EPC has been blessed by the Lord for decades since our founders were compelled in 1937 to leave our parent denomination because of their fidelity to the Word of God. As a continuing church, our spiritual roots reach back hundreds of years, along with some of the earliest Presbyterian churches in the country. The Lord has faithfully provided for our congregation over the years. Jesus says, “Fear not little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). By God’s grace, we have experienced many manifestations of kingdom blessings throughout our history.
When we look at the Lord’s work among his people, we see that every established church that continues to minister faithfully will go through seasons of adjustment where the Lord leads the church to take up a new work of ministry or do something different to make disciples in its midst. We believe we are at such a time now in the life of our church. There are challenges facing believers in the culture that are known to us all. To meet these challenges, we need a close connection to our church family. We will continue to encourage involvement in the many ministries that provide for such a connection. But this fall, we are doing four new things to address specific ministry needs.
These ministry plans have grown out of conversations with members and regular attendees. There has been a lot of discussion and prayer among staff, officers, leaders and participants in ministry. It seems to our session that these new initiatives in ministry are in step with the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst.
Sunday School Classes for Men and Women
Men’s ministry is a challenge in every church. Last fall at EPC, we had a very fruitful men’s discipleship class on Sunday morning. A number of the men who attended testified that it was one of the most fruitful things they had done in men’s discipleship. This class also provided a great place for men who were unmarried. (As we minister in a community where men and women marry at increasingly later ages we need to be mindful of fostering welcoming environments for the unmarried.) The Sunday morning time was accessible to many men whose work schedules have become increasingly non-conventional when compared to the traditional 40-hour work week—the work week for which our current ministry schedule was designed to accommodate. There was a powerful intergenerational component to the men’s discipleship class, where older saints grew closer to and shared their experience with younger saints. Lastly, children’s Sunday school was happening concurrently, providing a place for fathers to take their children while they studied the Scriptures and fellowshipped together.
One missing component for married men in the class was that there was not a similar place for their wives on Sunday morning. So, the spouses of the men who attended either didn’t come to Sunday school or attended another class on their own. We also found that spouses appreciate two things in particular. They appreciate the opportunity for the unique perspective and fellowship that men and women’s studies provide. They also appreciate the opportunity to talk about Scripture with one another.
Taking all these components into view, this fall we will offer separate men and women’s Sunday School classes that will study the same book of the Bible. This approach will provide a place for men and women of all life stages to fellowship with one another around the study of the Word of God. It will also provide an opportunity for husbands and wives to grow closer spiritually because they will be studying the same material. We will use inductive Bible study guides for these classes, which model how to study the Scriptures. We will offer other strong Sunday school classes options as well. We know that not everyone needs such a format at this point in their spiritual pilgrimage, but we think it is helpful to provide a context for those who do.
Church-Wide Fellowship on the First Friday of the Month
In this season of our life as a congregation, we are seeking to increase our ministry to the parents of the children who currently attend on Wednesday night, provide a more accessible time for ministry to families who don’t attend on Wednesday night, create a context for fellowship between families and unmarried adults, and provide for more intergenerational ministry. To best facilitate this kind of intergenerational fellowship and ministry, we encourage everyone to join us the first Friday evening of each month.
Fostering church-wide fellowship is always challenging in any church larger than 70 people. Sociologists say that you can naturally keep up with approximately 70 people, and this is why most churches in America are 70 or less. If a church is larger than 70, then intentionality and planning are required to facilitate church-wide fellowship. And, as the challenges of the culture at large change, the needs and demands of discipleship within a congregation change. Thus the ministry plan needs to adjust as well.
There are numerous challenges to fostering this type of church-wide fellowship at EPC. Work schedules vary greatly. Families with children are involved in a widening array of school choices, each with their own unique scheduling challenges. The church leadership is also concerned with unwittingly adding to the burden of its members by scheduling too many events. These concerns make finding good times for inclusive church-wide fellowship difficult.
If we want to foster ministry of the scope that we envision, then we need to structure events and arrange our church calendar to facilitate that goal. Taking all these factors into view, this fall we will not continue the Pioneer and Brigade ministries on Wednesday night. We are grateful for the hard work of many dedicated leaders over years in Pioneers and Brigade. We appreciate the blessing that it has been to the children who have been involved. However, increasingly we are hearing that the timing and frequency of these ministries are no longer ideal for our current ministry context. Ministry leaders and elders have had many conversations with families in our church. This change is being made in response to the current ministry needs, work demands and scheduling needs of families. Our hope and prayers are that these gatherings will bring even more young families into ministry and fellowship. Other Wednesday night ministries will continue. We will provide childcare for choir rehearsal, Women’s Bible study and DivorceCare.
Each of these first Friday fellowship gatherings will have a theme. If you attended the Thanksgiving fellowship meal after church last fall, then you experienced a similar dynamic at work. The theme, thanksgiving, lent context and focus to the time of fellowship. There were some brief remarks about the meaning of thanksgiving. At the conclusion of the Friday night fellowship time, we may provide some additional recreational activities for children, youth or even the whole congregation. These are intergenerational gatherings. We all need each other. Staff and ministry leaders are working to make this time as inclusive as possible. From time to time, we may offer some recreational or growth opportunities for children and youth after the fellowship meal to provide a context for adults to discuss more sensitive topics without children present.
Community Outreach on the Third Friday of the Month
EPC already has excellent community outreach events. Our members and regular attendees have a lot of confidence inviting their friends and neighbors to these events. We have an increasing number of folks who find that these events are the first place where they can get a friend or family member into the church. Once a person has had a number of positive experiences with the church in events like these, they are much more likely to take the step of attending an investigative Bible study, like Christianity Explored. We want to build on the effectiveness of these events by having community outreach events on the third Friday of the month.
Our church fosters a loving community, and these events provide easy, non-threatening access to the church family for those on the outside. Their presuppositions about Christians and Christian community are reshaped simply by attending and meeting you all. And, our own people have lots of fun and fellowship too!
Fresh Start Sundays
It is helpful to provide a regular, clear spot on the church calendar when folks can come and learn what ministries are doing and how they can become more engaged in the church. It is also helpful to provide a clear point of re-entry for those who have for whatever reason become distant from the church. We preach the gospel in our services weekly and any Sunday truly is a good Sunday to re-engage with the Lord and his people. However, providing emphasis on a particular day enables us to focus our prayers and effort as a congregation and provides clarity of expectation for those coming from the outside.
This fall on September 4, we aim to have the first of will hopefully become quarterly Fresh Start Sundays. On these Sundays, we will have a special focus on welcoming new friends to the church, renewing our own engagement in ministry, and providing an easy and natural context to re-engage fellowship and ministry.
In place of adult Sunday school, we will have a ministry fair where members and guests can come and learn about the Sunday school classes for the upcoming quarter, hear what ministries in the church are doing, or simply enjoy fellowship with coffee and refreshments. The Sunday morning service will continue to have the core elements of our liturgy. The sermons will be on texts that speak very directly to knowing the Lord and appropriating his grace in our lives. We may have brief testimonies or reports on specific ministries too. After the service, we will have a luncheon for guests where they can meet ministry leaders in our congregation.
These new ministry initiatives are the fruit of the efforts of officers, ministry leaders and staff. I thank the Lord for these brothers and sisters who seek the advancement of God’s kingdom in our midst. We ask that you join us in praying for these efforts this fall. We encourage everyone to come to the Friday events. They will be rich times of fellowship. We already have excellent Sunday school offerings in place. Please pray for the new classes, and if they meet a particular need in your life then please join us.
With much love for Christ's church,