Grants provide “kind of a B-12 shot”
By Myra Holmes
Anyone who has ever set and broken a New Year’s resolution knows that firm resolve isn’t enough to bring needed change. Sometimes, a move toward greater health requires a little help from outside.
That’s true for churches, too.
So the Central District Conference (CDC) has established a new fund to lend support to those churches that need an extra boost to propel them to more effective ministry.
“It’s kind of a B-12 shot—some energy to bust through,” says CDC district minister Rick Eshbaugh. “There are churches that are plateaued, that are going through significant issues and would possibly be helped by being able to access additional funds to help them through that cycle.”
The money for the Church Renewal Fund comes from the Katy Glanzer estate, a $1.2 million gift. The district earmarked $70,000 of that endowment for church renewal and leadership development, under the supervision of the CDC Church Planting and Renewal Committee, at their 2014 annual convention. [link for online version: http://usmb.org/departments/Christian-Leader/article/CDC-invests-estate-gift-into-ministry.html]
Eshbaugh says the fund is intended to mirror the district’s model for church planting, in which funding is coupled with relational support from a project team. “It’s not just a matter of sending in money.”
A restart for Faith Bible Church
The first church to receive support from this renewal fund is Faith Bible Church (FBC), Omaha, Neb. FBC has been serving faithfully in their Omaha neighborhood for about 45 years and, much like a middle-aged person, the congregation was beginning to notice some wear and tear.
They had been without a lead pastor for a long time, although a preaching pastor provided Sunday sermons. Attendance hovered around 35. The church building was in need of repair, but weekly offerings were too small to take care of maintenance, much less support a full-time pastor. Perhaps most importantly, the congregation lacked unity and vision.
According to Stephen Stout, who has attended FBC for 24 years, “We didn’t have a lot of momentum or a lot of energy to go forward.”
When the preaching pastor announced that it was time for him to move on, FBC knew it would take more than firm resolve to get back in shape. They even considered closing the church.
Enter the 2015 CDC renewal fund grant along with a project team: district minister Eshbaugh; John Langer, chair of the Church Planting and Renewal Committee; and committee members Chad Stoner, pastor of Stony Brook Church, Omaha; and Daniel Rodriguez, pastor of Iglesia Agua Viva in Omaha.
Restart provides unity, vision
With the support of this CDC church renewal project team, FBC decided to pursue a restart. Often a restart means closing the church and beginning with a fresh identity and vision. FBC chose instead a soft restart, remaining open and retaining the name, but rethinking their mission. If a restart is like razing the house to build a new one, FBC’s soft restart is more like remodeling the house while still living there.
One of the first steps was calling Stout as the intentional interim pastor. Stout also serves as director of Good Neighbor Ministries, a community nonprofit that works to meet practical needs while sharing the gospel.
In March 2015, the congregation took a good, hard look at where they’d been and where they wanted to go. “Sometimes you have to look at a wound before you can heal it,” says Rick Reck, FBC elder. It wasn’t without pain: They worked through conflict and lost well-loved members.
But FBC came through the process with new unity and vision. “We’ve determined to become more of an evangelistic outreach church rather than sitting in our pews on Sunday,” Reck says.
Much of the renewal funding for FBC went toward facility improvements. While the district funds aren’t intended primarily for brick and mortar, in this case, the church needed to attend to delayed maintenance issues to increase their presence in the neighborhood. They have also hired a part-time, temporary assistant to lend a hand to Stout and to build a new website for the church.
In just about a year, FBC has become a much different church. Attendance averages 60, including 10 new members. A streamlined leadership structure will allow the church to pursue ministry more effectively.
The congregation has appreciated Stout’s pastoral leadership and will vote this month on a proposal that Stout serve as the full-time pastor. New leaders are in place for worship, children’s ministry and men’s ministry. Offerings, though still small, have increased noticeably. Small groups have restarted. There’s a new spirit of love and harmony.
Stout is quick to point out that FBC has only begun in this new direction. “Most of the work is still in front of us,” he says. But he’s also convinced that their story is far from over, and the support of the CDC has made a tangible difference. “Just knowing that CDC was behind us was very encouraging,” says Stout. “We’re not alone in this.”
Leadership development at Iglesia Agua Viva
Iglesia Agua Viva (IAV), also in Omaha, will be receiving support from the CDC Church Renewal Fund in 2016. The support for this Spanish-language congregation will look much different than the support for FBC, since it will go toward schooling for the pastor and leadership development.
Daniel Rodriguez, IAV pastor, says that most of the congregation’s Hispanic attendees have little Christian background. While the church works hard to equip leaders, more training will help Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, those who preach on Sundays and others go to the next level.
Rodriguez says, “Everywhere in the church we feel that it is really important for us to have servants of God who have a heart to serve God but also are prepared to do their best to serve others.”
Thirteen adults from the congregation will be taking courses to further their training. The district funding will assist with books and some necessary travel expenses.
Secondly, the fund will enable Rodriguez to get further schooling. He has pastored IAV for six years while working part-time. “God has done amazing things in my family life and the church, but one of the things that I always wanted was to get more education to serve better in the ministry,” he says. The district funds will supplement the salary Rodriguez receives from the church so that he can quit his part-time job and pursue a bachelor’s degree in pastoral ministries at Grace University in Omaha.
CDC minister Eshbaugh says that it is important to focus on health for congregations like FBC and IAV because local churches are on the front lines of ministry. “We have an opportunity to do missions through our existing churches.”—Myra Holmes
Photo provided by Faith Bible Church: Andrew Petts, a Grace University student from Salem MB Church in Bridgewater, SD, has become very involved at Faith Bible Church. Petts, pictured here painting the church's new vision statement on a wall in the sanctuary, has a passion for technology. He has helped the church make upgrades to their sound system.
Photo provided by Iglesia Agua Viva: Pastor Daniel Rodriguez, far right, says that CDC assistance to train church leaders at Iglesia Agua Viva will help this Spanish-language church reach Hispanic people in Omaha.
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