This is the [edited for the internet] text of my annual report, presented last night at our leadership meeting with the Conference Superintedent. It was such a refreshing meeting – my favorite kind!.
March 2, 2010
The Grove Church
For The Grove’s big official launch service we rented a popcorn machine. It was fun and added to the festive atmosphere as people were coming into The Grove for the very first time. It was such a hit, that a couple people from the launch team decided to go ahead and buy one for The Grove to use every week. Now, while The Grove was holding its first services at North Albany Middle School there was also youth football programs going on and one of the mothers of a football player came over to the school because she could smell the popcorn and thought we were running a concession stand. She asked one of the men at the door if this was the case and he got to tell her we weren’t selling popcorn, but we were handing it out for free – because we have popcorn for church! The woman was pleasantly surprised and asked when church started. The welcome team member told her we were starting at 10 o’clock. She replied, “Great! Then I’m right on time!”, came into the cafeteria, got some popcorn, worshiped Jesus and got hear about the love God has for her.
I share this story not because it’s unique (in fact the opposite is true), but because it seems to encapsulate the favor that God has given to His brand new church, The Grove. While we have taken Jesus seriously and been diligent in our preparation and planning – God continues to be working among us beyond what we have even hoped for. In Ephesians 3 we find a verse that gives The Grove a lot of direction,
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.”
Here we see that God is the one at work (even within us!) as we, the church, see to it that he is given glory in the church, in Jesus and in all generations. Truly, God is the one who deserves all credit for what I can share about The Grove. What we will do is continually ensure that the church is glorifying God, lift up Jesus and share him in all generations.
First let me share what God has done in The Grove and then (and even better) let me share what God has done through The Grove…
On opening day at The Grove there were 222 people in attendance. Then in October, November and December the average attendance was 193, 195 and 194. We held a Christmas Eve service for our community and hosted 277 people, many of whom heard of the service because of the door hangers that about 20 Grovers passed out in North Albany. Since then, in January the average attendance was 232 and in February it rose again to 239. Just this past week, we had 258 people with us (67 children 5th grade and under!) It is amazing to see the way that the Spirit of God is prompting people to come to The Grove to hear about Jesus.
We also track the number of new people at The Grove as a measurement of our health. In the October, November and December we hosted 49, 35 & 15 first time guests (On launch Sunday we recorded 25 first time guests!). Alongside this, we welcomed back 26, 15 and 10 second time guests. In January and February The Grove hosted 13 and 21 first time guests and welcomed back 13 and 22 second time guests. The rate at which people have chosen to return to The Grove a second time is stunning. Experts in these areas have told us that this is not the way it’s supposed to work – you aren’t supposed to have just as many second time guests as first time – apparently people are supposed to be turned off by church – Whoops!! We simply give credit to God! We glorify Jesus and thank Him for trusting us with people that He dearly loves.
The big blessing in this for me is seeing people who are brand new to The Grove find roles and relationships in the Grove. Amazingly, there is a whole welcome team that is all brand new to The Grove. There are now 2 worship bands because God has brought us an abundance of great artists. Recently, The Grove has started Life Groups (from middle school to adults) with about 90 people participating. The groups tend to have people both from the launch team and who are brand new. We’ve set high goals for participation because we believe that being in small groups of people to discuss life and Jesus helps people grow in their faith in a way that can’t be found elsewhere.
In the culture that The Grove gathers and ministers repentance and salvation looks much more like a process than an event, but we’re pretty sure that we have seen about 8 people become Christians through the ministry of The Grove. We’ve gotten multiple requests for baptism, which we’re just waiting for warmer weather to start baptizing. We’ve also seen 4 different families dedicate 7 children to Jesus.
Now, the even better part, what God has done through The Grove…
In the summer of 2009, the Grove launch team was at every event that was happening in our city – serving and helping to make Albany a great place to live. We really think that Jesus loves Albany, so we love Albany too! We figure we want to be the kind of church that is good news for our city – after all, Jesus lived, died and rose again for the people of Albany, so that they could have full lives of hope, faith and love. Who better to let them know than the Christians who already live in Albany? Through these partnerships and serving, The Grove gained a great reputation – as a church that actually wanted to help! We’ve already been booked to help at community events this summer and we look forward to making Albany everything that Jesus dreams of it being!
In the fall of 2009, The Grove sent about 50 shoe boxes with Christmas gifts overseas through Samaritan’s Purse. We had the opportunity to adopt children from a local school and gave Christmas gifts to about 30 kids – bringing joy on Christ’s birthday! Then, on Christmas Eve we received an offering which was fully given away – not even the rent for the school that night was taken out, regular Grover’s giving took care of it. By God’s great grace we were able to divide up that offering and give the 5 agencies in Albany and Corvallis about $425 each, helping the homeless, the hungry, the lonely, and those suffering abuse and domestic violence.
We don’t share these stories to say, we think we’re awesome or that people should look up to us. Rather – we share these stories because we hope that they put the same emotion we feel into other people’s hearts. That is, the greatest joy and awe in humility that the God of the universe has chosen to move in a special way in North Albany.
And we don’t think he’s done…we even think there’s greater stories still to be written.
For His glory in His church, His people, and His world,
Pastor James Carmichael