Funeral for a Church – an order of worship

Well, today is the day we closed the Vineyard Church of Waterville. (Earlier posts in this process are: Going out with a bang and Free Gas on Channel 6.)

I’ve never had a funeral for a church before, but I think we did an exceptional job today. Here was our order of worship:

  • Opening song: “More than Ever” from the Dwell DVD
  • Offering
  • Purging of the church

    We spent about 30 minutes tossing things into the dumpster. Everyone got to play. 😉 We filled it high. Then we took a sawz-all to the the old church sign and “buried” it in the dumpster. It was quite cathartic for all of us.

  • Horizons DVD

    I am immensely proud of being part of the Vineyard movement. This video shows where we come from, what we stand for, and where we’re going. You can see this wonderful 18 minute video at

  • Communion with the worship song “Dwell”
  • Prayer

    We pushed the chairs back and held hands to pray. We thanked God for this portion of the journey. We prayed for our time of rest. And we gave thanks for the people that have been part of the journey that weren’t there by offering up their names.

  • Stacking of the chairs

Then we all came over to our house for a cookout.

Now, the floor is bare, the fridge is empty, and the signs are down.

Please pray for us as we rest, both that we will grow closer to Jesus and that we will rest. (Already I’ve had numerous opportunities to get really busy with pastor-type stuff this summer. So far, I’ve been able to respectfully say “no”!)

Remember, if you want to be notified of our new church plant, there’s a email sign up list at

It’s funny, I’ve always said that VCW had to plant a new church in our first five years. I just didn’t realize the next church plant would be another Vineyard in Waterville!

If enough of us just believed…

Chris Busch has a great blog post about Saving Tinkerbell.

In it, Chris says:

Peter implores the audience to show their belief in fairies by clapping and as the live audience is worked into a frenzy, Tinkerbell is miraculously revived and averts certain death. We just needed to believe in fairies hard enough.

I’ve seen a lot of people in business over the years trying to save Tinkerbell. I’ve done it myself. Made a dumb decision, or two… OK, or three, and then believed that in spite of my own bad judgment I could somehow revive Tinkerbell if I just believed hard enough.

It reminded me alot of our decision to close the Vineyard Church of Waterville.

Someone apologized to me last night. “I’m sorry I didn’t show up more and pay more money.” I thanked him but told him that wasn’t the point. It’s not that “if we just believed more” Tinkerbell (aka VCW) would be saved.

Our God is a God of resurrection. Sure, He could’ve revived VCW. But that’s not the way this journey is headed. VCW is going to die. Period. It served its purpose. It’s time to move on.

What will come next? I don’t know. But I’m thinking a resurrection is coming. The Jesus that was raised from the dead was not the same Jesus that died. The Jesus that was raised had been changed. He now can walk through walls and show up wherever he wants. (Really. Read Luke 24.)

In some amazing way, resurrection made Jesus’ body even more “substantial.” So real, even atoms moved out of the way for Him. (Check out C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorcefor an idea of what I mean.)

In his post, Chris says:

As a teenage lad I was grumbling one day to my dad about how hard life was. A man of few words, he never looked up from the big wheel bearing he was packing with heavy grease, but just said, “It’s supposed to be hard.”

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I don’t remember Dad clapping for Tinkerbell.

The death of Jesus was real. Believing in Him didn’t make it go away. This isn’t Peter Pan.

But the Good News is that resurrection was even more real.

May that be the same with VCW 2.0!

Thanks Chris for helping give me some language to describe the part of the journey we’re on!

Closing the Vineyard Church of Waterville

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:
VCW Attendence
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.
VCW Offerings

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:
VCW Servant Evangelism

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!

Starbucks work day

We were blessed to be the recipient of our local Starbuck’s first community service project!

They helped with heavy yard work in Vassalboro and rebuilding a roof in Norridgewock.

Here are a few of the pictures:

Sometimes we get in the way

I just saw this quote on a website promoting a new book, Jesus Brand Spirituality:

“I left the church because too many self described ‘Christians’ mainly wanted Jesus to do something for them. I thought that what Jesus had to say was more challenging than whether he was God, and if he was, he didn’t need me to tell him. So I left church to look for what Jesus was talking about. But this book makes me wonder whether, had Ken Wilson been my pastor, I might have stayed.”

—Carl Safina, author of Song for the Blue Ocean and Eye of the Albatross

It’s really resonating with me. I hope I can be that kind of pastor.

Thanks to Phil Brabbs for posting this to the Green Vineyard Facebook Group.

It’s not just a Protestant thing

Listening to NPR this a.m., I heard an amazing statistic: 68% of Catholics in America feel they can live a God honoring faith without attending Mass.

This makes my earlier post on not focusing on attracting people to an but penetrating the community even more understandable.

It’s exciting to live at a time when more and more of Jesus followers are once again living their faith in their daily lives. I’m so glad “being a Christian” is getting divorced from merely “going to church.”

But we must not forget Hebrew 10:25:

…not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching…

We were never meant to live this out on our own. The big danger in our 21st century approach is that we’ll reduce faith to the “me and Jesus” mentality of the late 20th century. Oh, we’ll do it in a more sophisticated, sacramental sort of way. But it’ll still be an anemic shadow of the real, vibrancy of faith incarnated in a community of followers of Jesus.

That’s why at the Vineyard Church of Waterville we’ll always keep serving our community in ways the are relevant. And while we’ll always have at least one weekly worship gathering.

Isn’t it an exciting time to be a follower of Jesus?!

Now I’ve got to get to that worship gathering!

Wonderful guests

20080406bsmallLast week we were blessed to have Darrell & Pippy lead worship, accompanied by their son Ian.

I’ve been told leading worship in a church plant is quite different from leading a worship team for hundreds of people on a Sunday.

Whatever the case, the McGuire’s were incredible and God’s presence was thick.

Ian even responded really well to my sermon. Smart kid. 🙂