I actually snail-mailed this out to the church in a pretty newsletter thingy. But I didn’t have everyone’s mailing address for some reason, so here it is online. I thought others might benefit from it as well. If nothing else it’s food for thought.

Also, here is the PDF of the original newsletter. It’s 16.6MB, you’ve been warned (mostly graphics and pics).How are we doing?

This February marks the 2nd anniversary for the church formerly known as Calvary Christian Fellowship, formerly known as Calvary Chapel Forest Grove, currently known as The Exchange Church. We have seen many changes on all levels of our church, and we have seen much growth in the Lord. Obviously not in numeric growth, but in spiritual growth. While the Lord has moved some on in the past two years, He has been faithful to bring in new people to fill the gap. That, in itself is exciting.

We have been working on the three essentials, the three “ingredients” of a healthy, well-balanced church as described in Acts 2:42-47; the word, community, and prayer/power. We have seen much evidence in the deepening and strengthening of the word. It has been taking root and changing people from the inside out, which is exactly what we want and need. We have seen much evidence in the deepening and strengthening of community in our fellowship. Our people love one another and are taking the initiative to get together outside the four walls of the church.

The area that I believe needs the most help is the area of prayer/power. It is through prayer and communion with the Lord that we are established in the power of the Holy Spirit. What is the evidence of the power of the Holy Spirit? Acts 1:8 “but you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you”. Power to do what? “and you shall be witnesses to me”. The purpose of the power of the Holy Spirit is to be a witness and to be used to draw people to Jesus.

How do we do this? Is the answer more or longer prayer meetings? At this point, I don’t think so. I think it is a question of quality vs. quantity. We currently have a time set aside at 9:30, before church, for people to gather and pray. We chose this time because our Tuesday night prayer meeting just wasn’t working for most people. It is important that we gather together as a body to pray. Equally important are our individual prayer lives. The act of prayer, of talking to and listing to the Lord, needs to be woven into our daily lives. I believe God can do big things. Does it take big faith to do big things? Nope. Jesus tells us that it takes faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. As we pray, let’s pray for the Lord to do big things. There are so many people in Forest Grove and the surrounding communities that need Jesus. There are so many who have been burned by the church and want a safe place to get a “do over”. He can use us to reach them. Pray big!

Blessed are the Flexible

They say that the one thing that never changes is change. We need to keep on being flexible in the Lord. Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken. The older an athlete gets the more they need to spend time on their flexibility and maintaining the fundamentals. At the same time, they also need to work on being the player they want to be, and not just the player that they are. I believe that the same principles apply to the church.

We are a church of approximately 20 families. We can either operate in such a way that just meets our own needs, or we can operate in such a way that reflects the church that we want to be. Don’t get me wrong. What we are isn’t bad. Being a two-year old child can be a great experience. But if a child stopped growing and maturing at the age of two, it would be a clear sign that something isn’t right. The process of growing and maturing is all about pressing on, about being and becoming what it is you are supposed to be. To that end, here are some things we are going to be working on, and doing, so that we can always be moving toward being as useful as possible to the Lord. Pray big!

What we can do, what we should do, and the “why” behind it all.

It’s 2009. We live in Forest Grove, OR, in the USA. It isn’t the first century and we don’t live in Israel or in the Roman Empire. While we all want to be like the church in Acts in terms of the impact they had on their communities, we can’t limit ourselves to the way they did it back then. To a certain degree, we have to separate the way we do thing from the way they did things because we are in a different cultural and political climate from them. They met in house churches. Did they do that because that was the divinely inspired plan for them, or was it all that they had to do because they didn’t have the freedoms we now enjoy? Would they have built their own buildings (for example) if they had had the chance? We don’t know any of this for certain. That means we have some freedom in what we choose to do. Mega-church or micro-church, it didn’t seem to impact the quality of the believer that much back then. Just read Jesus’ letters to the seven churches in Revelation.  Big church or small church, it didn’t matter. What mattered was Who was central to the functioning of the church. What mattered was what was done with the resources that were given to them by the Lord.

Think Different.

Two churches can function with the same systems in place and do so for totally different reasons. They can both use the cool technology, have the hip cafe, and be growing in numbers, but they can do so for different reasons and produce very different fruit. I was spiritually raised in a church-growth, seeker-sensitive environment. When I moved on to a more word-centered environment it changed me. I didn’t really know Jesus or live my life for him until I was saturated in His word. At the same time I came to view all things “seeker” as bad. Consequently, I came to think that church should have nothing fancy, nothing flashy, nothing “cool” about it because that was all seeker stuff. I was wrong. I believe both extremes are wrong.

I have come to see church (not the body of people but the entity in the community) through the lens of Paul’s words, “I have become all things to all men, that I might by any means save some.” While the message doesn’t change, the culture does. Churches that were once growing and thriving wither and die because they ceased to connect with their culture. Culture moved on, they didn’t. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation.” Many churches have become ashamed of the gospel and substitute prosperity and personal power for the power of the Spirit and heavenly crowns that never perish. The message cannot change, but the methods and environment to communicate and experience it can. That is a Biblical principle.

Why am I hammering at this? Not because I think our church is guilty of being inflexible right now, but because I want to do what I can to prevent us from slipping into inflexibility. When we start to settle down and become content with the way things are, we begin to stiffen up. I’m not saying we need to change the name of the church every 8 months or anything like that. I am saying that if we aren’t connecting with our culture, if we aren’t being effective in reaching out and being a place where people can come and grow and heal, we need to change things up until we are. We then function in that mode for a season until we recognize, “Uh oh, we aren’t connecting like we used to. Time to change things up!”

If we can think rightly about all of this, if the “why” behind what we do is in the right place, that’s what is important. We can do the same flashy stuff the “hip” church does but do so for the right reasons. I’m not saying we are going to go for an all-out “build the coolest church we can” binge. I’m just saying as I begin to discuss some more practical things we can do to make our church more effective, that you see the true heart behind it. At this point some of it might seem like overkill for where we are at now. Remember, it’s about being the church we can be, the church we want to be in the Lord. Pray big!

Sunday Mornings – Organizational tune-up.

What we have now is functional and meets our needs. But if even a couple of variables change, if we get one or two more families with little kids, if we start getting an influx of visitors, we will quickly find ourselves playing catch-up and looking like we don’t know what we’re doing. To prevent this we need to start building teams and regularly scheduling people to help and serve in a variety of areas. Here are some of the areas we need to better organize and structure how we function; set-up/tear-down, greeters, hospitality table, library, nursery. We also need a few people to lead/coordinate these teams. If you are interested in doing any of these things, let Corby or Bryan know how many weeks per month, or which weeks of the month you would be willing to commit.

There’s no place like home.

As we have in the past we will be experimenting with different ways to set up our space on Sunday morning. We will be trying/adding different decorative elements as well. If you walk in one Sunday and things are different from the previous week, try not to be thrown too far off balance. I would like our Sunday morning environment to feel like a home as much as is possible and practical.

I recently visited a church where a friend of mine is on staff. I did this because his church is very effective at connecting with its community and it is growing. When I walked in I felt like I was at church, but I also felt like I was at home. It was a great mix of the two. There were some traditional elements but they served the contemporary elements. While God does not dwell in houses built by men, and while we as believers are temples of the Holy Spirit, the Temple in Jerusalem was a special place and served a special purpose. It was the place people went to meet with God with the assembly of believers. Whether it’s someone’s living room, a custom-built building, or a gym that gets set-up and taken down every week, that time and place can be special and can be set up in such a way that it enhances the experience and isn’t the end of the experience. As we try some different stuff on Sunday, be mindful that this is why. Pray big!

Back to the Basics

The people that make up our church come from a variety of church backgrounds and experiences. Some of these are good, some of them are not so good. Some have had some good habits built into them from early days, some (like me) weren’t taught these habits from the beginning. Some of us have been with the Lord for quite some time, some are relatively new believers. As I said earlier, older isn’t always better. If the older don’t remain flexible they get stiff. What I would like for everyone in the church that is middle-school aged and older is something that will level the playing field for all of us, as well as help to build a firm foundation for our church.

What is it? I would like us all to go through a workbook that is put out by Greg Laurie and is used as part of his church’s new believers classes. It’s called, “Follow; How to Follow Jesus.” Why are we going to do this? There are some very good reasons for it.

  • As has already been stated, it will help us all to be on the same page. It will help us, old and young in the Lord, to develop and reinforce basic some habits that might not already be in place in our walks with the Lord.
  • It will help to reinforce some of the basic doctrines to which we hold.
  • It will help to establish in us a foundation for evangelism.
  • These will be the materials we will use when we get new believers. If we have all been through it, then any one of us can have the opportunity to guide someone else through it. That’s what discipleship is all about after all.

“But Corby, this stuff is so basic. We already know all of this.” Remember, it’s all about stretching, it’s about the fundamentals, and it’s about growing. If we have the fundamentals of being an active follower of Jesus in place, and we remain flexible, we will be growing individually and our church will be growing spiritually and numerically.

In a section of the workbook about the importance of being plugged into a thriving church, Greg describes four characteristics of a thriving church based on Acts 2:42.

  • A teaching church. The apostles taught on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. They weren’t spreading their own ideas, but following the Lord’s command.
  • A loving church. The early believers devoted themselves to teaching and fellowship. In. simple terms, this means they looked out for each other like a family. A thriving church overflows with love for God, for each other, and for the lost.
  • A worshipping church. The early church was a place of worship and prayer. They made a regular practice of expressing their praise and faith in God.
  • A growing church. Large numbers are not a sign, by itself, of a spiritually thriving church. But a teaching, loving, and worshipping church will also be a growing one.

It is the last one, a growing church, that is our next step in maturity as The Exchange. We are a teaching church. We are a loving church and continue to grow in that area. We are a worshipping church and also continue to grow in that area. But we are not yet a growing church. I believe this is the next thing God has for us as we roll past the two-year mark. I believe so strongly in doing this that I’m not going to require anyone to pay for a workbook. If you can help defray the cost of the workbooks, $7/copy could do it. But again, it isn’t required. Help out when you can, if you can.

The Future

Over the past year we have just begun to scratch the surface of our ability to reach out to our community with the gifts and talents that exist in our body. Tabitha’s Sisters is a great example. I know that we have artists, musicians, givers, organizers, and helpers in our midst that can be used by God to reach out and share the love of God with our community. Did I miss any gifts? Bring ‘em on! We need to be finding and creating ways  to show and share this love, expecting nothing in return. Service projects, being a “lunch buddy” at school, a reading tutor, the list could go on and on. Doing these kinds of things will not not only allow us opportunities to be Jesus’ hands and feet, but it will also help to generate some visibility for our church. Pray big!

I’ve never heard of it

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pretty sick and tired of being a part of a conversation that goes like this. “What church are you from?” The Exchange Church. “Never heard of it.” We used to be called Calvary Chapel Forest Grove, or Calvary Christian Fellowship. “Nope, never heard of them.” or “You mean, there’s a Calvary in Forest Grove? How long has it been there? 10 years? I had no idea. Where does it meet.” We meet at the old Central School building. Now it’s the district offices. “Huh. I have no idea where that is and I’ve lived here for years. Where is that?” It’s on Main street and 18th. “Nope, never driven back there before.”

Why does this conversation happen so often? Because we have no visibility. In the days of the church in Acts, visibility worked very differently than it does today. Back then, people shopped, worked, and functioned in the same community that they lived in. There was a central market where everyone sold and bought everything. While you might have worked for different people, you all worked in basically the same place. The community was a community. For the Christian, visibility was primarily in the form of word-of-mouth. The church met in a house, or houses, and everyone pretty much knew where these would have been. This is why there was always such a ruckus when the apostles came through a town. Visibility was the result of word-of mouth and a community presence.

Today, people in Forest Grove shop at Safeway, Freddy’s, WinCo, Hank’s, Target, and Costco with hundreds of other people from many different towns. People commute 10+ miles to work with people who also commute 10+ mile in the opposite direction. Fewer and fewer people live where they work. Our kids are in multiple activities in multiple locations which is spreading us out even further. We hardly have time with our own families let alone time for there to be word-of-mouth relationships with people in our community, because our communities really aren’t communities anymore. As a result, visibility needs to take on a variety of forms. I do still believe that Spirit-filled, Spirit-driven believers are supposed to be the primary word-of-mouth means by which a church should grow. No question about it. But that doesn’t have to be the only way. It shouldn’t be the only way. We can’t limit God by saying that He can do anything where we are now, so let’s not change. But what else can we do? Pray big!

A Community Presence

In addition to seeking to deepen our relationships with the Lord in word, community, and prayer/power, and believing that God will use us to reach out to the lost and hurting, I believe we need a physical community presence. There are two ideas that have been floating around the hearts and minds of many for the past two years. Let me share them with you.
One of them is a pretty obvious idea; we get our own building/space that meets the needs we have now and will allow us to do whatever we want, whenever we want. The needs we have now are a space big enough for all of us to meet in, two to three classrooms (nursery, kids class, room to grow), and some office space. Ideally this facility would be somewhere people will recognize so we can avoid the “where is that?” conversation.

The other idea is a way to give us a face in the community. In addition to renting the school facility we use for Sundays we could rent a storefront space that would be used for an office and small group meeting area. Very simple, very straightforward, but adds at least $1,000/month to our expenses.

A variation on the storefront idea is to operate a cafe/bookstore that is open to the community and is, indeed, an outreach, specifically to the college-age people. It would also serve as the church office and small group meeting place. In case you haven’t noticed, there isn’t anything open after 6pm for college kids to go, other than the bars. We could provide a place for them (or anyone, obviously) to hang out late, study, whatever. The drawback is that running a cafe would add further expense. While some of it would be recouped by people paying for coffee, it probably wouldn’t be a money maker, and we wouldn’t want that to be the focus or goal anyway. But those are the ideas.

It would literally take an act of God for any of this to happen at this point. For the past two years the church has come out ahead by $1,000 to $2,000, and we end the year with a bit more money in the bank than we started with. So that’s good. But if we really wanted to go for something like this, we need to hear from the Lord first. We would then need the faith to step out into action even if the money isn’t in the bank. How many times in the word does the Lord tell someone to step out first, then he takes care of the rest? It doesn’t make sense to us, but that’s why it’s called “faith”.

Pray big!

In case I haven’t said it already, pray big! I have had this burden for a while and now I need to spread it out to you. Start praying big. Bigger than you think is possible. Pray for big changes in yourself. Pray for big boldness. Pray for big opportunities to share the gospel. Pray for big hunger in people for the things of God. Pray for big repentance, humility, and surrender. Pray for big mustard-seed-sized faith. Pray for big hearts and big love.

“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height– to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:14-21