Dear Church Family and Friends,
After our carry-in lunch we opened with prayer and I gave a report about the first six months of our new focus at RCC. When I became pastor in January of this year I began to share a vision for doing church called: Presence Based Community. During the past 6 months the focus of our Sunday morning services and classes have been on becoming a body of believers who live in intimate communion with the Spirit of God. The four activities of this vision are: 1. Maintaining an attitude of yieldedness toward God. 2. Giving our attention to abiding in God by worship and waiting on Him. The result of abiding in God is in a multiplication of the fruits of the Spirit. 3. Partnering with God to manifest His presence by the gifts of the Spirit. This is mutual ministry for the spiritual care and upbuilding of the church. 4. Finally, that as we walk in the plans of God as He directs that we participate in the revelation of His Kingdom -His loving reign on the earth.
During the past 6 months I have been teaching about what it means to be a presence based community. There are specific activities that enable us to draw close to the presence of God. We have been giving time to these activities on Sunday. Being able to hear what God is saying is essential so we offered a course of study that emphasized “abiding” called “Hearing God’s Voice.” We also promoted several prayer group opportunities each week and opened the church on Thursdays to promote participation in prayer. To gauge the interest and the progress in transition to this focus Bob and I have been tabulating the results from feedback forms to measure the response of members.
From the feedback forms it seems that there are concerns about the new direction. It seems that one third of our group is expressing interest in returning to a more traditional church structure. Another third that are passionate about continuing with the new direction. The remaining number of people either did not respond to the survey or do not have a strong opinion. At the family meeting I shared that some people are expressing concerns about the length of worship and waiting time on Sunday morning. These same folks also suggested that we shorten the service overall to make it more seeker sensitive. I shared that a move in this direction is a step away from our new priority on “abiding in Him” by means of worship and prayer. In giving this feedback some good consideration, I believe that perhaps there are some ways that we can make our worship and waiting periods more accessible for those who are not used to meditation and prayer.
From the majority of people there were positive responses about the past 6 months. The Hearing God’s Voice Class seemed to be the high point of the first half of the year for many. Many expressed affirmation for the content of the Sunday messages as well. Many expressed affirmation for the quality of worship and most like our extended worship time. A few expressed gratitude for the time of waiting following the worship. Many people expressed that they were growing in their relationship and intimacy with God as a result of our meetings.
There is a lot of excitement about starting our home groups. It looks like 95% of those who sent in feedback forms are planning on participating in small groups in September.
On Sunday morning, August 19th we will be opening the home group ministry for everyone. At this time, we will announce the leaders for the small groups, where they will be meeting, how often they will be meeting and what the groups will be focusing on. Between now and then I will be meeting or talking with the potential group leaders to find out their details. After August 19th all members will be invited to visit any or all of the groups that they are interested in. It won’t be until later in September or the first of October that you will be asked to settle on ONE group as your primary home group. At the meeting we decided that – for now – we want to give our primary attention to the start of this small groups rather than giving our attention to a lot of other initiatives.
Other plans for the fall include our Deeper with God course starting the 3rd Thursday in September. That class will meet in at the C’ville House of Prayer on 10th St. We also mentioned that we will be working on developing a Family life and and Marriage course as well as a Financial Management course. We may roll out one of both of these classes in the Spring of 2019.
The biggest area of concern seems to be on friendship and connection among members in our fellowship. On the feedback forms this time there were a number of people who said that they don’t have any friends at RCC or that it is difficult to make friends at RCC. It seems that we are a very diverse group and that many people are quite busy with work, family or with friends outside of the church family. I shared that responding to this concern will be our leadership focus for discernment over the next weeks and months. It was suggested that the small group ministry might address this concern. It is true that commitment to a small group where people are able to intimately share their lives with each other is a real source of friendship and encouragement. As we move into the fall it is important that everyone in our church grow in friendship with other members in the body of Christ.
The second commandment is to love one another as we love ourselves. This means that we must give specific attention to reaching out to create loving and interactive friendships within the body of Christ. The truth is that if we (as members of the Body of Christ) are not friends first, we are unable to love one another as Jesus loved us. Walking in parallel existence without the benefit of intimate friendships will most definitely cause our fellowship to fail. To be clear, friendships among members is an essential part of a presence based community. Being present for each other is the glue that holds us together and makes it possible for us to walk in unity.
I would like to encourage everyone in our fellowship to reach out to someone that you don’t know very well. Perhaps ask them to meet you for coffee or invite them to your home for dinner. Friendship is the foundation for fellowship in the body of Christ.
At the end of our meeting Arlin Martin (chair of our financial advisory team) presented our midyear financial report. He shared that the total income from tithes and offerings is significantly short of our projected budget. He also reported that giving was $5,234.00 short of expenditures and that Faith Promise giving is $1510.00 short as well. What this means is that the church is not receiving enough tithes and offerings to meet our financial obligations. In addition, our plans for an expansion in outreach and ministry will not be possible with the current rate of giving. As a church family it is important to be transparent about this reality. There is some good news in the midst of this gloomy report however. Arlin explained that, thankfully, the church has a small surplus that is able to “cover” this shortfall. He explained that if we are to grow as a church or expand in our ministry to the community that we must experience growth in giving for the next six months. He also said that if we continue to experience a shortfall that there is possibility that we will need to close our doors. While it is difficult to hear, transparency is essential in the Body of Christ and knowing what needs exist allow all of us to respond appropriately.
In response to this report, I would like to say that when a church has a transition in leadership or sets a new direction it often experiences a drop in attendance and giving. Gerald Martin used to say: “Anything that is living will grow!” During the past six months we have been in a transition period. We have been giving primary attention to the proposal of building a core group of people who are committed to a presence based lifestyle. Our goal has been to grow in intimate relationship with Jesus by means of worship, prayer and obedience to the scriptures. Some are making the shift, others are having difficulty. I believe that if the direction is spirit led and if we persist in obedience to call of God that a thriving spiritual community will be the result. As we give primary attention to communion with Jesus, building relationships with each other and reaching out, I believe that we will become an stronger spiritual community. This will be a powerful reality for our community. Our goal is not that to have a church service where people can come to be inspired. Our aim is quite different. Our church will grow if we can keep our eyes on Jesus to partner with Him to become an authentic Christian community!
Barna statistics show that the traditional church is in America is in a state of crisis. One third of people who used to attend church have stopped going. The #1 reason: they feel that the church is no longer a spiritual community but a religious ritual. Christians are looking for biblical Christianity. A community where God is present and active. They are looking for the presence of Jesus in the lives of believers. These communities DO exist all over the world and in the U.S. and they are very successful and transforming to their communities.
On the converse, many are taking the role of consumer when it comes to spirituality. There has been an explosion of superficiality in “seeker sensitive” type churches. While overall church attendance has decreased in America certain mega churches are swelling with people from smaller churches who are in favor of 70 minute consumer oriented services given in presentation format. Participation is optional at these events. Perhaps small churches are jealous of the success of these program based models.There truly is a lot that can be learned from these mega-church programs but the focus of this kind of church clearly is not on building a Spiritual Community described in the Bible. I know that this statement sounds harsh, but a review of the scriptures reveal that the Early church was a spiritually empowered deeply committed fellowship of believers devoted to seeking God in worship, prayer and active in ministry to one another. The focus of the consumer church is different
At the meeting I stated that we would continue to maintain our focus on building spiritual community. I believe that the focus of our Sunday morning services and our home group ministry will encourage interaction with God, each other and outreach to our community. I believe that at the completion of this transition period that we will find ourselves encouraged and in a position to make an impact in our community. Pre-believers are looking for authentic Christians and true spiritual community. They are attracted to real faith, passion for Jesus, the fruits of the spirit as well as the manifestation of the Spirits presence in the midst of His people.
As we continue in our pilgrimage as a presence based community we will continue to encounter God and then by the Spirits power become more and more engaged in spiritual ministry to one another as well as those in the community. That is how a presence based community functions. With this in mind, things may not get better right away because it takes time to for people to transition from being a consumer to being a participant. It takes time for people to shift their expectations of ministry coming primarily from the pastor, to the ministry that God has for them. It is my hope that more and more people who are interested in encounter with God will come in to fellowship with us. The key to this, in my mind is that they can see that we are walking in unity in what God has called us to be. This will be attractive for the community.
On Sunday, we gathered around Craig and Katy Bennett in support of the call of God on their lives to ministry in Waynesboro. God has given Katy a primary ministry at LOVE, INC. in Waynesboro. Both Craig and Katy are feeling called to put down roots in their hometown and connect in fellowship with a local church there! We are so glad that we were given an opportunity to gather around them and bless them! RCC is not just a landing strip it is a launching pad. Even though Craig and Katy will be missed greatly, we bless the call of God. The door is open so we know that we will see them on occasion!
On Sunday at 2:00pm everyone is invited to gather with hundreds of other area believers to walk and pray in the streets of Charlottesville. THIS IS NOT A PROTEST! The state of emergency that has been declared is designed to protect those who will be gathering peacefully. (That is us!) We are excited that Charlottesville is so committed to protecting those who want to gather in peace to pray. Please check out the webpage for this event: https://www.charlottesvilleprayercoalition.com/ Everything that you want to know about the event is on that page from how to prepare for the event to where to park to start the Prayer Walk. Please prepare for walking in hot weather. It is supposed to be 89 decrees and cloudy with a chance of thunderstorms. I will need to leave right after the service on Sunday to attend to my responsibilities with the Prayer Walk.
See you Sunday!