Every year, I am asked to present a report of the year for our annual Charge Conference. It’s really sort of a “what I did last summer” kind of report that asks, “What did your church do for the last year?” Long ago I decided that my answers should not be seen as any kind of a secret, and so I publish them here, and in our church newsletter. I’m excited about the future of Christ Church and its people and I hope that by talking more about it, others might learn about it and join us in our mission to care for the people around us, and around the world, the way that Jesus cares for us.
The official question that was asked this year was this:
Explain how the church is fulfilling its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Review the current year and how you plan to meet your congregational goals for the upcoming years. What specific goals relate to your mission field.
An my answer is as follows:
Christ Church has continued to move forward into a new post-Covid world in which many people remain unsure of attending social gatherings and events with large groups, and church attendance seems to sometimes be among these. In addition, some of those who were regular in attendance prior to the pandemic simply fell out of the habit. But, for whatever reason, we continue do everything at Christ Church with excellence so that, as we invite out neighbors, coworkers, and friends, and as those who previously attended test the waters and find their way back, they will all find a community of faith, love, and support that is filled with hope for the future and for an eternity with Jesus.
Christ Church is also considering ways in which we can be more intentional about attracting and inviting others into fellowship and inclusion in our community of faith. To do that we are exploring opportunities that might exist for each committee and small group within the church as well as potential new ways to reach out to our neighborhoods, new ministries, and even additions to staff. We have already launched a new children’s ministry offering Sunday school and children’s church so that these options are available to all families in attendance and give them the flexibility to choose what works best for them.
And, at the same time, we have not stopped doing what we have always done. Volunteers from Christ Church once again provided free concessions each week at the Alliance Chamber of Commerce Concert at the Caboose series of events and raised $737 in donations in support of the Alliance Area Habitat for Humanity, over one hundred meals pass through our doors every Tuesday through the Alliance of Churches, Scouts BSA Pack and Troops 50 continue to mentor and teach valuable skills to young men an women, our United Women in Faith will again teach cooking skills to our neighbors, we continue to support Red Bird missions in Kentucky, provide education for students in Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the list goes on.
Our mission calls us to be a bright shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope to the hopeless, and a place of healing to a hurting world where we can be Jesus to our neighbors and to the world. I believe that Christ Church is not only doing those things, but we are looking for ways to do them better.
I hope that, if you haven’t already, you would join us at Christ Church in-person, or online. Because I have no doubt that together we’re going to change the world.
During 2021 we continue to struggle with the fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic. For nearly half of the year we were online only, then in-person, but outdoors, and now indoors with livestreaming to those who remain uncomfortable with a return to indoor worship. The pandemic, and its effects on worship has, not surprisingly, had enormous ripple effects throughout the life of the church. Giving, while stable through 2020, saw a major decline during the first half of 2021 but has seen some recovery since our return indoors. Church committees, which did an admirable job of pivoting to Zoom during the lockdown, have largely returned to in-person meetings but, to some extent, still struggle with finding ways to maintain effective mission and ministry while also wearing masks, social distancing, etc.
But, as we have transitioned back to worship in our sanctuary, and have retained our online presence, we are hopeful that, as the pandemic, eventually, winds down, that we will see more members return to a fact-to-face connection. We are hopeful that we will renew our connection with our friends and meet in-person with those who found us online, and whom we have only met virtually. We are hopeful that our attendance, and giving, will return to, and exceed, our pre-pandemic levels, and we look forward to a return to more active participation in mission and ministry outside the walls of our church.
But that doesn’t mean we haven’t done anything this year. Although all meals continue to be carry-out only, we continue to host the weekly community dinners which are now serving more than 130 meals each week. Christ Church once again raised considerably more than was pledged for our part in the “Apostle Build” Habitat for Humanity house constructed this summer. And, due to the unexpected spike in the price of building materials caused by the pandemic lock down, the excess funds that we raised were sorely needed and greatly appreciated. Our United Methodist Women had a successful Basement Sale fundraiser and, once again, donated a large amount of unsold clothing and housewares to our friends at the Big Creek mission in the Red Bird missionary conference. Even though we have been unable to send a mission team for two years, we hope to deliver a full trailer of donations before the snow flies. These and other mission efforts have adapted and continued despite the difficulties of the past two years. This adaptability and persistence encourages us and makes us hopeful that next year will be even better.
And so, as we move toward Thanksgiving, Advent, and a New Year, we understand that the crisis is not over. We look forward to preparing 1200 Thanksgiving meals for our community, double our number for last year and close to where we were before the pandemic. But we know that we will continue to face struggles and will have obstacles to overcome. At the same time, we are encouraged and hopeful that God will has plans for us and will continue to use Christ Church as a lighthouse of hope and an embassy of his kingdom in our community and for our world. Our prayer is that we will move from a place of struggle and surviving, to reviving, and then onward to thriving.
We may not know the future, but we know who holds the future.
At the end of every January, we file our church’s End of Year reports. And even though only a few months have passed since we filled out our Charge Conference reports, it is useful to look at some of the numbers and see how we did over the last twelve months. I think that it may be particularly useful to look at how we did during such a strange and difficult year when many of those months we were grappling with the restrictions and changing demands of a global pandemic.
Among the first things that the report form asks are questions about church membership, and there we continue to see a significant decline due to the deaths of our members. In 2019 we removed ten members from our membership rolls for this reason and in 2020 that number climbed to eighteen. We mourn the passing of these members and we will, of course, remember them on All Saints Day. But these losses challenge us as a church because even though many of them had not been able to actively attend worship, we feel the losses not only in the loss of our friendships, but also as we count attendance and in giving.
In this unusual year of largely virtual worship, we wonder about church attendance and understanding that number this year is a lot like trying to catch a greased pig. On our Charge Conference paperwork, we reported our average attendance from January to March up to the point that we stopped meeting in person, and we will use that same number on one line of our End of Year reporting as well. That attendance number (75) will look almost the same as the number that we reported last year (80), but only represents three winter months and, of course, doesn’t include any information about the last nine months of the year so, for most of us, that feels inadequate.
We have kept track of our online presence and activity through various social media statistics, but because there are many ways that those number could be reported. Without going into too much confusing detail, every week I watch several numbers.
Our online worship services on YouTube produce daily updates on viewers and traffic and, since it quickly became obvious that not everyone watches at 10:15 am on Sunday, I record our “official” traffic numbers seven days after each video goes live online. That means that, unlike church worship where we simply count the number of people in the sanctuary, we don’t have a real count of our attendance for each week until the following Sunday. With that in mind, when we first transitioned to online worship, Easter Sunday had an “attendance” of about 117, Palm Sunday had 123, and Christmas Eve also had 123.
And while those number may sound a little low, compared to what we might have expected in person, in the online world, an attendance of 123 represents 123 different computers, not 123 people. And, since we know that most of our congregation doesn’t join our online service to worship alone, we know that the number of people is much larger. Among the churches in our United Methodist connection, churches are assuming that the number of computers should be multiplied by anywhere from 1.3 to 2.0 (or more) to arrive at what honestly is a guess at the actual number of people who are participating. That means that if 123 unique computers connected to our Christmas Eve service, then somewhere between 159 to 246 (or more) were worshiping with us. Our average, over 40 weeks of online worship, is about 78 “clicks” or “views” and 54 uniquely identified computers. And, if you assume that more than one person is typically at every computer, that’s not out of line with what we might have expected in person. The number on online worshipers that we reported on our End of Year report form was 81.
It is also worth noting that, over the course of the year, 7 more people have started following our church Facebook page (for a total 227), we have gained an additional 56 subscribers to our online sermon postings (for a total 393), and 57 people now subscribe to the YouTube channel where our worship services are posted (45 more than last year). But all those numbers come with assumptions and guesses. We know that all our members have not been able to join us digitally, we know that the numbers get confused when we have parking lot services as well as an online service, we know that some people are joining us online who live outside our community, and we have no idea how many people will feel comfortable enough to return to in-person worship, even when it’s safe to do so. What we do know, is that since moving to an online format, the number of people who have been participating in worship since March has remained consistent.
Not unexpectedly, we fell a little behind where we were financially in 2019. Giving was off a little, there was no “loose” offering to count with a digital offering plate, we had no income from “Burgers in the Park,” and the economic uncertainty of these unusual times influenced giving. But the changes that we made also led us to spend less, while also increasing our giving to missions. While some churches are desperately struggling, the people of Christ Church have been incredibly faithful and with only a small infusion from our endowment, we have been able to remain current on all our bills, pay all our apportionments, complete several capital improvement projects in our building, and support all our missions at the same, or at an increased level. I am incredibly proud to be a part of Christ Church and I want to thank all of you for your continued faithfulness.
I realize that is a lot of data, and while there is much murkiness and uncertainty due to both the numbers and to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, overall, I believe that our church will not only survive this crisis but thrive. I hope that you are as proud to be a part of this church as I am, and that you will continue to tell your friends about the work that we are doing. Tell them what great people attend here, how good it feels to be a part of this family, and invite them to join us online today, and in-person later this year. I am certain that God has great things in store.
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(Note: What follows is a copy of my report included in this year’s Charge Conference paperwork)
Pastor’s Report – 2020
If you wanted to deliberately turn the life of the church upside-down, you could not have imagined a better tool than COVID-19. Virtually everything changed. And yet, they didn’t. Our committee meetings changed, but once we got comfortable with Zoom, and social distancing protocols, most of our committees are still meeting. We aren’t using our church building on Sunday, and yet, we’re still “having church” every week. Sometimes via YouTube, sometimes in our church parking lot, sometimes both and two out of three Sunday school classes are still meeting weekly via Zoom (and it’s the younger group that isn’t). We can’t pass offering plates on Sunday morning, and yet, our offerings are often as good, or better, than they were last year.
The weekly community dinners have changed but have never stopped. The first week after the lockdown, one sponsoring church cancelled, but the people of Christ Church immediately stepped up, improvised, and prepared a carry out meal so that those who rely on us were fed. Since then, our regular church hosts, as well as few others, have all stepped in, and stepped up, and our weekly Tuesday meals have continued, and have… grown. In the last month, the lines have been longer, and the number of guests has increased. Occasionally, the food has run out, but the word has spread, everyone is adapting, and more food will be prepared for the next meal.
Obviously, there are things that we can’t do. Our mission trips to Harrisburg, Liberia and Big Creek, Kentucky have been postponed until it is once again safe to do so, but we have already collected an enormous pile of things to take with us to Kentucky simply because our members have taken advantage of this time and used it to do some Spring cleaning. Similarly, gifts in support of our trip to Liberia are continuing to appear in our church offerings so that, when the time comes, we will be ready. And, as our Outreach Committee discussed these changes, they deliberately looked for how the needs of our community might have changed and how we might be a part of caring for new communities or new areas of need that were caused by, or exacerbated by, the pandemic. And so, while some planned and budgeted gifts are not needed, we have shifted gifts, and fund-raising efforts to new places where the needs are great.
Although things sometimes seem to have turned upside down, the mission never changed, and the church has continued to be the church. We have changed, we have adapted, we are learning new things every week, but we are still here. Our membership has remained connected in new ways, and we see new names participating in our online forums. In short, the hungry are fed, the naked are clothed, the homeless are housed, and we continue to look for ways that we can be the church, and places where we can be Jesus to the people around us.
The church is still here.
The mission continues.
We continue to seek Jesus Christ and to share his love with the people around us.
We could do nothing less.
I hope that all of you remain well. I encourage you to continue our mission, continue to be the church, and continue to share the love of Jesus Christ with the world around you.
So now that we’ve turned the calendar to another year, and we are already preparing our “End of Year” reports for the Annual Conference, what do the numbers say about where we’ve been? And, as is often the case, it depends. There is always more than one way to look at things and our church is no exception but, at the same time, I think that there are some useful numbers worth examining.
Let’s begin with the number that everyone probably asks about first, attendance. In 2018 we reported an average worship attendance of 71 in our Charge Conference report. This year, in June, we reported that number as 78, and by the end of 2019 our average was almost 80 (technically 79.82). Obviously, that’s a significant improvement but we all know that a church “our size” should, and could, have far more than that on an average week. Still, we should all be pleased that we’re moving in the right direction. What’s more, I hope that I’m not the only one who has noticed that we’re beginning to see more visitors, more repeat visitors, and a few more children and all those things are good signs.
But so far, none of those increases that we’ve seen in worship have found their way to Sunday School. Attendance in our Sunday morning classes was 37 in 2017, 39 in 2018, and almost 39 (actually, 38.94) in 2019. Even so, that isn’t bad news. Considering the number of members that we’ve lost in the last three years, holding steady is a solid accomplishment. Moreover, thirty-nine people in Sunday school and eighty in worship, means that 48 percent of our regular attenders are coming to Sunday school every week. And whether you know it or not, that is a huge percentage that any church would be proud of.
Our social media presence is also, however slowly, increasing as well. In January of 2019 our church Facebook page had 199 followers and by January of this year that number had risen to 219. And, although even while 219 “likes” in the social media world is still tiny, a ten percent increase is still good news. And during that same time period, the number of people who subscribe to our Sunday sermons increased from 206 to 333. Of course, just because people subscribe doesn’t mean that they read those messages, and although it’s harder to put specific numbers to online readership, the number of readers has increased substantially as well. Even more difficult, is trying to understand how any of that contributes to attendance or ministry at our physical location in the real world, but in a era when most people visit your webpage before they visit your church, having a healthy online presence is good news.
And, of course, we have many more programs, mission, and volunteer opportunities going on year-round that are even more difficult to count or number. Our Thanksgiving dinner partnership delivered more than 1100 turkey dinners on Thanksgiving morning, we had a very successful burger event during Carnation Days in the Park, our church donated far in excess of our pledge to Habitat for Humanity for last year’s Apostle Build and in the process our volunteers had a highly visible presence at last summer’s weekly concerts by the caboose downtown. Our scouting program is healthy, growing, and continues to produce Eagle scouts and train the leaders of tomorrow. But more than that, we now have two scout troops because this year Troop 50 has become Troops 50 as they formed a new all-female Troop 50, for girls and young women, alongside of the existing all-male Troop 50.
There are many more stories that could be told, but it seemed as if this was a year in which we were constantly hearing good news. While we may not yet be where we would like to be, or perhaps moving as quickly as we might like, we are moving in the right direction. The numbers affirm what many of us have suspected. Christ Church is moving in the right direction and I want to thank all of you for all the hard work, in a hundred different places, and in dozens of events, and in countless hours of effort on the part of… well, practically everyone. I want you to know that you are making a difference.
I’m looking forward to what this new year will bring, and I hope you are too.
Note: Each year I write a Pastor’s Report for our annual Charge Conference. The following is my report for this year:
As I reflect on the past year, there are several things that I remember. While there are no single, earth-shattering, monumental achievement to report, there are many small, sometimes incremental, changes that are building a sense of excitement and hope for the future. Some of these are things that Christ Church has been doing for a long time but sometimes in a new way, others are new altogether, some are growing, and some are happening again after a long absence.
A class of confirmands graduated and joined the church and there have been two new member classes that have, so far, resulted in two new members, in addition to those from confirmation and transfer. Among these were also two baptisms and a wedding. We have trained and certified several of our members for the UMVIM Early Response Team disaster response mission opportunities that may arise in the future. And several of our Sunday school classes have been discussing the call of scripture, and the command of Jesus Christ, to be invitational as well as how we can overcome our fear of inviting others to meet Jesus.
Our United Methodist Women continue to be a strong, positive, and missional influence on our church, our community, and beyond as they reach out in many ways and in many places with the love of Jesus. Not least of these efforts is their continuing Cooking for the Soul mission, in which they are teaching the women of our community the basics on how to cook at home and save money by cooking from scratch instead of buying prepared foods. These classes continue to be filled to capacity and often have a waiting list to get in. It is my hope that, with a little encouragement, these classes might be expanded to include other subjects such as basic sewing, or home/auto maintenance and repair.
Likewise, the meetings of our church trustees have taken on a new tone as we are no longer just discussing issues of church maintenance and repair, but ways that we can make our church more inviting, friendly, useful, and available to new and emerging ministry opportunities. Among these discussions are facility upgrades like expanding the areas served by air conditioning, new interior and exterior signage, electronic defibrillators, and upgrades to our electrical service to more easily facilitate our plan to once again prepare and serve over one thousand Thanksgiving dinners to the people of our community (which was a new ministry which we took over from another church last year).
The support of our entire church for mission, of all types, local, national, and international continues to be strong and passionate. The people of Christ Church are often asking how we can do more and contribute to ongoing projects in unexpected ways without being asked. We continue to support, both financially and with many volunteer hours, the Alliance Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and other community missions, support Red Bird Mission and its outreach centers in Kentucky, provide scholarships to school children in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as contribute to the construction of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia through our conference Farmer to Farmer mission. And extensive as it is, this is certainly not a comprehensive list. Christ Church and its people are doing the work of Jesus Christ in so many places, in so many ways, that it’s often difficult to keep track of them all.
There is an old question that I have heard in various places, from church conferences, to district superintendents, to books, to internet memes that asks, “If your church were to close tomorrow, would anybody notice?” Christ Church can answer that question with a resounding “YES!” As I reflect on our activities of the last year, I can say with confidence that we are here, we are active, and that Christ Church is making a difference in Alliance, in Stark County, and around the world.
Jeremiah 17:5-10 Luke 6:17-26 1 Corinthians 15:12-20
When was the last time you had a performance review?
Both in secular jobs and in pastoral ministry, my job performance has been periodically evaluated. Theoretically, this is supposed to happen annually, but in reality, my supervisors and, to a lesser extent, my Staff Parish Relations Committees, have occasionally missed those deadlines. But regardless of how often they happen, most all of us have experienced them with some regularity. We sit in a room together with our boss, or with a committee, and we discuss how things have been going, what things are going well, what things need to be improved, and what things we might focus on in the months ahead. Although it is almost always stressful, sometimes the process is generally painless, and at other times, “painless” is clearly not a word that we would use to describe them.
But can you imagine what it would be like to be reviewed by God for your job performance as one of his followers or as a follower of Jesus Christ?
With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading Jeremiah 17:5-10, where we discover something that sounds very much like a performance review from God.
5 This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
10 “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
There is some hard-hitting, close to home, preaching here that hits many of us right where we live.
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”
Jeremiah wastes no time and does not fool with political correctness when he says that we should not ever put our trust in kings, or presidents, or human governments, or even in pastors, priests, popes, or churches led by humans. When we put too much trust in human beings, whether in governments or in the men and women who oversee our churches, that misplaced trust can cause our hearts to turn away from God and we become like a bush that grows in a wasteland, always wanting more, never having enough, and never being satisfied. But, if we put our whole trust and confidence in God, then we will be like a tree that is planted by a lake or a river, never in fear of drought or summer, or sunshine, and always being fruitful and giving to the world around it.
But the last line of this passage strikes us most of all.
“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
That clearly sounds like a performance review.
And not just a performance review, but a merit-based performance review. God will examine our hearts and minds and reward each person based on our conduct, our behavior, and our actions.
This serious business. There is not a lot of “wiggle room” here. You either perform, or you don’t, and your reward will be based on your performance.
But there are some caveats, or qualifications, that need to be made to that sort of teaching. It needs to be explained because many of the people of Israel, or the Old Testament followers of God, read passages like that and began to believe that since rich people seemed to be blessed by God, then they must be good people, and since poor people seem to not be blessed by God, then the poor must be sinners and have somehow made God angry at them. That line of thinking is still heard today among those who preach what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel.” The prosperity gospel says, “If you truly believe, or if you only believe hard enough, if only your faith is strong enough, then God will make you healthy and rich.” But that isn’t at all what Jeremiah was saying. And, in truth, this understanding became so common that Jesus and the disciples spent a considerable time preaching against it. One of the most famous of these lessons in contained in Luke 6:17-26 where we hear this:
17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:
“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.
24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Jesus us in the middle of healing a crowd of people from all over the region. Some had physical illnesses, others had spiritual problems, and some might have had mental illnesses (as we understand them) as well. Jesus was so filled with the spirit and the power of God that people were being healed simply by touching him. But in the midst of this, Jesus looks directly at his disciples and gives a speech. Clearly, this is something of vital importance that they needed to know, and which was illustrated in some way by the healing that was going on in front of them.
And Jesus’ message is that the kingdom of God belongs to poor people, that hungry people are blessed, that people who are experiencing great sadness, sorrow, and depression are not cursed, but will eventually rediscover laughter. Jesus wants this followers to remember that when life stinks, you are still blessed by God, and more than that, if your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus, or because you are doing the work of Jesus Christ, then you are blessed precisely because you are hated, insulted, excluded, and rejected.
If your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus Christ and because you are acting like a follower of Jesus Christ, then remember that God’s own prophets were similarly mistreated. God’s prophets were still loved, honored, and blessed by God even when the world treated them like crap.
And so are you.
If… you are mistreated because of Jesus.
If you live a life that honors God and does the work of Jesus Christ, even if that life stinks, you need to know that you are piling up blessings that may not ever be received until after you meet Jesus face-to-face.
At the same time, contrary to popular opinion, being rich might just mean that you are cursed by God, and not blessed. If you are rich, or comfortable, or well fed, or spend your days in joy and laughter, or if everyone speaks well of you and thinks that you’re great, if you live well because you say the things that people want to hear… and you have forgotten to live a life that honors God, and have forgotten to live a life that does the deeds and actions of a follower of Jesus, then the only blessing that you will ever get is the one that you have now.
And you will have all of eternity to regret the choices that you have made.
Once again, that clearly describes a merit based, performance review.
But don’t let the thought of a performance review fill you with anxiety or uncertainty. Instead, be reassured and remember the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth where he reminds them of what is true and real (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then nothing that we have done is worth anything. If Christ has not risen from the dead, then everyone is lost, and no one has anything in which to find hope. But Christ is real. And Christ really did rise from the dead. And if Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the first born from the dead, or as Paul said, the first fruits of the dead. And that means that everyone who has aligned themselves with Jesus, everyone who has become a follower of Jesus, carries with them the promise of resurrection from the dead.
Paul’s message is that resurrection is real. The Bible is real. The Gospel message is real. And in that reality, we have a future if we believe in Jesus Christ. But when we believe in Jesus, we must also live for Jesus by doing the things that he has called us, and commanded us, to do.
Rest in the knowledge that, if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you will be see resurrection.
Be confident that we will live, with Jesus, in God’s eternal house.
But be – daily – spurred to action, be motivated, by remembering that there will be a performance review on the day of judgement.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report. By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report. Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going. I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.
Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it. It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance. And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both. In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323. In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them. We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!). So is declining membership bad? Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.
I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual. So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.
On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78. Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges. Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses. In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.
Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media. For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers. In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199. That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.
I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this. We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team. But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news. Clearly, we have work to do, but in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better. Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.
Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.
Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.
Keep up the good work.
Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.