No, we are not wandering in the wilderness!
It was a wonderfully sunny autumn day in Pleasanton, California as we pulled into the parking lot at St. Clare’s Episcopal Church for a workshop on Church Growth in the Dougherty Valley. Rector Ron Culmer was decamped in a folding lawn chair at the cashier’s table for the parish rummage sale to raise money for youth ministry. He had not slept much overnight while the “lock in” of kids took place in the church. But he called our workshop crowd of 20 people from across the Diocese to prayer with his call to the Holy Spirit to fill us up and send us out to roll up our sleeves and get to work out in the vineyard.
It was altogether a wonderful day.
Bringing people together in community is our first step in sharing the Good News. That was the message Shelton Ensley the project manager for the three congregations, St. Clare’s Pleasanton, St. Bartholomew’s Livermore and St. Timothy’s Danville, reported as he explained the task before them.
Bishop Marc has asked these three congregations to not only define the mission and ministry needs of this vast developing area at the edge of the Diocese of California but also to model collaboration ministry as a great ‘lab experiment’ for the vitality of our church future.
Collaboration is the current day term for what Jesus might call discipleship. Ron Culmer reminded us that the common mistake today is to think of the church as being in the membership business and even our own church growth program talks about growing average Sunday attendance, membership and pledge units—-but instead we should see ourselves in the discipleship business and invite others to join us.
You’ve Got Questions, We’ve Got Questions
We laughed about that line as the project team described the rich multicultural nature of the Dougherty Valley area with a large Asian population from many nations, many languages, many faith traditions. But that is the challenge the church faces in our future. How do we reach out to many different cultures and communicate in ways that is welcoming and open, respectful yet transparent about our own faith journey testimony.
How do we ‘do church’ in a geography spread out in valleys and beyond the next hill where small Episcopal congregations live at the boundaries of old growth and new growth, old ways and new ways, and minister to such diverse needs as three generation households where the oldest generation may not speak English, may not drive, may not have a support system like they once had. How do we minister to the needs of kids who often are the translator bridge between generations yet are growing up in an American culture vastly different that their grandparents could have imagined. How do we reach out to working parents leading busy lives with competing demands for their time.
You have questions, we have questions
The Dougherty Valley project is designed to find ways to be in community with this new community. To reach out and talk to people, to listen to their views and needs, to find ways to bring the message of Jesus to those who are open to hearing it without turning off those who are not yet ready. The Dougherty Valley project is designed to get three congregations and the Diocese to work together outside their comfort zones to try new things, explore new ideas for doing church, and focus on building community beyond church that keeps the conversation going.
You have question, we have questions
We do know this—God has given us this wonderful opportunity to be disciples. He has set before us a “project” that is not like anything and or anyplace we have tried before to serve. He is challenging us to be open and transparent about our own personal testimony about why Jesus is important in our lives.
He is calling on us to be the Body of Christ and invite others to join us and do it in the ‘languages of the people’.
The Dougherty Valley project is our Pentecost—-how will we respond?
Here are some resources we learned about at Saturday’s Workshop:
- Collaboration Ministry: The Dougherty Valley Project (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Visualize The Great Commission (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Growing the Church is about Community (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Membership Growth Team Workshop – September 17th 9am-2pm (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Census 2010 clues for Growing the Church (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- CHURCH2GO: Connecting the Body of Christ in an Episcopal Social Network (discernablefutures.wordpress.com)
- Does Growth = Evangelism? (churchgrowthprogram.com)
- Parable of the Wicked Tenants: What are there Lessons for the Church Growth Program? (churchgrowthprogram.com)