and views along the way.
We have seen continued growth in our children and youth ministries this past year. In 2013, we had 95 people attend our Children’s and Family Christmas Eve service. In 2014, we grew that service, from 95 to 160 people. This summer, we took 13 teenagers to the largest gathering of United Methodist teenagers in existence, strengthening their faith and building them into the Christian leaders that they are.
We have seen growth in adult discipleship. Whether on-going or short term, we have had over 90 adults participate in a Sunday School Class, Bible Study, Prayer Group, or Small Group, in this last year.
We’ve grown in mission. More and more people are finding ways to serve our community on a regular basis. This year we added a few more opportunities for people to serve, including work at the Ruth House and our Habitat House build. We hope to add more opportunities in the coming year.
God is certainly blessing our church.
In April, I released in the Saddle Bag, what I called 4 Big Hairy Audacious Projects, for St. Paul’s.
The First Project was the Front Ramp renovation, which you can see is done! Our ramp is now at a safe angle, our stairs are not crumbling, we even have electric heat build into it for snow and ice! Praise God.
The Second Project was the Help Build Hope, Habitat House Build. On a Saturday in July, we had 151 people come out and frame an entire house for Habitat for Humanity. What an incredible day of service.
The Third Project was our Wednesday Evening Meal and Programs, which we have started calling “Dinner And…” Dinner And… started in October, and our first two weeks, we had 70 people come for dinner. Since then, we’ve averaged around 50 people. We’re offering programing for all ages after dinner. One new adult group has started up, and I know of another that will be soon! Really exciting.
The Final Project we announced was a 3rd Worship Service. In March of this year, the Church Council voted to organize a 3rd Worship Service Launch Team to pray, research, and plan a direction for our 3rd Worship Service. We gathered that team together in June, and have been meeting almost monthly, dreaming and plan. The current plan is to launch a weekly Sunday Evening Worship service, that takes place in space rented from Infinity Dance Studio, at the corner of 17th and Crowley, in Ammon. We plan to Launch this Service on Easter of this coming year. I want to invite all of you, to a worship and planning meeting, on December 13th, here at 6pm. You’ll get a taste of what that worship service will be like. There’ll be snacks, fellowship, and then we’ll discuss your questions about this next big step for St. Paul’s. I hope you’ll make an effort be there!
On a personal note, this has been a huge year for me! The biggest thing to happen to our family was the arrival of our Lewis. We now have 2 kids, which is 100% more kids than we had before. God has blessed us so much, in every way, except for sleep, of course. I’ve had more sleepless night in the last 3 months than any other time in my life. You’ve probably been able to see it in my sermons! To spend more time with my family, I’ve scaled back a few things. Because of my schedule, we’ve put on hold our Tuesday night Bible study at MarCellars, which I know some of you really miss. We’ve put on hold our Thursday morning Bible study that met over at Great Harvest as well. I look forward to these groups starting up again, I’m just not sure when.
Finally, I just want to briefly touch on what I believe to be the greatest challenge our church faces. The problem is, this challenge isn’t interesting, it’s not sexy or gossip worthy. But it’s the challenge that every church faces, and of every church that I know of, that has closed its doors, this is the reason. Its just this, people moving away, and people passing away. Natural attrition. I can easily count off the top of my over 20 people who have recently left St. Paul’s because of work, or passing away. We all know people who have left, but we don’t get worked up over it, it’s not exactly earth shattering gossip when an active couple in the church move across the state to be close to their grandchildren. It’s natural, that’s why we call it natural attrition. So our goal, is to make joining St. Paul’s, just as natural.
What is the path for someone curious about God? How do they become a regular worship attender? How do they become a committed Christian? What’s their steps to becoming a part of the choir, joining a small group, leading a Bible Study, teaching Sunday School, leading a mission trip, becoming a Lay Leader, becoming a pastor, or becoming missionary? How does a person go from disconnected, to connected? And can we make that more natural?
That’s the question I’m really going to be focussing on this year, and I hope you do to. In whatever ministry or group you participate in the church, ask yourself how, “How can we make it more natural for people who aren’t a part of this to join in?” The onus is on us, we are the missionaries, we are the servants, how can we love better those outside our walls, and make their path to God and our family, more natural?
Our average worship attendance for 2015 is going to be about 220. That’s a 40% increase from 3 years ago. That’s happened because of you! Visitors tell me all the time, that this is the friendliest place to be. That’s happened because you’ve invited people to your coffees, your Bible studies, your mission projects. I try my very best to make Sunday Mornings worth getting up for, and when you are here and you sing your hearts out and you greet one another in love–that is a church that people want to be a part of. We have something good going on here.
Since I’ve been here, we have grown in worship attendance every single month, compared the same month last year, until this past September, and October, and probably November. We’ve leveled off, which isn’t bad! But the question is, “What’s next?”
I feel like I’ve taken some time to take care of my family, to take care of my degree, to take care of my ordination process, to eat a sandwich. But I know there is more climbing to do. We’re not there yet. We haven’t reached the summit yet, God still has new heights and beautiful experiences in store for St. Paul’s. So let’s keep climbing together. Let’s continue to passionately seek after God, to welcome all people in the Spirit of unity, and to serve in the world as Christ came to serve. Thank you all, God bless.