There are a variety of ways to review the outcomes of specific ministry ventures. Typically, in Western culture, Pastors are cornered into emphasizing body counts, tithes and buildings. Sounds crass, but it is woefully true. There is some justification for considering these elements, but on their own, they do not always tell the entire story. Consider the situation of my church as a case in point.
Before the Summer of 2007 commenced we had approximately 37 known kids, from 3 years old to 6th grade, who we considered to be regulars in our ministry. The nursery has several additional children. This is down from 110 (nursery through 6th grade) as of four years ago. Yes, we have had our challenges.
As a direct result of our basketball camp, Family Neighborhood carnival and five week (occuring on Wednesday evening) VBS, and August mid-week theme nights, we added 25 additional children to our rolls. 21 of these children live within two miles or less in proximity to our church facility. We have been able to develop budding relationships with their parents as well as the children.
In my estimation, this summer of ministry has been a success. Why? Because they keep coming back. They are becoming integrated into the life of the church through developing relationships. There have been testimonies of significant spiritual breakthrough as a result of God’s work through these relationships. There is a greater vitality than I have seen in several years.
While the increase in our numbers has not been frontpage news in terms of triple digit gains, the depth of the relationships has been quite encouraging. The exciting thing is, the kids had much to do with it by inviting unchurched friends. Also, we are finally making headway in connecting with folks in an apartment community across the street as well as hurting families in the surrounding neighborhoods.
To be sure, there is much to be done. Our church is going through a very interesting paradigm shift in terms of how we foster community. We recognize the painful inadequacy of small group relationships built only on common age-levels, life-stages, or superficial common interests. We realize that a growing number of people long for proximity to a small group of fellow believers so that they may more regular and meaningful contact and so that they might have a greater impact on their local neighborhoods. I have been wrestling with this issue for quite some time. I am happy to see that others have as well. And, rather than throwing in the towel with this church, they are choosing to be leaders and help all of us find that sort of community while maintaining the broader corporate relationship to the local church.
This paradigm shift should help us do a better job of meeting the pressing needs of the new families which we have worked so hard to reach in the past summer. It should help us have a higher rate of retention and integration into church, causing those who do not know Christ to come to faith, and those that do to grow strong in spiritual maturity.
I am excited about what lies ahead for us. My immediate goal is to contact each of the households representing in our VBS rolls (both new and longtime households) and remind them of the exciting fall ministries right around the corner.