Mother Carol Ann: Epiphany Reflections
Dear People of God at Holy Apostles
So. Here we are, at the very beginning of a new calendar year. In terms of the cycle of time as measured by the church tomorrow is Epiphany. Now is the season that celebrates the light of Christ coming into the world. In this letter I want to reflect briefly on an experience I had while visiting in Georgia last week. Holly and I decided that on Sunday we needed to take a church field trip. This notion of a church field trip grew out of a class I took in seminary. The professor thought it important that we experience lots of the different ways Christian people worship so on a succession of summer Sundays we visited a great variety of churches. Anyway. Back to the main point. Last Sunday we decided to visit TwelveStone, the fastest growing church in the fasted growing county in Georgia. We decided to visit the main “campus” even though one of the satellite facilities was a bit closer. Campus is just the right word here. The church has beautifully landscaped 64 acre space that includes worship and education facilities, even a Starbucks, in one large building. They also have a “prayer trail” for outdoor prayer walking and other outdoor facilities. The main worship center is a 2600 seat auditorium style space. We learned from one “greeter” that this was a low Sunday and yet that auditorium as 90% full. They have four services every Sunday, Saturday services and weekday services as well. In short TwelveStone is a mega church in every sense of the word.
I will say that for me, because church growth is one of my central concerns, a question arose. What are these people doing? Certainly there is a clue in that notion that Gwinnett county, a suburban county close to Atlanta, is experiencing great population growth. It takes a big population to support that kind of growth. Still, is there something to be learned here? I think there is.
It was clearly obvious to me that this church is quite intentionally doing a great many of the things that church growth experts suggest are important. They do a lot of very effective advertising using a variety of media. On entering the building a visitor is greeted by lay members of the church who have clearly had some education about greeting and helping people feel comfortable. The woman who stepped up to greet us made a real effort to learn our names and use them. She asked questions that expressed her interest in us. She made a point to learn what we needed for information about the church, the worship, and, because we had Robert with us, childcare. She walked us upstairs to the childcare center and helped us get settled. there. She offered coffee (TwelveStone serves 200 gallons of free coffee every Sunday) and showed us where to find restrooms. She didn’t leave until she was sure we were comfortable and could find our way around. That was impressive in itself. It was also clear throughout the visit that TwelveStone makes good use of technology to help people get and stay connected with the church. Because the church is so large there are a variety of small groups to fit the needs of the members. And, after asking for our addresses, they do some intentional follow-up.
But let’s go a little deeper here. I was impressed with the obvious focus on spiritual growth. There is an expectation that members desire that spiritual growth (research, in fact, backs that expectation up). The sermon focused on practical ways people could grow spiritually. The pastor’s first point was that prayer is always important. It was clear to me that he paired praying with Bible study and that prayer, rather than being a litany of requests to G-d involved a good deal of listening for what G-d has to say. A vital prayer life leads on into service. I heard a strong focus on lay ministry. They have a variety of groups that help people get involved with various service opportunities. TwelveStone seeks to meet a variety of needs in the surrounding communities. The last point in the pastor’s sermon involved the idea of inviting others to TwelveStone. Members are encouraged to invite others and there are opportunities to learn how to invite others. The pastor was clear that when a member is praying and serving their spiritual growth will lead them to invite other to share the good thing they have found. He stressed inviting friends who don’t have a church. He noted that many people might say,” well, I don’t have friends who don’t have a church”. His response, “Go make some. It’s not hard. Lots of people have no church”. I love that, and I know it to be true.
We don’t live in an area of high population growth but we most assuredly have people who have no church all around us. We most assuredly have people with deep needs both physical and spiritual all around us. And, yes, we do need to be growing spiritually every day. There is a potential for growth here as there is anywhere. Meanwhile it is Epiphany when we celebrate the light of Christ coming into the world. That’s our job as Christian people, to bring Christ’s light into the world around us. And we have so many gifts to offer.
I pray that each of you may be blessed by an awareness of God’s gifts even while you are pushed by God to find holy uses for those gifts.
Mother Carol Ann
“May Christ, the Son of God, be manifest in you, that your lives may be a light to the world; and the blessing of God Almighty, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you , and remain with you always.” Amen (Seasonal Blessing for Epiphany from The Book of Occasional Services.)