2015-16 DS Report
DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT’S REPORT
Church Year 2015-16
It is a privilege to submit my 7th annual report as superintendent of the Iowa-Minnesota District. Composing an annual report like this can be a bit of a challenge. To paint an accurate picture of a year of ministry in a two state area, while being both interesting and brief, is a daunting task.
There are all kinds of statistics that we could examine, but I will focus on just a few important “dashboard indicators”:
•600 people accepted Christ as Savior through our churches’ ministries this year, an increase of 32 over last year. 32 of our churches reported conversions, while 4 reported none. By the way, 600 conversions is at least a 10-year high for us! (Probably more, but I only looked back 10 years).
•Baptisms increased slightly, from 142 a year ago to 155 this year. 26 of our churches reported baptisms, while 11 reported none.
•We experienced a loss in morning worship attendance of 117, or -3%. This loss breaks a trend of 4 consecutive years of numeric growth. 17 of our churches experienced growth in worship attendance, 17 experienced losses and 2 stayed the same.
•We showed a very slight increase of 9 in membership.
As always, you will find graphs in the back of your notebook recording attendance, conversions, baptisms, membership and giving for each church covering the last five years.
Currently we have four churches categorized as church plants and an exploratory work we hope will blossom into a church plant:
•CAYA (Come As You Are) Church, in Newton, IA, is experiencing slow, but steady progress. The church recently moved to a different facility that will provide more room for growth.
•Beginning August 7, Greater Praise Church will be leasing space at a 7th Day Adventist Church that will allow them to hold Sunday morning worship services, which will eliminate one of the primary obstacles that has limited their growth. Our thanks to Hope Church, which has provided mentoring, encouragement and meeting space for Greater Praise for the past six years.
•The Vine, in St. Louis Park, MN, has been struggling to gain traction, in great part due to facility challenges. Their current facility, a movie theater, has zero usable space for children’s ministry and nursery, so church leaders are actively engaged in a search for a more viable meeting space.
•South Troy Wesleyan, in Zumbro Falls, MN, has outgrown their facility and is in the process of raising funds for an addition.
•Palabra de Vida (Word of Life) Church in Sioux City, IA is an exploratory work that is being planted by Fuente de Vida (Fountain of Life) Church in Denison, IA. When a core group of 40 is gathered we plan to launch a church plant.
At this point, we do not have other church plants in the planning process. We have cities that need Wesleyan Churches, we have a planting support system and we have financial resources; we need church planters. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Luke 10:2)
A number of our churches are becoming increasingly more intentional about doing whatever it takes to be relevant and to touch their communities with the Gospel. As a result, these churches are experiencing new seasons of vitality, effectiveness and growth. Strategies have varied from establishing creative worship service times to utilizing a consultation team to total rebranding. You will hear more from the pastors of two of those churches later today.
Several of our churches have gone through, or are going through, pastoral transitions:
•In October, Rob Williams became the pastor at 1st Wesleyan in Charles City (now The Bridge Church).
•In June, Peter Salmon stepped into the lead pastor position at Trinity Bible Church in Cedar Falls. John Miller will remain on staff in an assistant role.
•Jason Shanks became the lead pastor at Radiant Church in Des Moines just a couple of weeks ago. This follows an eight-month interim pastorate with Dick Emery, who is with TIPS (Transitional Interim Pastoral Service), a ministry of New Church Specialties.
•In February, Rick Garmon stepped down as senior pastor at Cedar Valley Community Church in Waterloo. I have been serving as interim pastor during the pastoral search process.
•In December, Jean Halvorson passed away after a short, but furious battle with cancer, leaving Living Springs Church in Spring Lake Park without pastoral leadership. Dennis Barnett provided stability by giving interim leadership for several months while the pastoral search process took place. Brian Sinclair, who is on loan to us from the Christian and Missionary Alliance, is now serving the Living Springs congregation.
•Doug Swarthout is retiring this summer, after leading the Anoka congregation for the past 17 years. Anoka is currently evaluating a variety of options for future ministry.
•Gordon Berryman is retiring at the end of July from his two-point charge of Rudd and Howardville.
The Howardville congregation voted unanimously to close and will hold its final worship service on July 31, celebrating 160 years of ministry (that’s right—this church began as the “Howard’s Grove Free Sunday School” in 1856!).
Rudd will continue to meet for the time being utilizing pulpit supply pastors.
Facilities are an incredibly important tool that will either enhance or hinder ministry. A number of our churches have made major improvements to their facilities this year in order to make them more functional and inviting:
•West Union Crossfire Church completed a remodeling project that transformed its community building into a beautiful and functional worship center.
•Blaine Hope Church’s project included transforming a wing of their building into a state-of-the-art children’s ministry center and adding an outdoor fellowship area.
•Minneapolis Waite Park expanded their foyer into a modern and comfortable gathering place, constructed new restrooms, added an elevator and relocated offices.
•Cedar Rapids Living Hope expanded and updated their worship center.
•Realife Church also expanded their worship center.
•The Bridge Church, in Charles City, gave their worship center a facelift with new chairs, carpet, lighting and a new color scheme.
•La Porte City Heartland Church is in the middle of a project that will totally update both their children’s and youth ministry areas.
•Cedar Springs Camp continues to experience new health and vitality. A significant contributor to our new-found growth has been the addition of Larry Anspach to our staff as our Director of Advancement.
•After 22 years and 3 DSs, Linda Buchanan is retiring. It has been my privilege to work with Linda for 7 of those years. She models the fruit of the Spirit as consistently as anyone I have ever worked with.
•I am pleased that Allison Hocking has been hired to be our district administrative assistant. We are in the process of selling the district office and will be renting office space at The Bridge Church in Charles City.
•In the past, the Cedar Springs Camp treasury and the Church Growth and Expansion Fund has been managed at the district office by the administrative assistant. All financial accounts are now being managed by BPKZ Accounting Services, the firm that employs Tim Jewell, our district treasurer.
•I served as interim pastor at three of our churches at different times during the past year; Charles City First (now The Bridge), Des Moines Radiant and Waterloo Cedar Valley Community. While serving these three churches limited my availability to be in our other churches on Sundays, I think it was a priority to provide some leadership and stability during times of transition and uncertainty.
•We have provided a variety of growth and networking opportunities to our district pastors through a variety of events, including our Team Retreat (formerly mid-year retreat), The Experience Conference, The Dunn Institute, and 12-Stone pastoral mentoring.
Disciples, not just decisions—Allow me to raise an issue based on the numbers at the beginning of this report. I am incredibly grateful for all 600 people who prayed to receive Christ through our ministries last year. However, the disparity between conversion numbers and baptism numbers, along with the lack of numeric growth, should cause us to ask ourselves some pointed questions regarding our disciple-making processes:
•Are people being taught about the meaning and significance of baptism on a regular basis?
•Is a new believers or basic beliefs class offered?
•Is there a systematic discipleship process in place that, in the words of Andy Stanley, helps people to move from the “foyer to the living room to the kitchen”?
Developing a pastoral leadership pipeline—The difficulty we have had in finding pastors for churches has exposed the need for us to become more intentional about developing new pastoral leaders at the grassroots level. Allow me to share two quick observations in this area:
•First, pastors must become increasingly intentional about the task of leadership development. As we teach, equip and release people for leadership, not only will it increase their effectiveness at the local church level, it will position some of those leaders to hear the call of God into vocational Christian ministry.
•Secondly, pastors whose churches are large enough to have ministry staff must learn to think beyond merely filling ministry needs at the local level and realize that serving on a staff is a wonderful training ground for preparation as a lead or solo pastor. It’s a fantastic gift to the Kingdom when a larger church is willing to prepare and release pastors to other churches.
Launching a multiplication movement—We had a stretch where we planted five churches in four years. However, it has now been three years since we have planted a church and that is far too long. The district can provide a support system for church planting and funding for church planting, but I am becoming more and more convinced that church planting needs to be an organic thing, beginning with a passion at the local church level.
Revitalization for plateaued and declining churches—I mentioned earlier in this report that a few of our churches are breaking out of patterns of stagnation and are experiencing genuine revitalization. In each case revitalization began when two things happened: 1) the pastor and key leaders embraced the reality that God wanted to do something powerful in their church, and 2) the church was willing to get out of their comfort zone and do something that seemed risky. My prayer is that in the coming years more and more of our churches will take the courageous steps necessary to experience new seasons of life and vitality.
Recently God has been speaking to me about the role that courage plays in leadership. In The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point...” That is absolutely true. Courage is what all other virtues look like when they are under stress. No wonder the command, “Do not be afraid” appears in scripture 69 times!
As I thought about the role that courage plays in leadership, I kept a legal pad nearby and started jotting down some of the specific obstacles that we need courage to overcome. Pretty soon I had a page full. Some of the things on my list, in no particulate order, were:
•Courage to stay on mission.
•Courage to confront an unhealthy culture.
•Courage to risk.
•Courage to let go of the familiar in order to embrace that which will reach lost people.
•Courage to entrust the church to a new generation of young leaders.
•Courage to equip instead of enable.
•Courage to admit I need help.
•Courage to trust God to do something supernatural.
•Courage to overcome insecurities.
•Courage to persevere.
•Courage to love.
•Courage to set and keep right priorities.
•Courage to realize that we can’t make everyone happy, so I need to make the right people happy.
•Courage to gear ministries toward people who are not yet in the church.
•Courage to tell ourselves the truth.
Telling ourselves the truth is where all meaningful change begins and, for that reason, it may be the most difficult thing on my incomplete list. The problem is that if we embrace the truth, then we have to do something about it; perhaps something painful. There was a Frank and Ernest cartoon years ago where one of the characters was told by his doctor that he needed surgery. When he found out how expensive the surgery would be, he asked, “How much would it cost to touch up the X-rays?” It’s less painful to touch up the X-rays than it is to have the surgery. For a while… The problem is that the longer we avoid reality, the worse our condition gets.
In The Applause of Heaven, Max Lucado told the story of the old west legend, Black Bart. He terrorized the Wells Fargo stage line from 1875 to 1883, storming in and out of the Sierra Nevadas. During his reign of terror he robbed 29 different stagecoaches. And he did it without firing a shot. He didn’t have to fire a shot because his best weapon was fear. Drivers and guards were scared to death of the legend. As soon as they saw his hooded form and recognized that this was Black Bart, they threw down their weapons without a battle.
However, some interesting things came to light about Black Bart when they finally caught him. His real name was Charles E. Boles and he was actually a mild-mannered druggist from Decatur, Illinois. He was so afraid of horses that he rode to and from his robberies in a buggy and climbed on a horse, only at the last moment before the robbery. And the reason he had never fired a shot during any of those 29 robberies was because never once had he loaded his gun. If only once one of those stage coach drivers had resisted, Black Bart’s reign of terror would have been over.
Each of you received a copy of Ed Love’s book, Fear Not, a book that Global Partners gives to all of their missionaries. Read it, soak up its truths and realize that most of the things we fear in life, leadership and ministry are like Black Bart. They just need to be faced.
Your partner in ministry,
Superintendent, Iowa/Minnesota District