God does not always wait for our strategies. In fact, our idea of "growing without growing" was an effort to catch up with what he seemed to be about. The train was moving. We thought it would be good to get on. "Growing without growing" refers to one aspect of the larger vision of EDUCATION FOR EXULTATION.
The idea is that the larger multipurpose room/gym/classroom/worship space to be built to the west of the new educational building (which we would like to have up by Spring 2002) would be an incubator on Sunday morning for new churches. During one of the Sunday morning worship services in the sanctuary, another worship service with 400-600 people would take place with a different preacher and worship team in the "incubator." The aim would be that this worshiping group would take on its own identity as it is "incubated," on site, and would develop into a church of its own and then move to its own location with a full staff and all the support ministries trained and in place and ready to go.
The purpose is that we plant churches and not build ever-bigger sanctuaries on this site downtown - and that we not multiply worship services indefinitely in this place. Not growing is not a Biblical option. The Lord means to win people to himself and add them to the church. But growing does not have to be in one place or one church.
One problem is that we are two years behind in building for this vision. Growth is not waiting for us. On September 10, there were 300 more people in worship than the year before. And on the 17th, there were 400 more people in worship than the year before. As an interim solution we have converted the Fellowship Hall into "overflow worship space" during both services on Sunday mornings. One hundred of you worshiped there on September 17.
Nevertheless the church planting vision moves ahead. In addition to the inner-ring of suburban churches that Bethlehem planted fifty years ago, there have been six church "plants" or major "infusions" more recently.
¨ Immanuel Baptist Church, led by Brent Nelson ¨ Laotian Church of Peace, led by Phou Littana ¨ Celebration Community Church, led by Jim Bloom ¨ Hope Community Church, led by Steve Treichler ¨ Grace Church Richfield, led by Rick Gamache ¨ Sovereign Joy Fellowship, led by Cecil Smith
This last church, Sovereign Joy Fellowship, is an outgrowth of Pilgrim Fellowship, one of our adult Sunday School classes. Over the years together, God gave them a special vision of becoming a separate church that would share Bethlehem's theology and vision statement, but would be different in focusing church life more fully on "cells," that is, on small groups that would be "the essence of church" and would multiply as God gave health and growth to the body. Cecil Smith (612-781-6252) and Russ Gregg (612-871-6979) are giving leadership to the church.
We will commission this body of believers and bless them on Sunday, September 24. As with Grace Church Richfield, I would encourage all of you to pray about whether God may be calling you to be a courageous part of this great venture of faith. They have been meeting on Saturday evenings for worship for the last several months, and on Saturday, September 23, will begin to meet at the building of Grace Church Richfield at 7101 Nicollet Avenue. Russ or Cecil would be happy to answer your questions if you want to know more.
Is Growing without Growing working? The "growing" part is, but not the "without growing." Not yet. May God give us the incubator soon! That means $3.5 million more pledged this fall. Our aim is October 15. Remember the Gideon Venture and the Isaac Factor, and pray. If you have questions about giving or pledging call the church for a contact person (612-338-7653).