Unbinding the Gospel
This is the Unbinding the Gospel program from www.gracenet.info presented by Rev. Ron Culmer at our October 15th Membership Growth Team workshop at St. Clare’s.
This is a program St. Clare’s will be using next year.
Read the testimony from Pastor Clint Cottrell:
We have really been struggling in Fort Myers with a decline in the economy, housing values that have dropped 40-60%, large numbers in our congregation losing jobs or losing income (from employment or fixed income), and from a decline in population (first time in the recorded history of Florida). At the church we have had to make targeted changes to ministries and programs, substantially cutting some (including staff) while increasing our outreach through a food pantry (feeding 25,000 people in the last 2 years). We have been blessed by the ability to do good in the food pantry, but we are struggling on many other levels, including an abysmally low involvement by adults in Bible study or Sunday School, often having less than 10 a week with a church that can worship 500 or more “in season.” That is the context.
A little over a year ago I read a book called Unbinding the Gospel by Martha Grace Reese where the author used hard evidence and research to support a return to the fundamentals of our faith…prayer, Bible study, small groups and evangelism (yep, the four letter word that uses ten letters!!!). I was so impressed that we talked with the author and began a simple journey.
Here is the chronology of what we did:
- First, the associate pastor and I prayed!
- We had 10 “key” leaders (yep, that I hand picked), read the book and meet over 6 weeks. The goal was to see if this is something that we needed to do. The response was an overwhelming YES! Important…we kept what we were doing largely a secret…yep, it was a secret…we wanted this to be surrounded by a mystery. This was in January-February.
- We then had the “formal” leaders of the church read the book and participate in the 6 week study. This included all of the staff, the elders, the deacons, the choir, the praise team and the Sunday School teachers. We did NOT have 100% attendance…some couldn’t come, some wouldn’t come (important nuance). We again asked the question, should we do this? Again, the answer was an overwhelming YES! This was in March-April.
- We developed a group to lead us through the process…a steering committee, if you will. We also joined a “coaching group” through Martha Grace Reese (and have paid a coach to help us…a very reasonable amount of money, $1,000 out of pocket). This group really began to meet about 4 months before the launch.
- We started a separate group that seriously prayed for us…using many shut-ins who otherwise are unconnected to the body.
- In August we began to “let the secret out of the bag” and started making announcements in church, putting out fliers on church doors, mentioning it in newsletters. etc.
- In late August I preached on Unbinding one Sunday then each week after just mentioned it in the sermon…quickly, but it got mentioned.
- On September 19th WE SHUT DOWN ALL ACTIVITIES IN THE CHURCH…PERIOD! No choir practice, no bell practice, no scheduled meetings (except for emergencies), etc. For 6 weeks we started a CHURCH WIDE SABBATH TO PRAY AND STUDY…using the book, Unbinding Your Heart (Unbinding the Gospel was designed mostly for the church leaders, Unbinding Your Heart was designed for the church as a whole).
(There were a few other minor steps in between, but this captures the bulk of what we did AND I need to stress, the workload leading up to this was quite simple…the biggest mistake that some folks tried to make was DOING TOO MUCH!!! This was quite simple!!!)
I TRULY expected that we would get NO MORE than 50-100 people involved (I thought THOSE numbers were high!!!). Based on the VERY low turn out to Bible studies and Sunday School, at the MOST I expected was 100. Of course, we hoped for more, but that was the expectation. We bought 160 books (“optimistically” hoping that 80% of our average worship attendance would participate). But hey, we can always send them back!
We ran out of books the day we “launched” the event. We ordered 20 more and ran out. At this stage, with our children also participating (we are using a specialized program that parallels what the adults are doing in Unbinding) we now have WELL OVER 200 people in Unbinding. Oddly enough, our visitor attendance has spiked. Granted, some of the folks are “snowbirds” returning for the winter, but we have had a SPIKE in guests! Where are they coming from???
Further…we have run out of room! Every room at the church is being used. We have run out of people to “facilitate” the small groups as we had to add small groups to accommodate all of the people. Even then, we had groups swell to 18 (we did NOT want this as that size of group is WAY too big, but we are making due with what we have).
Lastly, a FEW people have grumbled…oddly, they are the ones not participating OR are largely not supportive of what is happening. (Side note…some people were/are uncomfortable with what we are doing. I have seen a drop off of a few members that just are not wanting to come on board!!! Some have even stopped coming to church…I need to follow-up on them. Yet, I have also witnessed a life changing transformation begin in others that were on the periphery!!!)
On the other end, problems have all but disappeared! We still have challenges with money and buildings and the usual stuff, but the stress has truly disappeared. It has been the calmest 4 weeks (we are 4 weeks into the event) I have ever seen in ministry, while simultaneously the busiest at the church, being the people of God!!!
What have I/we done to make this happen? Nothing!!! Really!!! All we did was set it up, pray, and get out of the way. God is doing something truly remarkable. I have seen this only once or twice in my 51 years of life, and it is remarkable. How long will it last? Only God knows! What will happen next? Only God knows! We ARE praying and working to find ways to keep the momentum going once the 6 weeks is up, but for right now, God is doing something special.
Again, I must stress, this was nothing I did. It was simply praying and allowing God to do the work.
If you are looking to follow-up for your church, there are 4 books you want to read (VERY easy to read texts), in this order:
- Unbinding the Gospel
- Unbinding Your Church
- Unbinding Your Heart
- Unbinding Your Soul
Also, you can visit the Unbinding website at www.gracenet.info
If I can be of further help or service, just drop me a note or call.
May the peace of Lord and savior, Jesus Christ, be with you on this journey!
Pastor Clint Cottrell 239 – 481 – 3233
Cypress Lake Presbyterian Church Fort Myers Florida