5 Ways One Church is Reaching Their Unchurched Community
When Angela Lam, executive pastor at New Life in Sonoma County California, graduated from college, she thought she was headed for the mission field abroad. What she didn’t know was that God had a plan for her in the mission field of her own backyard. “I started to volunteer as the children’s pastor, and I never looked back. I found my mission field right here in my own backyard, where our church is located in one of the most unchurched counties in the US!”
As anyone who has planted a church might know, it is not easy. Angela notes that the Summit has played a catalytic role in the trajectory of New Life Church, and the cultural health of their leadership. “I believe without some of the various talks through the years at the Summit, I would have stepped out of ministry years ago. I would have hung my head in shame and defeat and thought I wasn’t suited for this, rather than persist in learning and accepting how hard ministry is,” she said. “I carried on. I’ve read books and listened to sermons…. But in my memory, it is largely Summit talks that have sustained me, and helped shape the church we are today.”
I found my mission field right here in my own backyard
Here are five ways that Angela’s church community has become a beacon of light, seeking to reach their community for Jesus, and how the Summit played a critical role on their journey:
They changed their lenses
“Some might look at Sonoma County and see a dry mission field, but we see the most opportunity!” Angela said. “We have access to more irreligious people than nearly any other church in the country! If we figure out how to communicate, involve and lead people to Christ, then our church has more potential than just about any church you’re likely to find. We think God-honoring churches can make a tangible difference in the entire county and we’re determined to see it happen.”
They’re building up leaders
“More than 10 years ago, we took a small team to Chicago for the Summit, and that set the culture for so much of what we do here,” said Angela. “Last year, we brought 120 people from our church. Imagine what God could do with that! Having the GLS available to our people is at the core of what we need God to do in their lives: awaken them to the idea that THEY are His hands and feet in our community. We are doing the hard work of carving out disciples from this very difficult mission field, but to have the GLS awaken their souls to leadership is priceless.”
The GLS has ignited various initiatives in Angela’s church, including church-wide conversations about emotional health and connectedness. “This is radically changing our culture,” Angela shares “Three years ago we also launched a year-round leadership program called Legacy—the culture is being refined, the staff is being aligned. So far we’ve had 90 graduates in the first two years. It is life changing on the individual leadership level. The ripple effects of the Summit on our staff, our key leaders, our culture and our future hires are trickling down into our most basic levels of ministry.”
They’re open to God’s call
“Every year the Summit is packed with things I need to know and food for my soul that sustains me,” Angela shares. “You have no idea when you’re going to hear just what you need in order to do what you’re afraid to do or that keeps you from quitting the thing you’re struggling with. The Summit’s quality of content means you have a statistically high probability that you’ll hear it there.“I am stunned by the way God is using me to change the climate of our church body,” said Angela. “I have found that my private journey with God has become a church-wide journey. The simplest explanation is the change in our understanding of how leadership works – whatever a leader is will be what their team becomes, the importance of emotional health in leaders, the ways leaders can unlock the power of their people, the transition of leader-centered ministries to leader-supported ministries and what it takes to sustain a leader. My paradigm on leadership is nearly all credited to the Summit, but I am so proud of how God has used my inner journey and leadership capacity to ignite this in our church.”
“From the beginning, we were determine it would be a church for people who didn’t go to church and that our reputation in the community would be such that civic leaders would be drawn to a completely different idea of church. We are the first church to purchase property in our city in the last 75 years.
Sonoma County is a generous, others-minded community, but they are highly suspicious of organized religion. Their hearts beat the same Divine Design ours do, so when they encounter a Christian who is not selling anything, but is simply being a decent representative of God, they seem to sense it and be drawn in. “We get feedback from our non-religious community that they see New Life as ‘different’ from the churches they’ve known before and they are intrigued and relieved by what they hear and see,” said Angela. “In that way, we already are hitting our goal of changing the spiritual climate in our community. One of my favorite things about being a leader here in Sonoma County is the people – they are not stuck in their ways, they are fresh-faced and eager to learn. It can be difficult to walk them to a place of wanting to come to church, but when they buy in, their childlike faith, their eagerness, their reckless abandon is inspiring.
“Another tangible evidence of New Life making an impact is the increase of homeless traffic we are experiencing. We did a ‘Love Bombs’ initiative a couple of times in the past year where we set up stations on Sundays where New Lifers could pay $5 and assemble a Love Bomb (a large bag with socks, granola bars, bottle water, soaps, etc.) to keep in their cars and give to homeless people they encountered during the week. It seemed simple enough, but apparently our church is getting a reputation in our homeless community because we now have people stopping by the building to charge their phones, use computers or seek pastoral care.”
“Our Grander vision is to change the spiritual climate of our community,” said Angela.“Because our people don’t have church background, they often have (as our pastor Kevin Finkbiner says) a ‘top shelf’ view of church leadership. They tend to think ‘real’ church work is for people who are more [spiritual, mature, know their bible more, etc…] than me.
“Bringing them to the GLS has helped them develop a view of themselves that they are the church – they are capable of great things for God and they are the church in their places of business as well. There is a level of ownership developing in them – they’ve always given of their time and invested, but the GLS is helping them see themselves as the church.”
How might God use the GLS to impact your church and your community this year?
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