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40 days of Lent - Reflecting on 40 years at Messiah and Its Future: Capital Campaigns - The Mission Developer - The Wilderness - The Command of Jesus

by Doug Ruecker, current CLT member, and 40-year member of Messiah | 

In 1978 Lisa and I moved to Vancouver to begin my career. A new job, a new city, a new home, and the search for a new church. Both being raised in the Lutheran church, we narrowed the parameters and finally decided on Messiah. It was only natural that church would be part of our lives and Messiah has been and continues to be a major aspect of who we are and what we do.

We have observed over the years that most of the people who have joined Messiah did so with similar backgrounds. Most had previous Lutheran ties, but not all. But the vast majority of us had some kind of church experience and when we were led to Messiah we discovered a place that felt right, comfortable; a community we could call home.

When people who have church experience visit Messiah, we have a good chance of having them return. That is because we have been blessed with Pastors and staff who do church very well. They were trained and are highly skilled in doing church in traditional ways. As a result, Messiah saw a steady growth in our worship attendance from 1993 through 2001. Lutherans moving into Clark County found Messiah and stayed; people unhappy with their previous congregations in Vancouver, discovered a new church home at Messiah; and members invited friends who said yes to the invitation.

Capital Campaigns

Then beginning around 2002 we saw a plateauing of worship attendance. Over the next several years, leadership at Messiah studied possible solutions to get back in the growth mode. It was decided that we needed to reach out in a number of ways. In 2007 we launched a capital campaign and followed it with a successive campaign in 2010.

With the funds raised, we purchased the Preschool building, renovated the church's narthex and offices, acquired the pipe organ, installed multimedia, and opened North County. In 2007, we also started our Saturday night worship service.

As a result, we began a new 8-year growth period in worship attendance. Membership and contributions expanded, Preschool attendance and staffing swelled, new ministries were started. Messiah continued to buck a church wide trend of the last two decades: We were growing while other Lutheran and mainline congregations struggled to just stay level, with most seeing membership declines.

However, in 2015, we again started to see attendance averages plateau and two years later some decreases. Time for leadership to analyze, study, discern, and pray about how to address our lack of growth.

The Mission Developer

I must admit that when the idea of hiring a Mission Developer was first suggested, I was very apprehensive. I struggled to get a handle as to what such a person does and why Messiah needed one. And the problem was we didn't have many answers to those questions. But gradually I began to get a glimpse.

First the need. Look at the reasons why Messiah has been a successful, growing congregation over the last 20 years and what brought most of us here. It is because, for those church seeking, church experienced people, Messiah is well lit city on a hill. But demographics are beginning to take its toll. Only 30% of the population in the Pacific Northwest have any Church experience. That means 70% of our population have zero church connections and many of those have no desire or at least no comfort in entering a church building. Connecting with this majority of folks will take new ideas and differently trained professionals.

The how or the what? I still need more enlightenment about this but here is what it might look like. The Messiah faith community is really made up of numerous smaller communities. On weekends we have four different worship experiences and for the most part, members of Messiah gravitate to the worship they feel most comfortable. Then we also have different opportunities that draw different folks; Theology on Tap, Food on the Fourth, Preschool, One Mile Mission, etc. I see the Mission Developer creating even more new opportunities that would attract folks with no church experience. This in turn will create new communities within our larger Messiah community. These opportunities may expand or build on what Messiah is already doing and will probably develop in new places to touch more lives.

The Wilderness

I suspect the reason many of us are apprehensive to the idea of bringing in a Mission Developer is because it is unfamiliar terrain. We are church experienced people who are being called to go into hostile (non-churched) territory.

We begin Lent each year with the story of Jesus' temptation. Interestingly, the Gospel writers tell us that it is the Spirit of God that drove Jesus into the wilderness (Mark 1:12) The wilderness is a scary place with few provisions and wild beasts. Yet Jesus is led there. And see how Satan tempts Jesus while in the wilderness. The offers are to make life comfortable with food and grand palaces (Luke 4:1-7)

We are being led, perhaps even driven, into the wilderness by God's Spirit. The temptation is to stay where it is comfortable and familiar. How will we respond?

The Command of Jesus

During our first capital campaign in 2007, we talked about our response to Jesus' command to cast our nets into deeper water.

And Jesus said to Simon, "Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch." And Simon answered, "Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets." And when they had done this, they enclosed a great shoal of fish: and as their nets were breaking, they called their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. And they were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken. - Luke 5:4-7, 9

The Messiah community's response then was to cast our nets in deeper water. And indeed we caught fish! Saturday night and North County now make up over 30% of our worshipping community. The Preschool is at full capacity with 126 students and 13 staff. New ministries have spouted and more people are being served.

Now in 2018, Jesus again commands us to go into deeper water yet, and cast our nets for a catch. I hope and pray that we will fill the boats and totally be astonished at the catch of fish which we will take.
Articles and documents that provide background information to the CLT's discernment process and Capital Campaign proposal to the congregation.

Capital Campaign One-Page Overview from the CLT
Capital Campaign Cash Flow Model from the CLT
Frequently Asked Questions Document from the CLT
A Whole New World by Pr. Peter
Report of the CLT's Year-Long Discernment Process by President Kris Ann Bial
Reflections on the Past Year. Hope for the Future by Pr. Kathy Braafladt
Of Pastoral Interns and Missional Directors by Greg Rhodes
Stewardship of Community by Pastoral Intern Ryan Dockery

Pastoral Intern Ryan Dockery shares some of his frustration in pursuing pastoral ministry and his hopes for a Mission Developer at Messiah (4.0 minutes).
Vice President of the Congregation Mike Odren reviews the 3-year process that brings us to this point (6.0 minutes).

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