2015 State of the Church Address
Philippians 1:3-11, NRSV:
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
State of the Church:
This year, we begin something new. Every year, I find it valuable to review the journey that has been, as well as cast vision for where we are going in the future. Much like the president gives the state of the union, I like to share the state of the church.
Paul’s words speak to the state of our church, God has begun a good work among us, and I am confident that God will see it through. Paul thanks the Philippians for holding him in their hearts and deeply appreciates their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and encourages them to love more, to learn more, to do more, so that they may produce a harvest of righteousness, to the glory of God.
As I think about our first six months together, I too give thanks for the good work God is doing among us, and am so very thankful that you have not only welcomed me and allowed me to join this community of faith, but you have welcomed my wife and the community of faith she serves as well. I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, and for all that God has done, is doing, and will do among us.
A Good Work:
2014 was certainly a good year for Mt. Moriah, and I want to reflect on our accomplishments in four areas: Missions, Finances, Facilities, and People.
In terms of missions, we have made great contributions for the good of our community and for the good of our world. Globally, we provided tuition for three Cambodian girls to attend a higher education institution, and one tuition for primary schooling. Many of our church groups, and individuals gave financial gifts and material items to support sending Bill Fisher as a commissioned missionary to Haiti.
Regionally we collected $400 worth of Box Tops for Education, which directly benefited Redbird Mission.
Locally, we served monthly meals and a Thanksgiving meal at the James Sauls Homeless Shelter. We additionally donated 107 bags of food on Palm Sunday for SEM Food Pantry, a pantry that supplied over 14,000 people with food last year. We also contributed financially and materially to Inter-Parish Ministry and Sauls Food Pantry, and several of you volunteered with one or more of these organizations. We also were an active presence at Wesley Chapel Mission Center, and other organizations that serve our surrounding community and the Greater Cincinnati area.
Our United Methodist Women had an active year collecting $10,100 from rummage sales and an appraisal fair that directly benefitted church ministries, community ministries, and the ministries of the United Methodist connection. They gave an additional $600 to the New Richmond Food Pantry, and $2,800 collected through UMW circles that benefitted the River of Hope, Sauls Shelter, Tender Mercies, Caring Place, Mt. Moriah’s Food Pantry, Women’s Shelter, Bill Fisher’s Haiti trip, Christmas Anonymous, and the Ark of Learning.
Our United Methodist Men donated $200 towards mission work, $600 to the Ark of Learning, $300 for scholarships, and $150 to Imagine No Malaria. Our UMW and UMM groups each gave $1000 towards our apportionments as well.
Purls and Chains handcrafted and sent over 1,000 knitted, crocheted, quilted, and loomed pieces that benefited nursing facilities, Wesley Chapel, Nast Trinity, and across the US to help those in need, they also make chemo hats and prayer shawls for area hospitals.
We finished the year by collecting over $4,000 for Christmas Anonymous, which helped us serve 92 people in need.
In 2014 your financial gifts totaled nearly $400,000 including a $24,000 donation for the new organ. Your generosity allowed us to increase our budget by 6.5% over the 2013 calendar year, and we were also able to maintain our long-standing tradition of paying 100% of our apportionments. We had a very successful stewardship campaign that led to 19 new pledging units. If you have not pledged, but decide God is leading you that direction, you can always do so at any time throughout the year. You can also ensure regular giving by signing up for the First Fruits auto-pay program through the United Methodist Credit Union, no matter where you bank. You can also link your Kroger Plus card to our church where we will receive a percentage of every purchase you make. Call the office for details on either of these great programs.
You likely noticed that we have made several improvements to our campus facilities as well. We renovated the parlor with new cabinets, carpet, paint, chairs, and décor. The Education building received a makeover with flat panel televisions, drywall, lowered ceilings, better lighting, tile, and fresh paint. We repaired roof leaks, lighting, electrical and plumbing in all buildings as needed. Our trustees removed several trees that had died as a result of the emerald ash borer. The parsonage received a makeover including the upstairs bathroom, new carpet in main level bedrooms, new kitchen appliances, paint throughout, and freshened landscaping. We also launched new websites for the Ark of Learning and for the church.
People come and go, but they matter to us and they matter to God, and God has been at work amongst our people as well. We added two new positions last year: a creative arts assistant to help bolster our creative arts ministry, and now have a graphic designer on retainer to help with sermon series graphics as well as other marketing items as needed. We said farewell to Linda Harp, as she retired from the Ark of Learning, and brought Vonda Burnham on as our new director for the Ark. And Phyllis Branson said it best in her report on annual conference saying, “The highlight this year for me was the Celebration of Life and Ministry where Pastor Lowe was recognized as a new West Ohio retiree and Chris Henderson-Johns, our new pastor, was ordained as an elder.” You helped a pastor celebrate a career in ministry, and welcomed two new pastors, my wife and I into the fold.
A good work has been started among us, but there are areas that I like to call growing edges that will require our ongoing attention. By “growing edge” I’m referring to those places of potential that have not been fully realized, or places of struggle that with some focus and effort can be improved. Our two biggest growing edges in 2014 surrounded our budget and the Ark of Learning.
We finished the year at roughly 8.5% below our projected budget, but through conscientious spending and smart decision-making, we did finish in the black. The final number is an improvement, as we spent many months of the year running over 10% behind. Certainly the increased pledges and giving units will help us going forward, but with other needed additions, renovations, and ministry projects just waiting to be funded, your generosity in 2015 will be a major contributing factor to how much progress we can make.
Ark of Learning
In late August, we learned that enrollment for the Ark of Learning had suffered a sharp decline, which led to some difficult but necessary decisions to reduce our staffing levels. The Ark is not completely out of the woods, but I am pleased to say that we are heading on a positive trajectory, we have gained new enrollments and they have remained fiscally solvent.
Average Attendance, Professions of Faith, & Baptisms
In addition to those growing edges, we saw a decrease in our average attendance, professions of faith, and baptisms in 2014. They were not significant decreases, but it goes without saying that a decrease in these areas is not good news. In the past six months, our average attendance has trended more positively, but we keep working so we keep climbing. I personally worry more about professions of faith and baptisms than average attendance, because professions of faith and baptisms tell us the story of how many lives are being changed and how many people are coming to Christ through our ministries. We have lost many beloved family and church family members in 2014, and have celebrated and honored their lives and contributions to our church. Many of their seats remain unfilled. In addition to reaching new people for Jesus, we will especially need to add younger families to our ranks to protect and preserve the ministry of Mt. Moriah for generations to come.
A BIG Dream:
When we began our journey together, we had several one-to-one conversations and town halls, I read the consultation report, building study report, your mission and vision statement, and by way of trying to piece that into something tangible, we developed our Big Dream:
We dream to become a mission minded church that is focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
We dream to be a church where people of all walks of life are lovingly invited into a relationship with Jesus Christ.
We dream to be a church that is equipping the saints for ministry, building up the body of Christ, nurturing people in faith, teaching them about Jesus, and leading people to spiritual maturity.
We dream to be a church that is prayerfully, peacefully, and relationally sending people out into our community and world to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.
We dream to be a vision driven church that examines current realities, identifies needs, and works to fill those needs, as we seek to advance our mission.
We dream to be a united people who seek to live out our call with humility, gentleness, patience, peacefulness, and love.
The administrative council reviewed your dream, our collective dream, God’s dream for Mt. Moriah and officially adopted these six dreams in September. They commissioned a team that identified the ministry tools, facility improvements, and leadership positions under each dream and have adopted a strategic plan that will allow us to focus our efforts and help us to grow. This plan has also been adopted.
So, what’s next? We will be working in several areas including prioritizing our strategic plan, continuing our organizational and facility improvements, adding key leadership positions, continuing to develop our brand, and launching a new vision.
We’ll begin 2015 by prioritizing and picking one of the dreams and working on the ministry tools, facility improvements, and leadership positions that will help bring that dream to fruition. It is a strategic plan for a reason, and we will be strategic about which dream we select, and strategic about focusing on that dream. It means that we will do all we can to make that dream a reality until it becomes a reality. It also means that we will have to look past other critical needs, wants, wishes, dreams, and desires, but it does focus us and keeps us accountable. It also helps us to go deep in one area rather than spreading ourselves too thin in multiple areas. We anticipate a focus on Dream 2 in 2015 and working towards becoming a church that more fully invites people into a relationship with Jesus Christ. We’ll be looking at and working on building ministries around welcoming guests, following up with them, and our overall hospitality. We will also be working a little on Dream 3 and will add to our equipping ministries in February with the launch of lifegroups. These do not replace any of our ongoing discipleship ministries but are in addition to what we already have. Lifegroups will gather together at least twice monthly, invite others from inside and outside the church to participate, study God’s Word, pray with and for one another, and serve together at least once per quarter. More information about lifegroups will be coming in the next several weeks, so stay tuned! And please, if you have questions, email me or call me, I’d be happy to talk to you about this vital ministry!
Organizational & Facility Improvements
We will also soon be reviewing and exploring possibilities that could lead our organizational structure towards better effectiveness and efficiency. This will ensure that we are spending less time sitting in meetings giving reports and more time on the front lines doing ministry in our community. We will continue to work with your investment dollars to make sure that we are responsible with our overhead costs and actively seek to utilize your gifts for mission and ministry, and promise regular updates on our progress.
We will be continuing the reconfiguration of our chancel space to make it more accessible and to construct more permanent spaces for all of our creative arts ministries. Doing so will eliminate all the shuffling and moving that is required to make these ministries a part of our worship services. We will also be working on reconfiguring and improving the church office. Alongside this project will be the purchase of much needed furniture for the main office and pastor’s office. The furniture will improve the look and feel of our office space, the first impression of our church to many of our guests. This will also help us to better serve you and other people who visit the church office. We do welcome donations above your regular church giving to help with either of these projects. If you wish to contribute, please contact Kathy Herrman, Dan Ilg, Ken Burger, or myself.
We also hope 2015 will afford us the opportunity to search for and hire a director for our youth, and I am pleased to announce that Robin Shehan will be filling one of our first volunteer ministry leadership positions as our Director of First Impressions. She will be working with me and in turn with our greeting and hospitality ministries as we work towards making our dream of becoming an invitational church a reality.
We have continued to refine and develop our overall brand, and I know that word sounds very secular, but it is very, very important in today’s world that a church have a clear understanding of who they are, what they stand for, and have promotional materials a campus that are graphically, colorfully, and professionally unified. To help us with this, we have adopted new names for two of our campus buildings that we are introducing to you today. In anticipation of additions being made that will make this building more than just a sanctuary, we will be moving to call this facility our Worship Center, and in efforts to modernize terminology and create a uniform naming structure, the education building will become our Learning Center.
Last but not least, council has adopted a new vision statement that provides us with four areas in which we hope to grow. We are encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to nurture an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ through our focus on relationships, creative arts, youth programming, small groups, and community engagement. Along with our strategic plan, we believe that this vision will help guide our efforts during the next 5-10 years to encourage our continued growth, vitality, and ability to fulfill our mission in our community and the world.
I know that this is a lot to take in, but we’ve done a lot already. We’re in this thing together, and we’re All in the Family, and continuing the good work that God has begun in us is going to require each of us to remain all-in. It doesn’t mean that we will always agree with each other, or that we will always be clear about the next strategic decision, but it does mean that at the end of the day we will respect the decisions that are made, we will uplift and support one another and our leaders in prayer, and that we will commit ourselves to the success of this church.
Being all-in means that we will reach inward, upward, and outward. We will continually examine our motives, will ask God to instill his will into us, and will help this church reach those who do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ with the good news of the gospel.
Being all-in means investing in the kingdom, letting go of our idols and other shiny gods in our lives so that we can help Mt. Moriah to continue lovingly inviting people into a relationship with Jesus Christ, equipping them with a faith in him that works in real life, and sending them into the world for service in Jesus’ name.
Being all-in means that we recognize that we are all called, we all matter, we all have a place, and commit to using our God-given gifts for the benefit of our church, our community, and the kingdom.
Being all in means that though many, we strive to be one, and together we’ll answer our call, together we’ll live a life worthy of that call, together we’ll get to doing, together we’ll keep our focus, together we’ll pray, and together we’ll prioritize – together we’ll live our dream, and we’ll continue to dream as God takes us to new heights. The One who began a good work among us will bring it to completion, but it will require us to be all-in.
The State of our Church is a healthy state, a focused state, a progressive state, and an excited state. 2014 was good, 2015 is going to be even better. I’m all in, are you?
Christopher A. Henderson-Johns
Lead Pastor – Mt. Moriah United Methodist Church