2016 State of the Church Address
Philippians 3:12-16, NRSV:
Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter, and he was writing predominantly to encourage the church to remain faithful, to update them on his current circumstance, and to watch out for false Christian teaching. As we continue to remain faithful to the call God has given to us, I felt that this passage was a good way to situate this year’s State of the Church. We’ll be looking at verses 12-16. Paul writes:
Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.
State of the Church:
This message is all about where we have been and where we are going, it’s an annual way to remind us all of what’s been happening, and to cast some vision for our future. Last year was our first State of the Church, and we recognized that God had begun a good work in us. We turned to Paul’s letter to the Philippians and celebrated that God had begun a good work in us, and I shared with you my confidence that God would see it through.
As we enter into 2016, I am more confident than ever that this is true. I continue to give thanks for the work that God is doing among us, and continue to appreciate your level of trust in my leadership and your continued embrace of Nicole and I as we serve in our respective appointments. You have been a blessing to us when we needed it the most, and I do not have the words to tell you how much that means to us, but know that we love you and look forward to working with you as we reach new people for Jesus Christ.
We have not yet accomplished all we hope to accomplish, and we have not yet realized our dreams, but in 2015, we caught a glimpse of what the future could hold and we are in pursuit to make our dreams a reality. When our dreams are fulfilled, I have no doubt that God will ask us to dream even bigger, but for now, we pursue the call God has placed on our hearts.
Paul writes that he presses on toward the goal, knowing that his accomplishments are not his own, but a result of the Holy Spirit at work within him. His prize? Heaven, and making sure others know about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ so that they too can claim God’s grace and have receivership in the prize themselves. We press on, we pursue, and as we pursue, I would remind us to hear Paul’s words to the Philippians: be of the same mind, hold fast, and know that in our disagreements God is with us. Through prayer, God can and will help us discern the right course of action.
Much as we did last year, I want to reflect on our accomplishments and the pursuit of our dreams relating to four different key 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 continued our support of the Daughters of Cambodia. Many of our church groups and individuals gave financial gifts and time to support the renewal of our annual Appalachian Service Project. In total, we raised just over $5,500 and received a $1,000 grant from the Ohio River Valley Mission Foundation. Regionally we collected $175 worth of Box Tops for Education, which directly benefited Redbird Mission. Locally, we served 480 meals through the James Sauls Homeless Shelter. We additionally donated 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. Many of you have volunteered for IPM, Sauls, SEM, the Wesley Foundation, the Union Township Police Night Out and in other ways; serving our surrounding community and the Greater Cincinnati area.
Our United Methodist Women had an active year collecting over $8,500 from rummage sales and an appraisal fair that directly benefitted church ministries, community ministries, and the ministries of the United Methodist connection. Long-time coordinators, Earl and Doris Huntington stepped down after 27 years of organizing the rummage sale and we thank them both for their service to our church. The UMW donated over $10,000 last year to support various mission projects that benefit our church and other mission-related ministries in our community. They again held a fall retreat that was well attended and focused on prayer. Our United Methodist Men also had an active year, hosting three dinners to benefit their scholarship fund, and they stayed busy helping with numerous projects around our church. The UMM donated funds to help mission projects here at the church and in our community.
Purls and Chains handcrafted and sent numerous knitted, crocheted, quilted, and loomed pieces that benefited nursing facilities, Wesley Chapel, Nast Trinity, and others 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 $5,500 for Christmas Anonymous, which helped us to serve at least 89 people in need.
In 2015, your financial gifts towards our operating budget totaled just over $330,000. Your generosity allowed us to maintain our long-standing tradition of paying 100% of our apportionments. We had a very successful stewardship campaign that led to 10 new pledging units. If you have not yet pledged, but decide God is leading you in 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, or you can utilize our new EasyTithe electronic giving option. We also have great community partnerships with Kroger and Amazon.com where we will receive a percentage of every purchase you make. Information about all of these opportunities is available on our website or via the church office.
Our campus also continued to receive numerous improvements through the course of the year. We finished renovations of the Learning Center with the completion of new office suites and new flooring in the Ark of Learning wing. Our grounds continued to receive improvements with resealing the Worship Center parking lot, and the removal of many dead trees around the property. One of the biggest changes came via our campus connectivity. We have changed service providers and also ran new networking across the campus to improve internet strength and speed. While we had the initial cost outlay for infrastructure, the overall cost with the new service provider is down compared to previous years.
People come and go, but they matter to us and they matter to God. We said farewell to Beth Kloes who retired as our organist, Amanda Heflin as our Creative Arts assistant, and Vonda Burnham as the Director of the Ark of Learning. We added two new staff positions last year: a director of family ministry and a director of childcare. Laura Johnson was hired as our director of family ministry, Pam Robinson accepted the position of director of childcare, and Becky Himes has been hired as the new director of the Ark of Learning. Our Staff Parish Committee made the decision to not pursue an organist for the time being.
Ark of Learning:
I also want to say a word about the Ark of Learning. At this time last year, we were unsure if this would remain a viable ministry of Mt. Moriah. Under the leadership of both Vonda and Becky, and with continued support of our church and input from church leadership, the Ark is now not only solvent, but it is growing and will soon be generating income that can be reinvested in classroom supplies, materials, and fixtures. Going forward, we hope to generate greater partnerships with the Ark and explore shared cost initiatives for projects that both benefit the Ark and our family discipleship department. Our new director is committed to having an Ark presence at church events, and we hope to create opportunities where we as a church family can be supportive of Ark events. Keep your eye on our Facebook page and newsletter for opportunities as they emerge. We also began a new chapel time on Monday mornings for the Ark and are utilizing the same curriculum being utilized in our new children’s ministry. As a welcome gift, every enrolled child in the Ark now receives a Deep Blue Bible courtesy of our United Methodist Men.
A good work has been started among us, we are in pursuit, and we are making progress 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 biggest growing edges in 2015 remain our budget and reaching new people.
We finished the year at roughly 3.1% below our projected budget, but through conscientious spending and smart decision-making, we did finish in the black. While we would love to finish at or ahead of budget, this is a significant improvement over 2014 where we finished 8.5% behind. The reality is that our budget has seen marginal increases over the last several years, but remains largely flat when rising costs are factored in. By no means is this intended to mean that we are not doing good enough, but it has forced us to make some tough decisions, to reallocate funds in order to create new ministries, and limits how much and how quickly we can accomplish work towards fulfilling our dreams.
We are at a point where we are on the cusp. We are close to seeing some real growth and we have hit what is called a “growth barrier.” This is a good thing! The challenge is breaking through the barrier, because when we do, we will see growth until we hit the next barrier which will present its own set of challenges. When hitting a barrier, a church has to start thinking and acting as though it has already pushed through the barrier, otherwise, we will retreat and will see some decline. This is precisely why we have enacted some measures that are bigger in scope than what we need today, but will prepare us for our growth down the road. When we push through this barrier, I firmly believe that we will also see an increased ability to fund new ministries, new ministry positions, and will be able to do some of the things we currently dream of doing, for which we simply have not had the resources.
Pushing through a barrier will be difficult, it will cause pinch points, which for a time will hurt, and, quite frankly, will be inconvenient. No one ever said growth was easy, but our church leaders, our staff, and myself are committed to going through these pinch points in order to make a difference for the kingdom.
Reaching New People:
In 2015 we had 3 processions of faith, 9 baptisms, and our average attendance was expected to be around 250. Year over year, we have seen a decline in professions of faith, but an increase in both baptisms and average attendance. We are making preparations through many new initiatives to maintain growing areas and reverse downward trends. We have lost many beloved church saints the past few years, 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 want to add younger families to our ranks to protect and preserve the ministry of Mt. Moriah for generations to come. Each of us has a vital and important role in making that happen, and we’ll talk about some mechanisms for how we intend to push through this barrier in a moment.
A BIG Dream:
Proverbs 19:21 says, “The human mind may devise many plans, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established.” It is easy for us to devise plans that are our dreams and ambitions, but this verse tells us that God’s purposes will be accomplished before and ahead of our plans. Through our town hall meetings, prayer, and collective discernment, we believe that we have discovered God’s call for us, and this past year, I have seen and experienced several confirmations that we are on the right track. This call is our Big Dream, and as we turn to cast some vision for 2016, let me remind us together of God’s dream for Mt. Moriah:
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.
With that in mind, I want to take some time to share what is coming around the bend.
For starters, we have done about as much as we can with our facilities that can be accomplished without raising additional capital. In late August, we launched our Pursue the Dream Capital Campaign. To date, we have received just over $54,000 in pledges towards our $60,000 goal. We have already received over $47,000 towards those pledges, which means we have reached 79% of our goal and are only about half-way through the campaign. This is excellent, excellent news! Please pray about what you can do if you have already contributed and are able to help us get one step closer to our goal. If you have not contributed, all you have to do is put “Pursue the Dream” in the memo line of a check, select the campaign through Easy Tithe, or write it on your offering envelope.
This campaign was designed to help us make our facilities the best they can be for today, and in anticipation of building down the road. At the conclusion of this campaign in May, we will evaluate where we stand, and, if it makes sense, we will launch the first round of funding for our “Build the Dream” campaign that will allow for an expansion of this building that would include multi-purpose space, classrooms, and appropriate space for ministries. We have already completed our Worship Center parking lot, and anticipate that renovations will begin in full-swing this month, with a targeted completion date of Easter Sunday. These renovations will include new flooring, paint, upholstery, choir loft chairs, and handrails. The painting is done, and the front pew has already been reupholstered. The current coloring of the space makes both of these projects look more blue than gray, but the overall color scheme will be gray tones to create a more modern and gender-neutral look. We do ask for your patience as there is a possibility that this space will be in transition for a week or two as these projects are completed.
The renovations will not only serve to make our space more attractive, but will hopefully serve to make it more inviting. This is one mechanism to help us work through our growth barrier. Another aspect that you have already approved was our leadership structure, which we are slowly moving into. Once we have our officer’s list completed, we will make sure that is available to all of you. We anticipate our first major shift in February, which will be transitioning to the Church Leadership Team.
We have seen many visitors come into our midst the past year, some have stayed, others have moved on. When families come to visit, there is one question that has been consistently asked, and that is, “What do you have for our children?” Knowing that creating safe space for children on Sunday mornings will both attract and retain families, our children’s Sunday school and children’s church personnel began meeting in May and brainstormed some possibilities for an expanded Sunday morning ministry. Next Sunday, we will launch this new ministry, which we are calling LIFEBOAT. LIFEBOAT will offer full-hour programming for children Prek-5th grade in our Learning Center. We will have check-in procedures in place that allow for safety and security. Children will begin their time together in worship where they will sing, have a time to share joys as an offering of thanksgiving, and to ask for intercessory prayer. The time will conclude with a brief introduction to the day’s lesson, and then children will breakout into age-appropriate classes for further learning and activity. We are featuring the Deep Blue curriculum that coincides with the Deep Blue Bibles our children received in September. We have a supply of these Bibles and will make them available to children as they enter this ministry. Pam Scott will be coordinating this ministry, under the supervision of Laura Johnson, and I personally want to thank those who have volunteered their time to serve in check-in, or in the classroom. Our junior and senior high classes will meet during 9:30 worship hour. In the event that these classes grow, we will explore adding a second hour in the future.
Upon accepting the position as Family Ministry Director, Laura Johnson relaunched our youth program, and will serve as its leader for now, but will be looking for other leadership to help in this ministry so that she may focus on developing leaders and the entire family discipleship umbrella. We also launched an Awana program last fall and have 30 children participating. This program features scripture memorization, awards, fellowship, and fun for children Prek-6th grade, and takes place on Wednesday evenings in the Learning Center. Some of our families that are participating in NA have utilized this as a safe place for their children while they attend a meeting. The cost to participate is roughly $30 per year, per child, and our administrative council voted to subsidize this cost for the initial year as an investment in our kids and families.
Family discipleship will play a critical role in our growth, as today’s parents want to know that their children are valued, have a safe place to participate, and are growing in discipleship. Because we get 1-2 hours with our kids, it is important to give parents and grandparents tools to help disciple children in the home throughout the week, and we will be creating opportunities for this in the near future.
Alongside family discipleship, we have reignited our adult discipleship efforts adding a new prayer ministry and launching 6 small groups called Lifegroups. In 2016, we hope to add additional Lifegroups and Sunday morning adult discipleship opportunities.
For the past year, we have seen many new faces in our midst, and as our attendance has increased, our sanctuary has become quite full. This is a great thing! It shows our growth and commitment to making disciples. It also makes this space appear full when new guests enter our midst. Therefore, our church leadership has made the decision to launch a third worship opportunity on Sunday mornings. The changes to our worship service times will be rolled out in phases to allow for adjustment and hopefully eliminate some confusion. Beginning next week, we will roll out phase one, shifting our 8:30 service to 9:30AM. Both our 9:30 and 11AM services will be blended worship just like our two worship services are today. This shift will make room for our third service and will also help Lifeboat volunteers to both serve and attend worship on Sunday mornings. Beginning on Easter Sunday, we will roll out phase two by launching an 8:15 service in the Wilfert Chapel. This service is being called a Heritage service and will reflect our roots as United Methodists. Family discipleship opportunities will be offered during the 9:30 and 11AM services, and we hope adult discipleship opportunities will be offered during both of those hours as well. There is more information about frequently asked questions in our January issue of The Connection. If you would like to be added to our mailing list to receive The Connection, please call the church office.
My friends, the great news about the State of the Church is that it celebrates our achievements and communicates where we are heading. The bad news is that it is a lot to soak in. We will make a copy of this address available on our website, and if you would like a printed copy, please call the church office, we would be happy to share this information with you so that you can take time to absorb it. God is at work among us, and will help us to accomplish more than we ever thought possible.
As I conclude, I want to remind us of words that I used to conclude the very first sermon I delivered before this congregation. Together we’ll work to provide aide for local and global causes. Together, we’ll work to help families in need. Together, we’ll make improvements to our facilities. Together, we’ll welcome new members into this church. Together we’ll pray, together we’ll experience answered prayers, together we’ll join hands and bow heads during tough times, together we’ll raise hands and hearts to God for the work that is being done among us, together we’ll grow, together we’ll do ministry. Together, we’ll overcome, we’ll bear fruit, and that we’ll see and experience the love of Jesus in powerful and mighty ways. That day was a good day as we joined in a walk called friendship and began our journey. My friends, today is also a very good day, because today, the journey continues, our pursuit marches on, and I for one cannot wait to see where it takes us next!
Christopher A. Henderson-Johns
Lead Pastor – Mt. Moriah United Methodist Church