Dear Church Family,
According to our records, 20 people began attending Grace Church on a regular basis in 2023. Of these, only six were previously attending a church. According to recent statistics from the Billy Graham Center Institute and Lifeway Research, 59% of Protestant churches in the U.S. are plateaued or declining; 31% are largely growing through transfers. In his book, You Found Me, Rick Richardson states only 10% of Protestant churches in the U.S. are growing through reaching new people. He writes, “these healthy and vibrant churches are growing, attracting new, unchurched people; and making a difference in their community.”
This is Grace Church. This is the result of many of you praying for, and inviting, guests. This is you being willing to go outside your comfort zone and talk to friends about church and spiritual things. This is you being, and helping to make, maturing followers of Jesus Christ.
The Bible compares the role of the pastor to the role of the shepherd. Everyone knows that a shepherd does not reproduce sheep. He can make a healthy environment for them. He can feed them well. He can take care of their hurts. But he can’t make sheep. Only sheep can do that. This past year we have seen the evidence of this truth. And, as your flawed shepherd who has just as much growth needed in his life, I have to say, “I’m proud to be your pastor.” You guys, with God’s help, are doing things other churches only dream about; apparently 90% of other churches. God is using you to make a difference in the lives of those whom, at the very least, do not have a church family, and may not even have a relationship with God. I am so proud to be your pastor!
This coming year I want to help you continue this trend. I, too, plan to talk to people who are not churched, engaging with them to see where God takes the conversation. I am praying right now for two specific people who live in my neighborhood and two specific people who do not, asking God for opportunities to speak with them. Two weeks ago, I was able to give one of these families some meat from our church freezer when they were in need. This option is open to you as well. Oftentimes, meeting a need can open the door to further conversation so do not be afraid to use some of the church’s resources as a tool to further the gospel. God is doing great things and I’m excited we are on the frontlines for this.
I’m praying for you. If you ever need any specific prayers, encouragement, help, or advice as you interact with people, please let me know. I’m here for you just as you have been here for me. Man, do I love you people!!
Well, it seems the snow has stopped falling for a little bit and the temperature has been above freezing for at least a few days recently. I had a friend ask me how I could possibly enjoy living in a place where it gets as cold as it has and where I have to deal with all that white stuff falling. I gave my usual statement when this type of question comes (because it happens often): “Because I enjoy seasons that change and I don’t like things being the same all the time. Also I really don’t like high heat, (although that doesn’t work as much of an excuse because it gets hot here too).” But for whatever reason this time, their question got me thinking more deeply than usual about it. The easy answer would be that I was born in Nebraska so it is what I know. But that wouldn’t be true either, because I got out. I have been around the country and many places around the world. I have experienced other countries, cultures, weather and ways of life. So what is it? Why do I live in Nebraska? It isn’t because I never left home like many people. It isn’t because I just love scooping snow off my driveway three times during each snow storm because of the great north wind bringing it back each day. It isn’t because of family, friends, Husker football, or any of those things. When I actually think about it, the only answer that is true is because God wants me here. That is not an answer that many people understand or would even accept, so it is often just easier to give the acceptable casual response I do. But my friend got me thinking, (which is usually a bad thing if you ask my wife!). Thinking leads to things and we are not always excited about the results of those things. But here I am thinking about it. God is the reason I am here. So the thoughts go, “If God is the reason I am here, am I doing what I was brought here for?” And that, my friends, is always a scary question to ponder. “Am I doing what GOD wants me to do? Am I living in the manner that GOD would want me to live? Am I being who GOD has called me to be?” Tough questions for any Christian, but especially difficult if you feel that God has specifically called you somewhere for a purpose. I wish I could answer those questions with a “You betcha,” but I can’t. I fail to live up to God’s standards every day. The purpose that brought me back to Nebraska still feels like the starting line is a ways off. What do you do when you feel like God has given you a purpose and you are not accomplishing it, or that you haven’t even really started it? Well . . . I am not sure. But I know that God is waiting patiently for me to get in gear and follow where He leads me. Scripture tells us that we are to daily pick up our cross (our calling/purpose/burden, if you will) and follow Him. Well, tomorrow is a new day, and I know I have a cross to pick up and someone to follow. How have you been doing? What will you do with your tomorrow? What is your cross that needs to be picked up? Yesterday is gone and there is no point in regretting what you haven’t done, so look to Him who is leading us all and pick up whatever it is He left for you to carry and take that next step in His direction.