A seminary student's encounter with two churches


               Eric, in his first semester of seminary, was attending a class on Church and Society.  His assignment was to interview a large, growing church as well as a smaller, growing church.  He would write a report on his discoveries.    
                He chose St. Andrew Church in a highly populated and wealthy part of the city. Average worship attendance for the past six months was just over 860.  During a visit with the senior pastor, he was taken on a personal tour of the church campus, which was impressive. 
                Pastor Bill said, “Eric, thanks for choosing our church.  One of the most significant blessings about this church is its rich heritage.  As we enter the hallway ahead, you will see some special, stained glass windows that came from our first sanctuary more than one hundred years ago when the church began.  We have picture albums from various stages of the buildings showing our earlier locations.  You will also notice the photographs of our various pipe organs the church had for worship and a couple of shots of an older steeple too.”
                “Pastor, what would you say in the past ten years have meant most to the overall witness of this church?  I know you have been here for eleven years.”
                “We have more than tripled our building facilities with the addition of our family life center.  We owe just under a million dollars in paying it all off.  That’s down from 4.5 million.  We also have an incredible music program here that many ages are involved in.  Several choirs go on wonderful trips in the summer and sing in many churches.  And our worship is superb.  We spend many hours planning for our various worship experiences.  We also have a number of mission trips that go for a week each year overseas and bring indigenous items back here to sell to help the people there make an income.  There are so many programs going on here we have to print a large catalog each year.  It’s a great church.” 
                As Eric got his notes and materials together from St. Andrew, he found himself thinking, “Wow.  Maybe some day I could serve an amazing church like that one!  Even being on staff there would be incredible. They really have it together.”  
                About a week later, Eric visited Faith Community Church.  They were located in an older, commercial building, which had been remodeled into a church facility.  Their average worship attendance for the past six months was just over 160 per Sunday.  Anita, the secretary, welcomed Eric as he entered.  Pastor Jack was on a phone call.  She got Eric a cup of coffee and began to share with him about how she became part of the church. 
                “My life was closing in on me.  I was a divorced, single parent working two jobs.  My second one was at Denny’s as a server.  My Mom was able to keep my two children for that one, which was from 3 to 11 p.m..  An outreach team from this church came to our restaurant every other Thursday night.  They met me, asked me about my story and offered to pray for me each time they came.  Across a few weeks, I shared with them my struggles and hopes.  They also became friends with others who worked there.  Even our manager liked them and passed his prayer requests to them often.  Our restaurant was changed.  I began to visit the church and found a new, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. My other job was a part time office position.  The church’s secretary was moving and they hired me about a year ago.  I love the people here.  They’re wonderful.  I have a new life.” 
                Pastor Jack came in the reception area, “You must be Eric.  Glad you choose our church for your project, Eric.  I would like to show you around over the next couple of hours.  Get a good look at our church, which God is blessing.”
                Eric said, “That’s why I’m here, Pastor Jack.  Where would you like to start?  Was this a commercial building before you all moved in?” 
                “Yes it was.  We got it very reasonably priced and did some real inside improvements.  The worship space is down the hall here.  Come on.”
                Eric noticed an absence of stained glass windows, a large organ and even pews.  The space had nice chairs and would seat about 350 or so.  There were quite a few attractive audio speakers around the room, a couple of drop down screens and a center podium in a kind of chancel area.  “You must have pretty informal worship here Pastor?”
                “Yes.  We put most of our funding into excellent sound and video equipment so every person in here can see and hear really well.  We also have a wonderful praise team and two worship bands, which alternate on Sundays.  Those rooms are prayer and listening rooms where people can share with our trained volunteers who minister to them by praying for them or just listening, to get to hear their story and become their friend.”
                That was all Pastor Jack shared about their building.  He took Eric on a tour of what he referred to as, “The rest of our church.”  They visited three people where they worked who Pastor Jack wanted Eric to hear their stories.  One was an attorney who had become part of their church when a legal secretary (from the church) shared with him Pastor Jack’s podcast on “How to have a joyful marriage.”  Both he and his wife stayed together and are now helping lead a Connect Group on Tuesday nights in their home with two other couples they know, who don’t go to church.
                Eric met a bank branch manager who had visited the church less than three months ago because the treasurer had become friends with her visiting the bank for the church’s business and took her out to lunch to become her new friend.  The bank manager had a teenage daughter who members of the youth group had reached out to who was now going to youth meetings at Starbucks twice a week, after school.  Pastor Jack also introduced Eric to a State Farm Insurance agent whose entire family had come to worship and his wife was in a new Connect Group, which meets at a nearby deli.
                “Pastor, what would you say in the past ten years have meant most to the overall witness of this church?  I know you have been here for seven of those years.”
               “That’s easy.  It’s what Christ is doing all across this community through our people carrying the love of Jesus beyond the walls consistently.  We love learning about what our people do during the week as they share on Sundays.  We worship, teach and preach the Bible, celebrate, receive renewal, new hope and then out we go again, into the mission field of our community.” 
                As Eric put the final touches on his report for class, he thought, “The difference in these two churches is profound.  The priorities, the focus and how they are each living out their callings could not be more diverse.  I want to ask Pastor Jack if they could use a seminary student to serve in the community for Christ?”
 Discussion questions to share:
 1).      How would you describe the two churches that Eric encountered? 
2).     How were the ministry priorities of churches alike or different?
3).      Which church made you most comfortable?  Why? 
4).      How would OUR church compare to these two congregations? 
               As Christ-followers and as churches, our top priority is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of lives and the world around us.  Nearly any church can change and bring spiritual transformation to more lives.  It can happen with excellent training, coaching and modeling.  Are you ready to begin a new journey in your life?  Are you ready to see your church make more disciples? 
 Rev. Jim W. Hollis is a General Evangelist of the UMC.  He is the founder and Executive Director of Proactive Ministries – which has provided ministry teaching and coaching with hundreds of congregations and Districts across North America since 1993.  You may contact him by email at pem1jwh@gmail.com, on the Proactive Ministries Website: www.proactive-ministries.org, on Facebook, or Twitter: @jhriskforchrist.