Dear Grace Meridian Hill community, 

We are eagerly seeking God’s wisdom and direction for our church. Your input and prayer over the next several weeks will be crucial to the health and flourishing of our community and mission. How so? Please read this extended email.

On Sunday morning, I shared about our upcoming effort to discern what God is doing in our midst and our commitment to adapt our ministry accordingly. We’re calling it the Renew initiative. (Please listen to the first 24 minutes of Sunday’s sermon if you were unable to be present!) The following is a summary along with additional details and dates. There are three section: 1) Reflections on the State of our Church, 2) Renew: What We Can Do, 3) Recap: First Steps. Brothers and sisters, I present this to you with eager anticipation of what God has in store for us!

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I. REFLECTIONS: The State of our Church
After having just celebrated the 8th anniversary of the official launch of our Sunday service (praise God!), we find ourselves in an extended season of transition and change. This isn’t uncommon for churches of our age. We’re a dynamic mixture of relative newcomers and long-timers, each group representing different needs. We’re seeing a lot of fresh faces, a healthy sign. Some have begun attending on Sundays; some are exploring Christianity (yes!). But not all are fully plugged into relationship or our ministries. Many of them come and go anonymously. We don’t know them as well as we want.
Others have been in our community for a while. Some of you have told us you’re feeling tired. You’ve been faithfully serving the ministries of the church — a lot and, in some cases, for a long time. Your feedback has prompted questions in our leadership: Are we doing too much? The gospel compels us to serve and love sacrificially, of course. But are we doing so effectively, healthily, and sustainably? Do we need to implement a sharper “focus” to our ministry programming?
Some of the exhaustion you’ve described to us has been deepened by another factor: Goodbyes. A number of long-time members have departed over the last two years, often times to take jobs in other cities. The transplant, “professional” half of our city tends to be highly transient, but familiarity with this dynamic doesn’t make the loss of friends any less painful. I’m not sure we’ve named and grieved those losses of friends sufficiently. For some, your sense of belonging and connectedness has been thrown off balance. One of you told me recently, “My closest friends have moved. I’ve been in our church for years, but suddenly I feel like a stranger.” How can we move toward each other, particularly those feeling like strangers in our church?
But not all the recent change has entailed loss. Some has been gain. Our leadership team is one such instance. Over the last 2+ years, we hired a nearly entirely new ministry staff team: Joanna, Justin, Johanna, Amy, and Vola. We also hired our second pastor (Yancie) and ordained our first ever Ruling Elder (Steve). We created a new leadership role and raised up our first pair of Shepherdesses (Anna and Shapri). That’s a big blessing! It’s also a big challenge to ensure all the different parts are fitting together and functioning well. We’re still learning how best to steward the people resources that the Lord has given us.
This is also true of our physical resources, in particular, our worship space. We moved into the First Church of Seventh Day Adventists building about a year ago (November 2017). Just like any move from a home or apartment, this was a major change for our church, especially considering how rooted we had been in Columbia Heights as a “walkable” neighborhood church. We’ve since enfolded some new neighbors into our community; others chose not to make the move with us. How did the move to our current building impact our community and mission? Why did God move us here? Frankly, we don’t know the complete answer to these questions. But let’s start by acknowledging this: Moving to First Church was a big deal.
And speaking of buildings, we also need to acknowledge that from 2014-17 an incredible amount of energy and prayer was devoted to answering a single question: Should we purchase the Mt. Rona Missionary Baptist Church building? This became our massive, all-consuming focus, initially not by choice but by God’s providence (i.e., our landlord’s decision to sell the property, our recognition that there aren’t many facilities in the neighborhood suitable for us, etc.). We also briefly explored purchasing the La Casa building in Mount Pleasant for office and community outreach purposes. As some of you will remember, this was the period when I personally reached the point of near burnout and took a brief leave of absence (April 2016).
In the midst of all of this, vibrant gospel ministry continued by God’s grace. Some of you embraced Jesus for the first time. Hurting people found comfort and care in community. But some of our ministries—and admittedly, relationships—had fallen into a state of disrepair. We devoted ourselves to rebuilding the basic infrastructure of the church, part of which entailed hiring Yancie and our new staff members.
We always remained committed to the same basic mission: To build a gospel community that is intentionally spiritually diverse, cross-cultural, and neighborhood-centered for the good of our neighbors and the glory of Jesus Christ in Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, Adams Morgan, Petworth, and beyond. But with all the rapid change that we’ve been facing over the last few years, in many respects, only now have we found the chance to exhale and ask big questions of ourselves: What’s been working? What hasn’t been? What needs to change? In what particular ways is God calling us to grow in our relationships and mission over the next 12-18 months? We haven’t had a chance to ask exciting, direction-setting, future-shaping questions like this in a long time.
That chance is now.

That’s what the RENEW Initiative is all about. It’s a 3-month period of community-wide discernment, deliberation, and decision-making. We’re seeking to renew our relationships, our ministry, and our collective sense of calling. And we want to take whatever steps needed to bring our ministry programs, structures, and finances into better alignment with that calling, as we embark on a new chapter of the story God is writing in our midst. When we introduced the 40 Days of Prayer in the new year as a tool for personal covenant renewal, who knew that God might also use those prayers to draw us into a unique season of church-wide covenant RENEW-al?

II. RENEW: What We Plan to Do 

Here are some steps we’d like to take together with you as part of the Renew Initiative.
First, we need your input and wisdom. Where do you see God at work? What’s been going well? What hasn’t? What ministries might we need to “prune”? What’s been your personal experience of our church? We invite your honest feedback and responses to these questions. The leadership of the church have blind-spots! You will see things we can’t see. We need to assess our community and shape our future … together.

So, we are planning for ways to hear from you at every level of the church: 

  1. Serving Survey (Sunday, February 3, during service). Next Sunday during our service, we will ask you to fill out a short, printed survey that invites you to share what it’s been like serving via the ministries of our church. We want to make this as quick and user-friendly as possible, so we’ll give you time to fill it out immediately during the service!
  2. Ministry Team and Group Leaders’ Forum (Sunday, February 10, 12:45-2:00pm). If you’re a leader of a ministry team (e.g., Welcome Team, Boys Basketball Outreach) or small group (e.g., NG, Mom’s Group), you will be invited to a lunch discussion. We need to hear from you about your unique experiences as lay leaders—and how the church can better support and empower you for gospel ministry.
  3. Church Staff Forum (Tuesday, February 5). Our church staff will also go through a similar exercise. We’re inviting them to share their perspective on the successes and challenges of the church, as well as their personal experience as staff members (joys, frustrations, etc.). Please pray for this important time together! 
  4. Special Congregational Forum (Sunday, March 3, 12:15-1:15pm). Let’s get together for an honest conversation—something we’ve never done before in this format. This will be the primary way you will have opportunity to offer feedback and share your insights. Please mark your calendars and (members especially) plan to be there!  

We really believe this: The Holy Spirit will speak through you, dear church family. Even if you’re relatively new to the church, we’d value your input. After all, you of all people may have the freshest set of eyes on our community!

Second, the ordained and commissioned leadership of GMH (Diaconate, Elders, Shepherdesses, Pastors) will be invested in deliberation, prayer, and decision-making. The full GMH leadership team will be having a full day of discussion and prayer on Monday, February 18. We covet your prayers for this important time. We also have hired a ministry/executive coach, Greg Rogers (D.Min., M.Div., ICF Associate Certified Coach [ACC]). Mr. Rogers will not only be guiding our day of discussion and prayer, he will also provide us with follow up support throughout the process as well as ministry/executive coaching and mentoring for me. Decisions will be finalized in March-April only after we have received vital input from you via the process outlined above.  

Third, we want to foster greater financial health in this season. The spiritual health and ministry capacity is typically reflected in the financial health of a church. So, it would be wise for us to turn some of our attention to our finances during this Renew season. Many of you gave sacrificially and generously in December, resulting in near record-setting results—and you continue to give. Praise God and thank you again! That gave us a more secure foundation from which to make wise long-term decisions. We want to steward those resources well. Here’s how we plan to do that:

  1. Immediate Budget Adjustments. We will be making some minor cuts and spending freezes in order to relieve some short-term pressure in our finances.
  2. 2019-20 Budget Planning. Lord willing, this Renew process will yield a fresh set of ministry goals and priorities. Our budget will then need to be restructured and brought into better alignment with those goals, particularly in order to achieve long-term financial stability and fruitfulness.
  3. Acknowledging Fatigue. We want to acknowledge that some of you may be feeling some “crisis giving” fatigue. By that I’m referring to the cyclical, urgent call to give every 6 or 12 months. Hefty reliance on strong year-end giving is not unusual for churches. But when it becomes extreme (as it has begun to at our church!), the anxiety and pressure can become exhausting even despite positive results. In addition to taking steps toward a more stable budget as mentioned above, here’s one more way we can help prevent crisis giving fatigue together:
  4. Weekly and Monthly Giving. One way to lessen the extreme swings in urgent need and blessed provision is to collect financial gifts on a more consistent basis, i.e., weekly or monthly, rather than in large lumps several months. We would like to encourage you (including ourselves as leaders!) to plan to do so, whether by participating in our Sunday offering more regularly or setting up a recurring auto-gift online. This will help us to plan our ministry for the remainder of the year more effectively. To make your giving easier and more joyful for you, we’re also committed to the following:  
  5. Improved Communication. We want to do a better job of keeping you informed about our finances, e.g., in our bulletins and on a more regularly basis. It’s our responsibility to explain not only the state of our finances, and not only the numbers, but also the process. What do these numbers mean? How do finances work in this church? How are decisions made? Look out for some follow-up notices on this front!

Fourth, and last, our ministry staff is excited to enter into a season of training, equipping, and dialogue. Over the next few months, using the resources of The Rocket Company, we will be in regular conversation about how we can function better as a team, how we can create more effective ministry systems, and how we can support and encourage you, our members, to make your service in this church an even greater joy. (The feedback on that upcoming survey is a key part of our staff’s endeavor to grow.) We are blessed with such a great team of brothers and sisters on our staff—and we’re excited to work with them.

III. RECAP: First Steps

Well, that was a lot of information! We don’t want to flood you with words, but we do want you to be fully informed. (Don’t worry, subsequent communications about the Renew Initiative will be more focused and concise!) But beyond information, maybe you’re excited to get started. Maybe you’re ready to seek the renewal of our church. What can we do right away?

Our leadership will be…

  1. Praying and fasting
  2. Meeting on 2/18 for honest discussion and deliberation 
  3. Making minor budget adjustments and improving finance-related communication 

Here are ways you might respond immediately…

  1. Save the date for the Congregational Forum (Sun 3/3)
  2. Pray using the 40 Days of Prayer as a guide
  3. Consider signing up for recurring online giving
  4. Fully engage our new One Another sermon series, a call to return to “basics” of relationships and to make strangers into sisters and brothers again

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Friends, please feel welcome to ask any questions of any kind and share any comments at any time! After all, that’s what Renew is all about.

Grateful to be on this journey with you, with love,

on behalf of Yancie, Anna, Shapri, Mary Katherine, Walter, and Steve