Growing the Church means Seeing Christ in Each Person

by Gary Hunt

It has been a week since our Church Growth Workshop at St. Alban’s Brentwood with its focus on the opportunities and challenges of East Contra Costa County.  We had a turnout of about a dozen, but the power of these workshops has never been in the numbers but in the testimony we’ve heard at each.  I needed a few days of ‘soak time’ to reflect on that testimony before I could put into words what I heard and experienced.

We set for ourselves two issues for discussion.

What are the needs of the people in East Contra Costa County and what are the opportunities for the Episcopal Church to be the Body of Christ in that portion of the Diocese?

We know the challenges.  While we look to the existing Episcopal congregations serving Clayton, Concord, Antioch and Brentwood to help us define the needs we recognize these congregations are too small to meet the needs on their own.  Another ring of Episcopal churches serve the next ring out with Grace Church Martinez, Resurrection Pleasant Hill, St. Paul’s Walnut Creek, and St. Timothy’s Danville further removed geographically but still in the Deanery circle of the diocese. We wondered out loud what could be done by collaboration across the Deanery to leverage the community strengths of the Church to meet the needs of the church.

The discussion in our workshop helped shine light on two fears that have been anxious undercurrent:

  1. The fear that the Diocese will give up on the congregations in East Contra Costa because they are too small, too insular and detached, too limited in their capacity to meet the broader needs of the church in the area.  This fear lives into the tradition of the church in which each congregation goes it alone for better or worse.  In East Contra Costa County where the road to St. Alban’s requires driving by mega-churches the feeling of being ‘alone in the wilderness’ is understandable.
  2. The fear the cost of being the Body of Christ in East CoCo is beyond the reach of the Church.  This fear lives into the traditional church planting model of ‘build a church and they will come’ mentality.  The self imposed impediments of size and resources have frozen us in the headlights of our conventional wisdom unable to see the vision God is calling us to live into to actually be the Body of Christ.

And then something happened in our conversation.  Something we had not expected but something quite remarkable. Our conversation in the circle shifted from traditions and limits to hopes and possibilities.

In the opening of the discussion to the concept of collaboration across congregations a need was expressed as an example.   What made it so powerful was the honest, healthy need from a parent searching for support for a child who had recently ‘come out’ and felt isolated in the small community.

As an aside I would tell you that one of my joys in these workshops has been the sense of honesty, safety and candor with which we have talked about both our fears and hopes.  This was one of those healthy, holy moments.  But what made it special was the testimony that came next from another parent in the circle who told the mother that he too had faced the same issue she described and that he was part of a parent support group and she was welcome to not only be part of their support group but the group would come visit with her and others to tell their stories and offer their prayers, experience and resources.

There is no way to tell this story without a sense of wonder and amazement at the power of having Christ in our midst when we needed Him most.  I believe Christ was with us that day. We learned that we are not alone. We learned we can be in community supported, loved and accepted as we are. We learned that working together made all things possible. And we learned that loving each other—seeing Christ the King in each person—did not cost a king’s ransom but was a pure and perfect gift of Grace from the One who died to save us.

I am writing this message on the last Sunday in Pentecost—Christ the King Sunday.  This is the last day in the church year, and as we wind down the 120 days action planning phase in the church growth program we are already shifting our focus forward.

2012: A Year Working in the Vineyard

For 2012 the work on church vitality and renewed growth shifts to working one-on-one with congregations that want help putting together an action plan of their own as Bishop Marc has asked.

To date 31 congregations have signed up for the Bishop’s webinar series and will be actively engaged in taking actions in their congregations.

The church growth program team members will be working in that vineyard two or three at  a time with individual congregations to help them as we are able to define an action plan that meets their commitments to the Bishop and serves the Body of Christ as they discern it.

  • November 29th St. Luke’s San Francisco, 6:30pm —Revenue Growth Strategies The Rev Dana Corsello is leading a reception and dinner event for expert fundraisers to gather insight and ideas on how the church can raise capital and contributions to create a more sustainable foundation for church growth. Contact Dana directly if this calls to you.
  • December 10th 9am to Noon, Holy Innocents, San Francisco —CHURCH2GO. The last workshop of the action planning phase is also the first workshop in the ‘working in the vineyard’ phase of the church growth program.  Our workshop focus is on technology and how the church can use social media, mobile apps, customer relationship services like Salesforce.com to support stewardship and other technology tools.  We hope you will bring us your ideas by comments on this church growth website or by coming to the workshop December 10th.
  • March 10th, 2012, All Saints San Leandro, Church Renewal. The Rev Rob Droste is leading a workshop on Church Renewal and Engaging the Creative.  Stay tuned for more information as this takes shape.

Do You Want your Congregation to Be Part of the Work in the Vineyard?  We are responding to requests from congregations for help in working on Bishop Marc’s action planning in 2012.  The Church Growth Program will be working in two or three person teams directly with congregations to support that effort. If you want help contact the DioHouse Staff or any member of the Church Growth Program team.

We still need volunteers.  Do you feel called to help with:

  • Lay leadership training programs
  • Mission effectiveness visit support for the Diocesan Staff
  • Technology, apps and other solutions for our Church2Go strategies
  • Building a social network platform for the Diocesan Community
  • Collaboration facilitators for church vitality projects
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About Gary L Hunt

Gary Hunt is a retired business executive and trusted adviser on the energy and information verticals. ghunt94526@gmail.com .

2 responses to “Growing the Church means Seeing Christ in Each Person”

  1. Chris Yaw says :

    Hi Gary-

    Very good wrap up post – sounds like you are doing what a lot of other Episcopalians are doing: listening to where the Spirit goes from here.

    I want to encourage you in your work, it sounds like you are listening to some good voices – also to offer a resource you might find helpful – which is my blog at http://www.growmychurch.com – I am a rector in Michigan who’s on the same journey you are.

    Again, glad to see the energy here-

    Chris+

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