We celebrated my 25th anniversary as pastor of Northminster on 10/2 with what church folks call a “homecoming.” You can view Ashley Glasco’s wonderful pictures here. What a treat to see so many people who have made Northminster what it is. Some of the things I heard were, “You performed our wedding 22 years ago,” “You baptized my husband and me 20 years ago,” “I was the first baby you presented to the church 25 years ago.” It was a great day filled with so many amazing memories.
Northminster is 120 years old and has had 13 pastors. They have served for 1, 5, 3, 1, 5, 5, 3, 11, 14, 21, 18 and 25+ years. I guess that officially makes me “the old guy.”
The average pastor’s tenure is about 4 years. So when I am asked, “What’s the secret to staying in one church for twenty-five years?” my stock answer is, “Mental illness!” (a joke that may only work with other pastors.)
Then, in all seriousness, I go on to explain that Northminster has actually been 6 different churches during my time here, and I have enjoyed each one more than the ones that came before.
When Lynda and I came to Northminster in 1986, the congregation was 80% retired, so it was obvious to us that God was going to do something new with this old church. It turns out that transitioning a congregation is a multi-step process.
Here are the churches:
1. 1986-90 Traditional Southern Baptist
Formal worship. Traditional liturgy. Strong Sunday School (for people over 60). Empty nursery. Very few children. Church sociologists labeled us an “ex-neighborhood church.”
2. 1991-96 Blended Worship/Former Southern Baptist
Barry Green, our music minister, introduced guitars into worship. An ensemble led praise choruses at the beginning of services. A “blue ribbon committee” recommended that we align with the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond began to hold classes in our facilities.
3. 1997-2001 Contemporary Launch
After months of congregational discussions, a Future Planning Task Force recommended that we start a new church in the present location. Our target would be 25-35 year-olds who are unchurched. “Contemporary worship” began. We were learning how to be an externally focused church.
4. 2002-05 Purpose Driven
A 40 Days of Purpose Campaign energized the congregation and launched small groups as the discipleship model of the future. On the last Sunday of the campaign, long-time member Alma Fore handwrote her will, leaving her church over a million dollars. She passed from this life to the next less than a month later. Per her wishes half of her bequest went to Northminster’s Endowment Fund; half was used to pay off debt, finance major HVAC repairs, and renovate the Contemporary Worship Center. A portion of her bequest enabled us to hire additional staff for 18 months.
5. 2006-08 Downsized
A larger staff resulted in larger attendance, but when the salary grant was depleted, congregational giving was not sufficient to support the additional staff members. We reduced the size of our staff and asked members to take more responsibility. At the end of the first year of this experiment, I had a heart attack.
6. 2009-now A Neighborhood Church (again)
Over the years, our Food Ministry had been growing. A Free Market increased our ministry to many of our neighbors. At the end of 2008, we fed over 300 hungry neighbors on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. This event moved us to see ourselves as a neighborhood church. Our leaders redefined who we are called to reach: people who are served by or who desire to serve in our relationship-based social ministries.
Churches 1-3 were ministering “in” a neighborhood. Churches 4-5 actively ministered “to” the neighborhood. Church 6 is learning to minister “with” the neighborhood. Ministering with the neighborhood is, in my opinion, the way we are supposed to function.