This past Sunday marked the fifteen year anniversary of Covenant Fellowship Church. We didn't do anything (I don't anybody even thought about it!). But in fact we had held our first Sunday morning worship service on September 19, 1993, fifteen years and two days before.
Starting a church is not unlike starting a business in that you cannot really know, no matter how good your plan, if it will succeed. In our case we decided not to receive outside funding as do most church plants, so we were going forward on an even more sink-or-swim basis. It makes me rather happy to remember that we didn't cost the Presbytery or Synod anything.
When we started I didn't know if there would be enough people or giving for me to receive a full salary, so I was prepared to work part time if needed. Thankfully we had a "free" place to meet in the living room of our "Founding Parents" Dwight and Susan Thomas. Well, it was free to us anyway. Meeting there for 18 months took a toll on the house and probably cost them a lot of money. They live in Chapel Hill now. We miss them.
We knew also that there were so many distinctive aspects to our church model that many might find it just too quirky. For example we had a meal every Sunday (and still do). We had a longer meeting than average with diverse elements, including a longer than average sermon and an open-to-the-floor sharing time.
Perhaps our biggest distinctive was our emphasis on intergenerational corporate life and worship. The Thomas's and I had come out of church situations where people were grouped out according to age, gender, marital status and so forth, and we wanted to have more of an "extended family" atmosphere.
The Thomas's and I had also had come out of frenetic hyper active church environments where people were so encouraged to be committed to church activities that they could not possibly have time or energy for their neighbors or workmates or community ministries and organizations. There was in the Evangelical Church Sub Culture at the time a sort of running assumption that being spiritual meant being really busy at church. We didn't like that. We wanted a more leisurely pace. We wanted folks to have more time to get to know their neighbors and be a part of the greater Greensboro community, and the only way to do that was to make our work very simple. We had a Sunday meeting and weeknight small group gathering. We also have a youth gathering now but that's about it.
I don't know why eating a meal together makes is seem Amish or cultish (!), but to many who would call me in those days, once I mentioned the meal it was like, "OK, thanks. Bye." I mean, personally, I like to eat, and it's nice not going home starving. We still have our every Sunday meal. People naturally get to know each other when eating. That's why we do it.
Oh, and we didn't have or plan to have a building, not that that made us extra cool or spiritual (it has certainly impacted our numbers in a negative manner over time), but we just didn't want to be getting all caught up in all that. I have many colleagues in churches that are mortgaged to the max, and who spend hours and hours a week dealing with facility issues. We don't. It's nice. We have been meeting at Bur-Mil Park Clubhouse for about twelve years now. It seems to work well for us both. They are great folks out there.
We never really had any goal as far as growth. What we do on Sunday wouldn't work if we were very big, and the couple of times we started to get to the point where we had to start thinking about a new meeting place or even spinning off a daughter church, things just sort of took care of themselves.
We are not a small church by the standards of national averages, but we are a small church compared to what a lot of people think are the national averages. If we got bigger that would be cool. We know how to do things better now, even with more people [so come by, any time :-)], but once you see and understand and embrace that you are a small church, it is very freeing. It really impacts your motives. It means that our folks (and our pastor) can be involved in many different things in the community without having to think about how it does or does not grow the church or the church budget. And it impacts how we do what we do on Sunday in a very positive way. No dog and pony show to impress - just trying to be the church.
So, given all these quirky characteristics the odds were stacked against us. Any number of things could have caused us to fail. It wasn't because we were so clever or smart that we didn't, but because God (we believe) simply wanted the work to exist and go on, and go on it did, for fifteen years now. It's really quite amazing to think of all the lives that have intersected with us along the way.
I just wanted to take a few minutes to give thanks publicly. A lot of people have been good to us, such as the folks at Greensboro College when we met there, and the folks at Bur-Mil now, and the folks at the Rhino Times who let us barter advertising for paper delivery, and all you bloggers who put up with me. It's a long list really, and we are grateful for the community in having us, and hope we offer back good things along the way.
So, happy fifteen years to us! And thanks be to God for His goodness.