Today, Emily and I shared with everyone that we are closing the Vineyard Church of Waterville.
You read it right.
We’d asked our board about just closing down Sundays. Attendence has been declining over the last 18 to 24 months. Offerings have always been below what is needed. As a pastor, I was concerned for the team. There was no “bench” to draw from. We encourage all levels of leadership or oversight to be looking for the person they’ll pass it on to. But there aren’t those people.
Here’s a graph of our weekly attendence, each year in a different color:
You’ll note two things:
- The 2007 trend line is going in the wrong direction. It’s going down. And 2007 was lower than 2005 or 2006.
- The purple line is 2008. It’s lower than any other year.
I also showed them this image of last year’s offerings and this year’s.
The red line is the barebones budget, less in 2008 than in 2007. What this doesn’t show is that our average monthly tithes and offerings were twice this, around $4000, in 2005.
But other things are going well: our budget course is attended by people from our church and guests. People have been healed and demons have been cast out. And servant evangelism is going through the roof:
Clearly, our church is having an impact far beyond our numbers. And we continue to find amazing favor in our community. But something’s not connecting to make this attempt viable.
I’m so glad to be part of a movement. People wiser than us and in authority over us have been recommending we get some rest. We’ve been working at this very hard for the last 3 1/2 years. Now is a good time to take a rest.
In telling this to one of our leaders, I commented, “I don’t feel I need a rest.” She asked me, “Isn’t that the time you should rest? Before you’re totally burnt-out?”
So we’re closing VCW 1.0 on Sunday, May 18. The old sign is already down.
Then we’ll all enter into a period of rest. My family will go to our sending church, the Vineyard Church of Lewiston, a couple times each month. We’ve been encouraged to go up for prayer every time we can. (No matter what the call is for! 🙂 ) We’ll go to the Vineyard East Regional Conference in July. And we’ll rest and play.
Resting is so foreign to American Christians. But it’s pretty biblical. This is like a Sabbath. It’s stepping back to move forward. Steven Covey calls this “sharpening the saw.”
“Suppose you were to come upon someone in the woods working feverishly to saw down a tree.
‘What are you doing?’ you ask.
‘Can’t you see?’ comes the impatient reply. ‘I’m sawing down this tree.’
‘You look exhausted!’ you exclaim. ‘How long have you been at it?’
‘Over five hours,’ he returns, ‘and I’m beat! This is hard work.’
‘Well, why don’t you take a break for a few minutes and sharpen that saw?’ you inquire. ‘I’m sure it would go a lot faster.’
‘I don’t have time to sharpen the saw,’ the man says emphatically. ‘I’m too busy sawing!’
So many churches are to busy sawing to stop and re-assess.
Interestingly, as I share this with the people I feel called to, they instinctively “get” it. And it makes sense to them. Hopefully this will help us build even more credibility!
At some point toward the end of the summer, we’ll begin to regroup. We’ll be articulating our vision as pastors. We haven’t really ever done that. We’ve always articulated our vision in the context of the reality of having a building. Phil commented that we’ve been planting this church from other people’s vision. So true. Now we’ve been here for a few years and have a heart for the people and the region.
We’ll also do a hard assessment of the first plant. We certainly want to identify what wasn’t working so we don’t bring that into the next plant!
And we’ll begin meeting with our team–who ever is left in Waterville, the board (all in Lewiston), and other people. We’ll be hammering out our strategy for a launch, which we hope will be Easter 2009.
Then we’ll re-engage. We’re planning on starting a good kinship in September. And are expecting to start monthly gatherings in October (6 months before the launch).
Even with the sadness of putting a church down, I’m pretty excited. I know God’s not through with us here in Waterville. And He’s giving us a chance to plant the kind of church we’d want to go to. We’ve always wanted to plant a church
- that is experiential, not just a head-trip
- that attracts artists, not just reads about them
- that inspires community and inter-personal connections, not just talks about them
- that minsters to people knowingly following Jesus and not knowingly.
To hear more, and many of the questions that I think are good to ask, listen to Emily and me talk about it during today’s sermon Closing the Church: Rest, Regroup, Relaunch.
This isn’t a neat and tidy process. We’ll be unpacking it over the remaining three weeks. As in today’s sermon, I’ve asked Adrian Monk to walk us through the stages of grieving. Just click on this image:
Please be praying for us and the people that call VCW their home. And the people that will call our next church plant, Waterville Vineyard 2.0, their home!