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State of the Church – January 28, 2015

State of the Church
January 28, 2015
Rev. Shaun King, Senior Pastor

For as long as I can remember, I have always loved watching the President’s State of the Union Address. Regardless of who is in office at the time; irrespective of which party holds how many seats in the room, I am always moved by the significance of the that hour.
All three branches of Government in the same room at the same time.
The various departments of democracy; the realms of the republic, all represented.
The tradition.
The historicity of the moment.

It’s always a powerful night for me; and whatever I have going on at the time, I try not to miss that speech. It’s an opportunity to collectively look back and examine where we have been as a nation over the previous year, and then look forward with hope and vision and courage to where we may venture in the year ahead.

In a similar way, I think it is healthy from time to time, to do the same as a people of faith. To look back over the past year or so, at where our shared journey of faith has brought us, and to prayerfully, worshipfully pause to look ahead with hope and vision and courage to where, by God’s good grace, we might venture (by faith) in the year ahead.

In fact, when it comes to this rich and redemptive ritual of looking back and hoping forward, it needs to be said that the precedent is found not in the president, but rather in the pages of sacred scripture. Whether it’s old man Moses on Mt. Nebo; remembering with his long white beard flickering in the wind, the long winding journey that it took to get the people to this critical juncture; or it’s young Joshua, standing on the other side of that river, at the beginning of a new day calling the people to envision a future with hope, challenging them to “Choose you THIS day whom you shall serve…”

From that day to this, people of faith throughout the ages have always known, and embraced the incredible shaping power of these deliberate moments in the journey; these liminal, in-between moments where God’s providence is remembered, and the courage of true faith is mustered, for the mysterious adventure ahead, yet unknown, and yet unattempted.

Now, in preparation for this address I asked myself, just how similar to a state of the union speech do I want to go? I stopped short of a few ideas.

I thought about having Fred Henderson swing open the doors of the sanctuary and call out to Glenn, “Pastor Crosthwait…the Senior Pastor of Johns Creek Baptist Church!” Didn’t do that.

I considered having Michael and David sitting behind me; one applauding, one pouting.
Changed my mind on that too.

I even thought about having Laura sitting in the balcony, next to a special honored guest, like the barista from Starbucks. Decided against that too.

I’m sure if I wanted, I could find one or two members willing to blurt out “YOU LIE!”
Didn’t go there, either.

I decided against all of those parallels. But there is one similarity I will gladly welcome.
If, in the course of this speech, you feel compelled to interrupt my words with standing ovations and tumultuous applause, I will be just fine with that.

On January 6th 2013, I preached my first sermon at Johns Creek Baptist Church.
That day, I made a statement that to this day, remains at the center, the core, the very heart of my conviction about what this faith journey in Jesus Christ is all about. On that day, I announced to you that THAT sermon was every sermon I would ever preach, ever.

On that day, I proclaimed “There is a life that is absolutely possible. And according to Jesus, it is possible right here, and right now. It is a life of true freedom and peace. Peace with God; peace with people; peace with self. It is a life that is deeply centered and always growing. A life so full of grace and dignity and redemptive love, that it is teeming with purpose and fruitfulness extraordinary beauty. But THAT life is only available through a complete and total yieldedness to the power of God’s love working within.”

That kind of yieldedness doesn’t happen by itself. It takes work. It requires a deliberate pursuit.
The Apostle Paul calls us to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling.”

It is because of this deep conviction (that we never stop growing) that our iMAGINEXT conversation began. I believe, to my core, that regardless of who you are, or where you are on the journey, you are not finished. This is at the heart of the Gospel message. Good news! In him, we are in a constant state of becoming more than we have been. There is a perpetual dying and rising to new life. When Paul talks about the mystery of Christ’s presence within us, he describes it as a treasure in clay jars. While we will never cease being clay jars, that Divine Treasure that is within us will never cease loving us and pursuing us and patiently perfecting us more and more into his own image.

That’s why we say it the way we say it: “in Jesus Christ, there is never not a next.”
But that ‘next’ has to be desired, discerned and deliberately pursued.

This is part of what it means to be Baptist. Undergirding our Baptist theology is the principle we refer to as the priesthood of all believers. We believe there is no need for an intermediary to stand between you and God. You were created with a certain “dignity of soul” which gives you not only the freedom to pursue a relationship with God, but also the responsibility.

See, Baptist theology is advanced Churchmanship. You’ve got to want it; own it; pursue it.
And the church ought to be organized in a way that empowers you to want it and equips you to pursue it.

It is because of that deep conviction that we have spent the last two years reimagining and realigning the ministries of Johns Creek Baptist Church into four strategic areas:
Connections, Formations, Mobilization and Worship.

If it is true that God is perpetually calling people into a life that is abundant and free; and if that life requires a deliberate attentiveness and pursuit, then the church ought to be organized in such a way that all our energies and resources are directed toward empowering that pursuit and equipping members to live fully up to and into that high calling in Jesus Christ.

That is why at JCBC we say that we are Connected for Community, Formed for Fruitfulness, Mobilized for Mission, within a Shared life of Authentic Worship.
I want to update you on the progress that we are making in each of these strategic areas, and lay before you a few of the challenges that still remain as we continue to grow as a congregation.

First…Connections.

One of the ways that we talk about the Connections ministry at JCBC is that it involves getting connected and remaining connected. It’s based on a belief that we are not meant to do life alone, and that we don’t have to.

So, whether you are a newcomer who is seeking to make a brand new connection in your faith, or you’ve been a member of the congregation for a very long time but life has happened and your sickness or your loss, or your tragedy threatens to isolate you and push you to the edges; the connections ministry insists that you are not left alone, that life doesn’t leave you marginalized; and that we meet you where you are and love you into the center of the heart of the church.

In 2014, our Newcomer experience shifted deliberately and dramatically. Under the leadership of our Connections Pastor, David White, we found a brand new starting point for the conversation with our first time guests. Instead of beginning with who we are and why we think they should join our church, we now start with them.

We ask them from the very beginning to find a way to articulate not only who they are, and where they are, but what it is they think they may be seeking. The finest and simplest example for this shift is found in our guest card. We changed the language. No longer does it ask a guest to “check” a box next to all of our products and programs that may be of interest to them. Instead, it begins with a profoundly simple question: “Why are you here?”

That seemingly minor shift has resulted in nothing less than a rebirth in our Newcomer process. In 2014, we began a deliberate dialogue with over 300 first time guests. We received 312 guests cards. But keep in mind, most of which were cards that represented whole family units.

Of those guests who chose to identify themselves, we hosted over 100 newcomers plus children during one of our 5 “Let’s Eat” events last year.

Ninety of our newcomers registered to attend 4D (our 4 week newcomer orientation class), with 72 of those 90 attending 2 or more sessions. We discovered in 2014 that of those who attend 2 or more 4D sessions…65% have either joined the church, or remain faithfully and actively involved in our congregation.

With that kind of trend in mind, midway through the year, the Deacon body began to courageously reimagine ways their ministry structures could best serve our current needs.

In the early years at JCBC, (and many of you were here), newcomers and new members came in droves. There was a day when the growth strategy was simply, “Hey, somebody open that door.” (Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the doors and put out a bunch of extra folding chairs!) It’s not that way anymore. There are many fine churches around for people to attend. Our strategy requires a deliberate, focused, relational connection to persons…one at a time.

That’s why, for close to six months, a special task force under the leadership of Marsha Janofsky and Richard Kay met with members of the Pastoral Staff to reorganize and realign the Deacon ministry into teams that support and strengthen our current needs. Now, in addition to the excellent ongoing care provided by the Deacons for those who are sick or homebound, there is a newly re-developed Newcomer Team that works to pair every newcomer with a deacon, who will walk with the them through every step in their journey, making the decision to join the church a strategic process that is more deliberately relational than ever before.

You have your Deacon leaders to thank for this incredibly healthy and effective approach to “loving people into our church.”

So what does that mean? It means those who joined our congregation in 2014 did so on purpose. They knew names. They listened to presentations. They asked and answered serious questions. They watched us mix the Kool-Aid, and then drank it deliberately and deeply.

Connections is also pastoral care. One of the primary pastoral care goals in 2014 was to increase the awareness of needs in our congregation, and the capacity of our own members to respond to those needs in meaningful and timely ways.

One of the most effective ways that is underway is through our enhanced communications system. Prayer requests can now be submitted by anyone and everyone through our website, under the Connections tab. This process makes it possible for individuals to control who sees the request, and what kind of response they wish to receive (if any) through email, visits, phone calls or cards. That request is then screened by our Connections Pastor and distributed accordingly to various leaders within the congregation.

In addition, prayer needs are distributed each week through the Call, under the Connections tab, which expands the awareness of the need, exponentially. Previously the prayers were printed on the weekly prayer sheet, which reached around 50 people or so, on Wednesday nights. Our current format expands the viewing possibility to a distribution list of 2500 now, every week.

Another significant part of our Connections ministry is our Recreation Program. Each week, approximately 1500 neighbors pour into our gym to watch the nearly 500 children from our community participate in our Upward Basketball program. According to Nathaniel Ballance, who is doing an outstanding job as our Recreation Director, we have over 20 youth-aged referees, and nearly 100 coaches ministering to these children through the game of basketball. All told, our gym is in use some 40 hours per week. With our two Soccer camps held annually, JCBC is making quite an impact in the lives of families in our community. In fact, theButler family who joined our church this month came to JCBC through the recreation ministry.

But it’s not just kids who are served. In 2014 we saw an expansion in this ministry to include a men’s softball team, providing a great opportunity for intergenerational fellowship and a spike in sales of Ben Gay, Icy Hot, and Ibuprofen.

With as many strides as we are making in our Connections ministry, there are still great challenges ahead. For example, everything I just mentioned about getting connected and staying connected, is targeted to those who drive up on our parking lot, or who are already here. It has taken all of our energies of the past year to reorganize and realign our Connections strategy internally.

The next great challenge that awaits is to develop a comprehensive and intelligent outreach strategy for Johns Creek Baptist Church; one that (of course) uses the best technologies available, but is primarily fueled first and foremost by the passion of people in our pews to see their friends, family members and neighbors experience for themselves the same grace, redemptive love, spiritual growth and vibrancy of faith we experience together here at JCBC every week.
Not only are we Connected for Community…but we are Formed for Fruitfulness.

We use the word “Formations” to describe all of the energies and efforts that go into the spiritual formation of the soul. This division includes Ministries to Adults, Students, and Children.

If it is our message that we are in a constant state of becoming; if it is true that in Christ there is never not a next; then our Formations ministries are committed (each, in their unique areas) to meeting our members right where they are spiritually and theologically…and equipping them with real tools to grow.

Whether through Sunday School, Midweek Bible Studies, or an experimental new sermon-based small group experience where men and women gather through the week to discuss in-depth questions about the previous Sunday’s sermon, the aim in all of these efforts is the same: deliberate attentiveness to the interior life. That’s what formation is all about.

In 2014, under the leadership of our Formations Pastor, Dr. Michael McCullar, our Adult Sunday School took one giant leap deeper, by focusing keenly on training our seminar leaders in the very best learning theories available. Through what is being called the “JCBC Learning Loop and Spiral of Experiential Learning,” seminar leaders are being trained to implement teaching techniques that meet Adults where they are; understanding that not all of us process information the same way.

A majority of our seminar leaders have already gone through 2 levels of training and have committed to a full year of training in 2015. This new innovative approach to teaching and learning in Sunday School has already attracted the attention of CBF leadership, McAfee School of Theology and several JCBC like-minded congregations.

I am grateful to Dr. McCullar and our seminar leaders for their tireless efforts to provide the very highest standard possible for theological education and dialogue.

A significant part of our Formations Division is our Student ministry. For years, the heartbeat of the Student Ministry at JCBC has been its army of dedicated adult volunteers and teachers who week in and week out, selflessly pour themselves into the lives of students.

No where was this more evident than two weeks ago, when for the first time, the Annual Disciple Now Weekend was led by JCBC Alumni. In a brilliant shift, Youth Pastor Chris Moore invited 18 former JCBC students, who are now either in college or beyond, to return as mentors and small group leaders for the weekend. It was not only a terrific glance back at the long heritage of investment and love over years past, but it was a deliberate glimpse forward to underscore the incredible value of discipling students now, for a lifetime of future ministry.

Much of 2014 saw significant transition in the programming of Student ministry. While the familiar favorites were still a part of the program: Student Life, Fall Retreat, DNow, March Mission Madness, and a Mission trip to the Dominican Republic, there have been changes to the week-to-week program that represent a shift in focus for the ministry in general.

For the first time in nine years, our Students are now worshipping regularly in the Sanctuary on Sunday mornings. And while I will say more about that change in just a moment, when we get to the Worship segment, suffice it to say that this was a significant and intentional shift that has brought with it a change in programming priorities for Student Ministry.

For example, in the Fall of 2014, the Student Ministry launched a brand new small group discipleship program. Over 115 students and 25 adult leaders were involved. They met in homes around a meal, a Bible study, and then engaged in candid conversation about life and faith and what matters most.

Beginning in February, this program on Sunday nights will move to the church, where it will be combined with a Student Worship experience and recreation, making JCBC the place to be on Sunday nights this Spring!

Another way we Form for Fruitfulness is in our Children’s ministry. And I suppose if we wanted I could spend the better part of the night describing the ways our Children’s ministry attempts to form children for a lifetime of fruitfulness.

I could talk to you about another army of devoted volunteers, individuals like Tony Turpin who has been teaching the first grade for more than 30 years.

I could talk awhile about how our children have led the way in missions.
With the guidance of Marika Chasse and Chriss Kolls, our children led JCBC to prepare a record breaking 2096 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

I could talk about the 2014 VBS, and the 900 lunches prepared for the homeless in Atlanta, or the on site Mini-VBS provided by JCBC at the Norcross Food Coop. I could talk about collecting socks for the homeless, or caroling to senior adult homes.

I suppose if I wanted to describe the ways our Children’s ministry “forms for fruitfulness,” I could mention the week-to-week programming, Sundays and Wednesdays. If I did, I would also need to mention the two “getting ready” classes designed to prepare our children for making a profession of faith and for baptism. Or the follow up “New Christians” class.

If we really wanted to see what 2014 did to form our children, I could mention the special tracks for older children on Peer Pressure, Taming the Tongue, Bible Drills, and Created By God (a special class for 5th and 6th graders on Sexuality from a Christian perspective.)

I could also mention the exciting events hosted by our Children’s Ministry that bring incredible energy and interest to our campus. Events like Fine Arts Camp, the Annual Easter Egg Hunt, or Trunk or Treat, which this year drew more than a thousand neighbors from our community to our church.

But I suppose if I really wanted to sum up the single greatest influence in the formation of our children in the past 20 years, all I would need to mention is one name: Jill Jenkins.

This May, Jill Jenkins will celebrate 20 years as the Children’s Pastor at Johns Creek Baptist Church. For two decades, everything that it means to minister to children has been defined, shaped, formed by her infectious joy and undying passion for introducing children to the love of Jesus. As you know, Jill has recently announced her retirement. And in May we’re going to throw her a party.

Just a few weeks ago, in talking about her retirement we made an interesting discovery. In 1983, I was in 5th or 6th grade that year. That was the one year that my family went to church as a family. We attended Central Baptist Church on Woodmore Avenue. I remember sitting in the balcony during worship. I remember Sunday School classes with strangers I didn’t know. What I didn’t remember and what I didn’t know? Guess who the Children’s Pastor at Central Baptist Church was? That’s right. Jill Jenkins.

Jill’s answer to the call of God on her life has impacted countless children over the years for the cause of Christ, and I hope you’ll join me in an honoring her now.

Jill’s successor will have some very big shoes to fill. That is why without delay, we making preparations now to seek what person God is preparing to serve as our next Children’s pastor. In the coming weeks we will be calling together a meeting of all parents of children in our program.

At that meeting we will listen to feedback from you about your hopes for this next new era in Children’s ministry. Also, at that meeting I will be introducing the members who are being asked to serve on a Children’s ministry focus group. The purpose of that group will be to ensure a smooth and seamless transition, and to assist me and our Formations Pastor, Michael McCullar in meeting and considering potential candidates.

Great days are ahead in Children’s ministry, as we trust God through the transition.

One of the most significant strides made in 2014 was in the redesign of our Wednesday night programming: JCBC Midstream.

Just prior to the summer of 2014, our average Wednesday night attendance had dropped to about 30 people. Over the summer, we took a deliberate break from the midweek program, to reevaluate and reimagine. Then, Chef Juan Venegas joined the team!

With the return of Chef Juan and a redesigned multi-track course entitled the Doing Life Seminars, Wednesdays were reenergized. Our first semester, we offered a marriage seminar, a midweek bible study, parenting classes and deliberate programming for children of all ages, and saw our numbers rise above 300 in attendance.

This semester we have expanded the course offerings to 3 tracks: A midweek Bible Study, The Doing Life Seminars, and now the first class of Financial Peace University, which has an enrollment of 154 participants.

Our goal for Midstream was and is to provide a kind of scratch and itch ministry. It’s based on the belief that lots of churches to great work in scratching people where they don’t itch. Great programs and events that may or may not have anything to do with truly equipping people to own this journey; to connect, form and mobilize a life that really matters. Midstream is our attempt to scratch people in the places they are actually itching to grow.

One final area worth mention in our Formations Division is our Weekday Preschool Program. Over the past two years, this program under the superb direction of Karen Keyes, has soared. Offering one of the best Kindergarten readiness programs in the area, enrollment has doubled from the first year, and in year three will have tripled. The program is already at full capacity and has had to expand their space to accommodate the growth.

In addition to the excellence of care and instruction being offered by Karen’s faculty, what I see as particularly significant is the number of healthy connections being associated with Johns Creek Baptist Church because of the compassion and integrity of the Preschool Program.

Recently, Karen shared with me about a half a dozen comments from parents in the program. All of which were moving, but what I found most meaningful was one of her own comments.

This is what she shared: Instilling a love for God and for learning, building a child’s confidence, encouraging independence and helping them feel safe and loved encompasses everything JCBC Preschool has strived to achieve these past two years.

We have helped families grieve over the loss of a loved one, prayed with families as they dealt with a serious illness and have been that happy place for children whose parents are going through a difficult divorce.

As we look ahead, a new playground, accreditation status and increasing the frequency of chapel time are high on our list of “to dos”. Also on our list is continuing to be an outreach ministry for the church and a place where children love to come.

One of our preschool moms sent us the following comment from her preschool son who is on our pre-k class. “Mommy, when I’m at school, I feel like I’m at home.”

That’s being formed for fruitfulness.

But not only are we formed for fruitfulness, we are mobilized for mission.

Mobilization is the word we use for putting everything else in motion.
All of our connecting and all of our forming only matters when it is mobilized.

Many churches do a superb job at connecting people. Others are strong in forming people. You can find many churches where you can be fed spiritually and fed well. But the problem with many of our churches is that we feed and feed and feed people spiritually, expecting and requiring nothing of them. The result is churches filled with spiritually obese people.

All of our connecting and all of our forming must go somewhere. It must be put into motion. Faith is meant to be mobilized. James reminds us that we are meant to be DOERs of the word and not merely hearers only.

In 2014 JCBC Mobilized in a big way. One of the biggest events was our first ever Mobilization Fair, where members had the opportunity to discover and engage up to 74 opportunities for service and mission. I preached about the Mission of God being a river of sending love; and that at JCBC in 2014 there were no less than 74 “plunge points” for members to dive into the flow of that great river.

And dive in, you did. For many, that one event was a catalyst that jumpstarted faith. For others who had assumed they had nothing to contribute anymore, they discovered just how very true the words are: in Christ (with a little imagination) there really is NEVER not a next.

In 2014, 95 members went away on designated JCBC-endorsed mission trips. That’s 95 JCBC Missionaries in 2014 alone. Whether it was one of the three trips made by the Adults to the Dominican Republic, the one made by our student ministry there; whether it was the trip to Ethiopia in East Africa, or Presidio Texas; we mobilized for mission in a big way.

Not only globally, but locally.
In our partnerships with Norcross Food Co-op, North Fulton Community Charities, the No Longer Bound addiction recovery program, 7Bridges, Atlanta Union Rescue Mission, Backpacks for Love, Casa, Focus on Forsyth, Belmont Village and Operation Christmas Child…well over 1000 JCBC members served in some capacity to mobilize love locally in the name of Jesus and for the sake of the Gospel.

But Mobilization is not just about mission. It is about activating faith in every way, regardless of where you happen to currently be.

That’s why, this year, in just 2 ½ weeks we will experience something truly great. We are expanding the Mobilization fair into the iMaginext Fair.

All four of the major divisions of our ministry will be represented, offering members more opportunities than ever to not only IMAGINE, but TAKE a new and next step in Connecting, in Forming, in Mobilizing and in Worshiping.

We are getting serious about fully empowering and truly equipping members to mobilize their faith. But there is so much more we can do.

We need what happens at the iMaginext fair to happen every Sunday. In order to truly meet our members where they are, the church must be “postured to empower” on any given day of the week.

We can do that in a variety of ways. One of those ways is to establish a permanent kind of iMaginext center. A top notch physical space somewhere on our campus where guests and members alike can go and be guided by trained volunteers who will help them take a new and next step…whatever that step may be.

But what we really need is staffing; a full time, theologically trained, missionally passionate, Mobilization Pastor. Someone who has the charge to oversee not only our ever-expanding mission opportunities, but one who will exclusively focus time and energy and imagination to developing a mechanism for mobilization in our congregation.

So that any member and every member who is ready to take their next step is empowered and equipped to do so…at any given moment.

The challenge that puts before us as a congregation? Paying for it.
It’s great to have dreams for ministry. We can dream big. But we only get to do the dreams that we can pay for.

In 2014 our total financial contributions amounted to 95% of our budget. Our budget was 4.3 million. We took in 4.1 million. Which on one hand isn’t bad when you consider we had no deficit by the end of the year.

In other words, we did not spend more than we took in. Our income was greater than our outgo. But what that means is that 5% of our ministry plan could not be funded, and therefore could not be mobilized.

This is a challenge we can overcome. We can do better. We must do better.

And there is hope. I am told that in 2014 we recorded 138 “first time” givers. That is a big deal. That means in the course of the past year 138 new individuals or families deliberately chose to invest in the ministry they are observing. They are saying yes. We’re in.

Our annual missions offering this year was a record setting $133,000. That’s over and above the regular operating budget.

Nearly half a million dollars this past year came in through online gifts. Fifty-four of those givers have selected to use our online recurring generosity option, ensuring that their contributions are reliable and consistent, rain or shine…vacation or at home. Whether their team wins or loses on Saturday.

I want to challenge you to do what it takes to not only increase your giving, but also make steady the consistency of your giving through our online recurring generosity option.

One of the brightest glimmers of hope on the horizon (for true mobilization) is the progress we are making in our debt reduction. As of the end of 2014, our total debt balance was $8,050,00. Over the course of the past year we paid 1.2 Million dollars down on the principle and 355K in interest. At the end of this month, the balance will be $7,950,000.

Let that sink in for just a moment. Tonight, we are gathered on a campus that has taken more than 50 Million dollars to develop. And all that will be owed by the end of this month is 7.9. That is an incredible demonstration of giving power and the capacity of this congregation to mobilize. If we do nothing more than we are already doing, then in about 6 short years, the debt is gone completely, and we will have the burdensome task of trying to figure out what we will do with an extra million dollars in our budget.

So we connect. We form. We mobilize.
But all of our connecting, our forming and our mobilizing happens within the shared life of authentic Worship.

What does it mean to be in a shared life of authentic worship?
We are currently in the middle of a sermon series devoted to answering that question; a sermon series entitled, Heart of Worship.

One of the major components of worship is the music ministry. And as we move into the third year of our shared life together, I want you to know that we have the finest music ministry and staff that I have ever had the pleasure of working with.

The leadership that Worship Pastor Glenn Crosthwait provides goes far beyond musical theory. Though he is a master at that, Glenn’s real genius is that he leads from a deep center. Everything he does and every movement and measure he directs, emanates from a heart that is completely and totally, sold out to Christ.

And the place where that is best seen is in the people he leads. The radiance that we see on their faces as they lead us each week is something of a reflection of that which is shining within and through their director.
Last year was a milestone year in many ways for our music ministry. Glen Sloan and Bob Cash celebrated 15 and 25 years of faithful worship leadership at JCBC. The choir and orchestra recorded a new CD, entitle “Not Unto Us,” and performed one of those works, as they led worship at the national CBF General Assembly. There were several musical performances including two from our Children’s choirs, one Keyboards of Praise concert, our annual Celebrate America concert, and the 17th Production of Christmas at Johns Creek, playing before two capacity crowds.

We are so blessed with musical talent at Johns Creek Baptist, that some days it feels unfair to the rest of the Kingdom.

Add to this, 2014 saw great strides in our video production. Our Communications Director, Stephanie Wright and her hard working crew of videographers and engineers have taken us to places we’ve never been before.

Whether it’s the exceptional work they do in the production of video sermon trailers, or the weekly live video stream of our worship services over the website, their ministry is empowering worship to happen way beyond these walls. And we are all grateful.

In 2014, the conversation about worship at JCBC took on new life.
Primarily because of the decision to end the Gathering (our student worship experience), and have our students join us in this room. I want to speak to that decision and update you on where it has brought us.

Around 8 years ago, the Gathering was established mainly as a way to retain a number of youth families whose youth were feeling disconnected in corporate worship, and desired a more contemporary style with a more relatable message that met students where they were.
So, the Gathering was born. It served a great good for a number of years.

But in the long haul, it created a system where it was quite possible for a child to worship in KidQuake all through the elementary years, then in the Gathering through middle school and high school, and never step foot in corporate worship with the rest of the church.

Then, when the student graduated, they are left with a hard choice. Come upstairs where the style is completely different and get a kind of worship-whiplash; or, leave and find a church that welcomes the style they had come to learn here though their youth years. And many did.
That’s an experience that is not only unhealthy… but unnecessary.

So, we brought the students back upstairs for a number of reasons. Not the least of which was to look at each other for a little while. To recognize and remember, if only for one hour out of the week, that we are one body, with many parts.

I don’t have many non-negotiables when it comes to worship. But I can name at least three.

For starters, worship must be intergenerational. We need to look at one another; and yield to one another; and confess on a weekly basis that the Church of Jesus Christ did not start at my birth and will not end at my death. But rather I am a part of something so big and so timeless that it existed before me and it will exist after me. And worshipping with others who are older and younger than me keeps me humble and so keenly aware of how mutual our need is for one another.

Another conviction, or non-negotiable when it comes to worship: We must be one church. Not two. One vision. One mission. One voice

And worship must be excellent. Regardless of what style or method, it must only be attempted if it can be done with a degree of excellence.

So we have had many asking what does this all mean for worship at Johns Creek Baptist?
Will there ever be options for alternative styles of worship here?

As I understand it, that question is not all that new. When I asked Bill Self about this, he said, “Yeah, we got that question too.” I said, well what did you say? He said, “I told them I’d let the next guy handle that one.”

Here’s what it means to me.

When it comes to what we are doing right now on Sunday mornings, I don’t want to change a thing. I believe what we offer here on Sunday mornings, you cannot find anywhere in our neck of the woods. A truly blended worship service with full orchestra and choir and a theologically moderate Baptist voice of the Gospel. I believe there are families in our community who are seeking that very thing. And I want JCBC to strengthen that which we are already doing.

The question that many of you continue to ask me is about the possibility of an additional service. It’s a fair question. But I have a few questions of my own.

Is it possible to envision two kinds of worship experiences here?
Is it possible to maintain two styles and both be intergenerational?
Can a church have two distinct services and remain one church?
Does the church (this church) have the financial resources and giving trends to sustain a level of excellence for multiple kinds of worship services?

And maybe the most pressing question I have is what are our real attitudes about worship at JCBC? Is there a widespread hunger among many for an alternative? Or is it, rather, a deep hunger in only a few?

My promise to you, in 2014 was that, in time we would open this conversation and ask the tough questions, but only AFTER we have the higher and more important conversation about what worship really is. At the conclusion of our current sermon series about worship, I would like for us to continue the conversation, by naming a study group made up of a wide range of members, tasked specifically with the responsibility of engaging an intelligent congregational dialogue about worship at JCBC.

But let me be clear.
The formation of this kind of study group does not insinuate that some change is necessarily coming. It is for the expressed purpose of listening to one another, because I believe to my core that when a congregation listens to each other, and hears each other, we are stronger.

So, we connect, we form, we mobilize and we worship.

For the past two years JCBC has gone through significant transition.
There have been some gains and some losses.
Attendance has been up. Down. And back up again.

I came across an interesting observation recently that I believe can serve as a great lens through which to interpret and possibly understand all that we have experienced together in these shared 24 months.

William Bridges is an organizational guru, an author, speaker, consultant. One of his best-known books is entitled, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.

In it, he explains that in any major transition, there are three stages that must be endured. He calls the three stages: The Ending Period, The Neutral Zone, and The New Beginning.

The Ending period is marked by a season of anxiety and grief as people come to grips with letting go of all that has been, and all that is familiar and good. There is usually fear, denial and uncertainty.

The Neutral Zone is a period of time after an ending when people go through questioning and resentment; skepticism and in some cases, detachment.

But then comes the third stage of transition: New Beginning. This is a season of time when there is more and more acceptance of the new arrangement; and an embracing of new initiatives; a surge of energy and enthusiasm and renewal.

See, it’s tempting to think that our new beginning began on January 6th, 2013 when your new pastor preached his first sermon. Not necessarily.

It is possible that a congregation can need several months, even a year or more to move through the very necessary stages of ending…and neutral zone, where many come to grips with what the new arrangement is, and ask themselves serious questions about what it means to be in or out.

The reason I suspect this is because in 2014 we lost a few families, which would put the timing right at the heart of that Neutral Zone, when evaluation and reevaluation is normal.

But what is extremely promising for me is that the last quarter of the year, we saw an upswing in almost every area. Attendance, participation, contributions. With the exception of last Sunday, we have had families joining virtually every Sunday since Thanksgiving.

Something is happening in the hearts of our people. There is an exciting new energy gaining momentum. It’s palpable. It can be felt. And if Bridge’s model is right, it may be that we are just now on the very brink of our true new beginning.

I sense in my core that this year, 2015 will be a tipping point. It will mark a significant surge in the life of our church. And I could not be more excited to see what good thing God has in store.

Beloved, the state of this church is strong.
Strong, not because of its pastor.
Not because of its extraordinary pastoral staff, or its incredibly gifted and capable people.

But rather, the state of the church is strong because of the foundation upon which it is built.
The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord.
Let’s rise and conclude this time together by singing that great hymn of the church.

1 Comment. Leave new

  • Fred Schwaemmle
    February 5, 2015 9:54 am

    Several years ago one of the associate ministers stated that Sunday school attendance had been declining for years and was totally out of balance , 90% adults and 10%, youth, from the desired norm and the existing staff had no goals or plan to address this imbalance which was evident to most everyone. Many of our friends with young children are attracted to churches with schools for elementary age children. Perhaps this is an avenue to be explored to attract younger families with children.

    Reply

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