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  • Jordan Stowe

5 YEARS IN REVITALIZATION

Sunday marked 5 years for me at Angus Church. As I have been reflective over these past 5 years, I thought it might be worthwhile to write down some thoughts on life 5 years into church revitalization, because that is just what this has been. Here is what comes to mind…


Revitalization is a long roller coaster. Our church is much healthier today than it was 5 years ago, but it takes time to get there. There is always a church down the road or one a friend pastors that did it faster and better. Comparison really is the thief of joy. When I started at Angus there were about 85 people attending, a few active ministries, and a great youth ministry. Small Groups/Sunday School had just gotten restarted, the kids ministry was in rough shape and there were only a few kids, but the staff and members of the church were awesome. It seemed like a decent foundation and since they had just gone through the intentional interim (revitalization) process, they were open to some change and new life. But it was still slow.


Each step forward or change came with mostly solid responses but there were always some doubters. Those few doubts always feel greater than they really are. The church about doubled in attendance in the first 9 months. That sounds great, and I was thankful for it but it came with pains as well. 


The 2 most prominent ministries the church was doing stopped. One was internally struggling and stopped altogether, the other left the church. We saw the leaders of both leave Angus. I also had some other tough losses. A deacon and pastor search team member left shortly after I started without a plan to talk to me at all. That hurt. I found out the church was WAY under budget and didn’t have the systems to handle it. 


Oh and there was this massive flood… A few months after starting at Angus the city flooded. You probably remember. I didn’t have any real idea how to handle it. I just wanted to serve those in need and show the love of Jesus. I didn’t know the people of Angus well enough to know how they’d respond. There wasn’t a lot of community involvement when I started so I worried. Then I met Mike Lehew, a pastor who was doing the very thing I thought a church and pastor should do. So we came alongside each other. We opened the church to the homeless and served hot meals every day. Mike, Jared (our Youth Pastor), a few deacons, and I took turns living at the church so someone was here 24/7 while families lived in our classrooms. It was madness. The building started falling apart under the pressure of being used more than ever. 3 A/C’s broke. The plumbing flooded in the parking lot. We had to call DHS and the cops on one of the families living here. And I didn’t see my family a whole lot for like 5 weeks. 


But people were seeing the love of Jesus in our community and our church was seeing what it looked like to truly serve the Lord. It cost a fortune both in money and time. It was worth it. But it was hard.


The people of Angus were so faithful through it and they were excited to see growing health in their church. That made things easier. Leadership requires vision and change. While not easy, it is worth it. With a growing church, a budget getting healthier, small groups doing well and a solid youth ministry and pastor, the future looked bright. Yes there were pains and losses. Yes, some ideas failed. But things were looking up.


Then covid hit…


We had our first team on a mission trip in Mexico (a HUGE deal for our church) and covid hit as they were coming home. We started doing online only services for a little while before meeting back in person. Most people didn’t come back. We went from 85 when I started to about 165 after 9 months or so. We had a peak Sunday of like 220. After we started meeting again in covid we saw like 65 people coming. Attendance numbers aren’t everything but man is it an easy number to see. And unfortunately it is the thing the church world teaches you to pay attention to. I felt defeated.


Roller coasters have ups and downs, fast times and slow times. This was a steep run down with a slow climb ahead. While not every revitalization effort will deal with floods and pandemics, it seems there will always be things you can’t expect or control come against your plans. But God works through them all. Our church built a partnership with Pastor Mike Lehew and the ministries he led and started learning how to truly serve the Lord in our community. We gave some office space to Mobile Missions and Church Inside Out since they didn’t have any and it let us watch and learn. 


That also was a crazy season of ups and downs. We started seeing much more activity in the church. Mission teams came and stayed here. Mobile Missions really does stuff. Our space was being used in new ways. Our building was being worked. We saw life happening and got to be a part of it. People at Angus were diving in and learning again how to get their hands dirty serving the Lord. That was awesome. But of course there were some problems as well. The added strain on the building was coming at a cost. The utilities and supplies costs were going way up. More things started breaking. Some big, expensive things. ‘That’s the cost of doing business’ as they say, but the cost was significant. Also, while most people loved having the new ministries around, some did not. Rooms were being used differently. They saw the costs but not the benefits. It wasn’t the changes they would have chosen. 


But it helped our people more than they realized. Since then we have seen more true, internal growth. True spiritual growth. We have still had some craziness and hard times but we can see more clearly what God is doing. There has been staff turnover. Some families have left. Some that left during covid still haven’t really come back. I had a dear friend and pastor on staff unexpectedly die from a heart attack. I had a prior ministry leader write me a 5 page letter about how terrible a leader and pastor I am. But through it all I just keep seeing God work. That is what I want to be a part of, a church where God is moving and the people are moving with Him. 


Some days I don’t know what to do. Some weeks I feel down and worried. Sometimes I feel alone in truly caring and carrying the spiritual load. Sometimes I wonder if my sermons are doing any good or if my leadership is making a difference. But God always shines through. He has brought new and awesome staff. He has allowed us to be a part of serving other churches and ministries both here locally and around the world. Our people are on mission more than I have ever seen. We have done mission work both here locally and in 5 different countries. Our kids have even gone on mission. Our small groups are growing and so is the church. Our systems and infrastructure are new and working. We built a Welcome Center and it is universally loved and doing what we hoped. 


Plus my family is growing. We started here with a 2 year old and an infant. Now I have 4 boys, an awesome wife, a strong marriage, and a little family farm that I love. God is good all the time. 


To the fellow pastor who is revitalizing a church, I have these words: 

Stay the course. God is perfectly faithful. No one else is, though. There will be ups and downs. It will be slower than you expect. The church down the street that seems like it is doing better is completely different than you. Yes, people will leave. You will have close friends leave the church and show they saw you differently than you saw them. Pay attention to health, not just butts in seats and dollars in the bank. God wants to grow you and your church spiritually. Sometimes that means less people. Sometimes that means the same people. Sometimes that means new people. Don’t get discouraged. You are doing an INCREDIBLE work. In the end God won’t care about how many people showed up to your service on March 12th. He can bring all the people He wants. He cares that you are faithful and that you feed the sheep. And know this, you are not alone. There are more people in your shoes than you realize. You are making a difference. You are needed. 


To my church family: Thank you for loving me and my family well these past 5 years. We have been through a LOT together. I hope our next 5 years are a little less crazy but I really just want to lead us wherever God is going. I’m going to make more mistakes. Please be gracious. And know this, I care more about you and your family than you may ever realize. God has chosen you to be in my family. He told me that I will give an account for you. I take that very seriously and am grateful for it. When I fall short, I am sorry. But let’s keep doing this thing together! Just watch what God can do!!!



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