The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Church for a new era

with 3 comments

Those of you following the life of New Oaks Church may find this story encouraging. Here’s Donnie Miller (pastor of the Trinity Family Church in Gardner, KS) telling of a change of direction:

A New Era begins for TFC

Donnie Miller

There was an energy level among the congregation on Sunday that I haven’t experienced for a long time. People kept telling me, through smiles and hugs, how much they love the changes that have just happened.

These changes have been a long time coming. Last spring, we began a numerical slide that has resulted in our Sunday morning worship attendance being between 2/3 – 1/2 of what it was a year ago at this time. Toward the beginning of that slide, after a very lowly attended Sunday in March, I spent a sleepless night talking with God and wrestling with my fears and hopes. My fear was that if we continued to “do church” as we were at the time, we might not continue to exist. That fear lead to a hope, a hope that TFC could stop focusing on “doing church” and become more intentional about “being the church.” At about 4 AM, I got a pretty clear picture of the changes we could make.

I began sharing those changes with staff, the board and then ministry leaders; everyone was on board with the ideas. Last summer, we polled the congregation to find out approaches were working and to gauge their openness to the potential changes. The surveys revealed an almost unanimous support of the structural changes our leadership was considering.

Discussion groups

In August, we took a big first step in introducing Discussion Groups to Sunday AM worship. To say these groups have been a success would be the understatement of the year. Every Sunday, over 90% of the congregation participates in discussion groups. This past Sunday, only ONE person skipped discussion groups and that was because of a family emergency. It was almost hard to hear the other members of my group over the dull roar of the conversations happening all over the commons. The introduction of Discussion Groups, as well as “Ask Anything” Sundays, have all been a part of our effort to take a more dialogical approach to Sunday morning worship.

The immediate success of Discussion Groups allowed our leadership to take a bigger step in this move from “doing” to “being.” In summary, our new focus as a church is upon three main values, Simplicity, Community and Generosity. Let me explain our new focus on these areas.

Simplicity = When TFC launched 4 years ago, I was determined to make us into a church that would wow everyone who showed up for worship. 4 years later, I’ve broken (been broken is probably the better way of saying it) out of that consumerism / attractional approach. Our unique niche in the Kingdom isn’t going to come from what we do but in what we are. Our first major step in simplification is in moving out of the auditorium of PRMS and into the commons. In making this move, we’ve eliminated as much set-up as possible, focusing on the essentials for corporate worship. Elements such as stage lighting and moving backgrounds have been lost in our move into the commons and I’m not sure whether we’ll be able to find them again.

Community Also left behind in our move were the cushy but permanent chairs of the PRMS auditorium. We’ve now got portable chairs that can be arranged in a large half-circle for corporate worship or into smaller circles for Discussion Groups. It’s amazing what changing from rows facing one direction to a circle of chairs does for group dynamics.

Moving into the commons is saving us a LOT of money in rent payments, lowering our operational overhead by thousands of dollars. Our Advisory Council is considering using some of the saved money for an online service designed to help churches build community.

We’re also rebudgeting some money for morning refreshments. Worshiping in the commons means we’re able to have coffee and donuts again! Amazing how something so simple can go so far in community building.
Following the advice from last summer’s surveys, we’re also going to be having regular community meals as a part of our worship. Our first community meal will be Nov. 22nd.

Generosity This is what has me more fired up than any of our changes – the more we lower our operational expenses, the more we can give away. The less we spend on rent, the more we can give to organizations that serve the poor and under resourced, both locally and globally. My constant challenge to our congregation is “spend less on self so you can give away more.” I’m glad to say that TFC is taking another step in that direction. We do already give 7% of our offerings to local ministry work and 6% to global evangelism, but we’ll be able to do more now. Our Advisory Council is also working out a process for setting up a fund to help families within our congregation; having funds available for those in immediate need – allowing us to live out the New Testament value of taking care of each other.

What do you think honors Jesus more, spending our resources on facilities or on serving the poor? If you’re not sure, check this out.

While these changes may not seem too radical on the surface, they’re indications of deep changes that have happened within me. My whole understanding of how a group of Christ-followers are to live together as a local expression of the Kingdom of God has been turned upside-down over the past 9 months. Last spring was a season of disillusionment and failure within the typical North American protestant model. Last summer was a season of depression and hopelessness (to read my self-confession to my church from a few weeks ago, click here). This fall has been a season of rebirth for Trinity Family […]

Oh, yeah;  I get that.  I left this comment:

Wow, you’re telling our story here. I’m going to re-post this on my blog (tell me if you’d rather I didn’t, and I’ll pull it), and share it with our church board.

I’ve recently begun a part-time job, partly because we were in a loooong attendance/income slide (related to the fact that we no longer wanted to push programs, worship snazziness, and church growth as the core of who we were), but also partly because we have longed to spend less of our money on staff and buildings and more on poverty. Some of the ideas you mention we’ve begun, others have been tentatively suggested by various leaders and not yet carried out. You’re giving us courage. Thanks!

What are you thinking?


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3 Responses

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  1. Encouraging to hear of churches moving to be less about entertainment, and more about fellowship. When I think about what I don’t like in churches I’ve attended (including the one I go to now), it is the surface quality — the ostentatious quality of the service, as if there is an attempt to appear to be worshiping….or maybe the way to describe it, it’s like a way to keep Christianity at arms length — the church as a method to avoid being Christian, as it were.

    Hal H

    April 6, 2013 at 11:19 am

  2. Dear Monte,
    Merry Christmas and my best wishes to you and your family.
    Greetings from Tehran.


    December 24, 2009 at 12:38 pm

  3. Sir, I applaud your attempts to return to the roots of the church–fellowship, mutual interaction and learning from one another. This is exactly what we are doing in our Nazarene work overseas, focusing on the model of the early church, i.e. the church in ones house. May God bless you in your attempts to move forward into the past…and may your community be changed as you server faithfully.

    Do Everything In Love

    December 20, 2009 at 7:34 pm

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