Who are some FaithSoaring Churches? The reality is that they are probably less than 20 percent of the approximately 350,000 congregations in North America. The ideal configuration that produces the necessary synergy is elusive for many congregations—perhaps upwards to 80 percent of all congregations. Yet it is still the goal congregations ought to strive to achieve.
The three congregations briefly introduced in this article, and the four to follow in another article, are illustrative of a wide range of congregations seeking to be effective in their setting. Some are soaring with faith and some are not. You may not find in these seven a congregation that exactly fits the situation of your congregation. That is fine as that is not the goal for sharing these seven. From the base of these seven congregations, think through the situation and characteristics of your congregation. How would you describe your congregation?
Further, these are not complete stories. These are just an introduction to these congregations. Use your imagination. Seek to fill in the blanks or missing parts about these congregations. What is your guess about some of the additional details about these congregations? What would you like to know that would illuminate their story and help you to see the story of your congregation?
Summit Heights is a FaithSoaring Church. Christ the King is not. Nesmith, a smaller membership congregation, is a FaithSoaring Church. Lake Avenue is trying to be. We do not know yet if Downtown will be a FaithSoaring Church. Trinity once was a FaithSoaring Church, but not anymore. First is struggling to understand what FaithSoaring is all about.
Let’s look more deeply into the stories of these congregations to suggest how they may or may not fit into the pattern of FaithSoaring Churches.
Summit Heights is almost 27 years old. It began during the expansion era of the founding of contemporary congregations during the 1980s. It started with a Boomer generation-oriented style of worship with a seeker-driven focus. It is now past its first generation of life and has matured into being a FaithSoaring Church reaching primarily the three birth generations of Boomers, Busters, and Blasters/Millennials.
It conducts worship at one location on the interstate highway outside of town, and in a commercial outlet mall on the other side of town. Total average weekly worship attendance for the two locations is 1,300, yet they count almost 2,800 people as connected with their congregation. The senior pastor has been with the congregation since it was founded. He preaches at one location, and by video feed at the second location.
Above their base budget of $2.2 million, which includes more than $200,000 for various ministry organizations and their direct missional efforts, the congregation deploys more than 100 people per year outside of North America in various missional engagement projects. Their specialty is providing clean water in Africa.
Mike Martin was the founding pastor of this congregation and has been in the role of Lead Pastor for 27 years. His wife, Cheryl, has been the director of preschool and children ministries since the beginning of the congregation. Other senior staff focus on students, worship arts, administration, disciplemaking, missional engagement, and congregational care.
Christ the King
An ex-neighborhood congregation, Christ the King is not a FaithSoaring Church. It probably never was. It was started 43 years ago in a new suburban residential neighborhood. Its primary purpose was to have a congregation of its denomination in a setting where upwards to 20 percent of the residents stated Christ the King’s denomination as their denomination of choice.
It turned out to be a One Generation congregation. This is a congregation that begins with a strong sense of Vision and spiritual strategic direction. It lives into that Vision for up to 21 to 28 years—a generation of time. After that it never gets traction again. It never redreams its dream. It keeps trying to fix what is wrong so it can go back to the way it was during its first generation.
Its pastor is Gary Jenkins who felt called into ministry at mid-life and came to this church two years ago. He is a wonderful and caring person who leads meaningful liturgical worship, shares thoughtful sermons, and is viewed as very warm and effective in pastoral care. With 135 people in average weekly worship attendance, this almost exclusively Anglo-American congregation contributes well to a $360,000 budget, and keeps the traditions of the congregation moving forward.
Gary Jenkins is the only full-time staff person. Part-time staff focus on music and youth. There is also a person who devotes 20 hours per week to the role of administrative assistant.
“Country Gospel” is an apt descriptor for Nesmith which is definitely a FaithSoaring Church. Located in the unincorporated community of Nesmith where there are five Protestant churches, Nesmith congregation soars in missional service. Although during its best years it only averages 55 in weekly worship, it sponsors a Hispanic-American congregation made up of current and former seasonal farm workers from Central and South America, which averages over 100 in weekly attendance.
Almost 20 years ago a laywoman in Nesmith became interested in teaching a husband and wife in the community to read and write beyond a fourth-grade level. She discovered their literacy situation when visiting, along with a team from Nesmith, all five totally unchurched households in the community. This family had four children, but their limited education made it difficult for either of them to maintain skilled jobs that produced enough money to support their family.
After building a relationship with the family, and taking training in an adult reading and writing system, this lay leader offered to teach the husband and wife to read and write. They accepted. Over the next 18 months, using a simplified version of the New Testament as parallel reading, she raised their reading and writing skills to an eighth-grade level. In the process, she had natural opportunities to respond to their questions about faith, the Bible, and Jesus. The result was the beginning of a Christ-centered spiritual journey for the entire household.
Later Nesmith realized that English as a Second Language was a related ministry and that several thousand seasonal farm workers were in their county, and many wanted to learn English, establish permanent residency, and become citizens. With the help of almost a dozen other congregations in the county, Nesmith established what became a large English as a Second Language ministry a decade ago.
Glenn Thompson is the Nesmith pastor. He is bi-vocational His other work is as principal of a middle school in the county. All other staff functions are handled by volunteers. The approximate annual income of $110,000 does not allow for additional paid staff.
(See the next article on More Examples of FaithSoaring Churches.)
Dialogue for Your Congregation
- Where do you see evidence of FaithSoaring in these congregations?
- Where do you feel, “If they had just addressed . . . (name an issue), they might have become FaithSoaring?
- Where do you see characteristics of your congregation in any of these congregations?
- Based on these short descriptions, what are some things you already realize you ought to do different in your congregation?