It has been two years since we shut down in-person worship and gatherings at The Fount because of the COVID-19 pandemic. I remember that Cyndy and I went to Arizona, originally planning to see an Angels spring training game with Eaar and Susan Oden, Beth Silvers, and two of our friends from Pennsylvania, Jeff and Cheryl Raffauf. Because the games were cancelled, we ended up just sitting in front of a hotel and talking for hours. But on the way home, we encountered the first stages of shut down at restaurants in Arizona and especially California. That next Sunday, we shifted to all online worship. If you want to see how far we’ve come, technically, check out that first Sunday, March 15, 2020, by clicking: Facebook.
So what have we learned?
It is hard to remember our mindset from pre-pandemic! But I’m pretty sure that one thing we’ve learned is not to take anything for granted. What seems like it will last forever never does, except the love of God and the salvation we have through Jesus Christ! Everything else can, and probably will, change. Do you remember how we longed to be back together, worshipping in our sanctuary? Are we already starting to take that for granted again?
Something that I have learned is that “church-as-usual” is no longer an option. We don’t have the luxury to continue on as if everybody and everything will remain a constant. People will die and move away. That’s been true all along, to be sure, but as our congregation shrinks it becomes more and more obvious. Our sister church, Surf City UMC in Huntington Beach just learned that the conference is going to close the church down! We cannot afford to sit back and wait for people to come to us; we HAVE to go out and meet people where they are and offer them the love of God in Jesus Christ, and to offer the ministries He calls us to! If we want our church to survive another 20 years, we need to make some drastic changes to the way we “do” church.
Here are the things I believe we must focus on:
- Everybody should be in a Life Group. These Wesleyan class meetings form the core of who we are as an evangelical, orthodox Wesleyan-Methodist church. The Fount is recovering this key Wesleyan spiritual practice, and I believe it truly is the key to our future growth. Every member of the church should be in a Life Group. Every. Member. If you’re not, see me! Most people should be in a Discipleship Group. These are new to the congregation, and they are modeled after the Wesleyan “band meetings” of old, which helped to propel Methodism into the disciple-making movement it was for many decades. Discipleship Groups are smaller and deeper than our Life Groups, but truly essential for those who are serious about growing in their faith/discipleship. Not everyone will join a Discipleship Group, but many should.
- We need to engage our neighbors in ways that will draw them into fellowship with us in our homes. Whether that be “dinner” fellowships, Bible studies, book studies, or other forms of fellowship, we must start thinking in new ways. No longer can we assume that people will come to the church before they are serious about following Jesus. We must go out to where they are and meet them there. And we need to recapture the drive to share the Gospel with people in this new age.
- We must continue our online ministries, and expand them. People are much less likely to darken our doors at 18225 Bushard Street, Fountain Valley, more now than even before the pandemic. So, we need to keep our online ministries (worship, prayer groups, devotions, and more) and we need to engage with people as they tune in. This is something for ALL of us to do, not just the staff!
- We must do more creative ministries, like Knights of Agon. If you haven’t come to experience a Knights of Agon evening, you’re really missing out. Ric Seaver and his team does an excellent job of engaging the kids and their families each week on Tuesday evening, with dinner at 5-ish and an adult book study and Knights of Agon activities for the kids from 6-7pm. Many times, I hear people say that they just don’t know anybody who is not already in a church. Well, here’s an opportunity to sit at table and enjoy dinner with people who may or may not have a church commitment already! In any event, it’s a great way to engage with younger people and learn what God is doing in their lives as you testify to what He is doing in your life!
These, and similar things, will be the focus in future blog posts. For now, I challenge you to take them to the Lord in prayer and consider what He might say to you about them. Like I said, we need to change the way we “do” church, and we must allow God to be our guide!