State of the Church Address

State of the Church Address

Well, not exactly. But the board and I did meet on September 8 to do a bit of visioning as we move forward into the Fall and *sigh* Winter. A potluck was involved, per University Church custom (our translation of Matthew 18:20 reads, “Where two or three are gathered, there’s probably potluck involved, and I am there among them”). I’d like to report the key takeaways from our conversation.

Long before I arrived, this church had a vision for what it would be and do in this world: moving from vision à reality (or reality à greater reality) is one of the reasons I now serve as pastor. I receive the task of leadership with great humility and the responsibility to share some of the areas I think are University Church’s biggest CHALLENGES. I began my conversation with the board by listing the following areas of concern:

  1. Visibility. How will people know we are a church? Are we easy to find (curb appeal, both physical and via internet) and easy to understand (our values, “distinctness”). Basically, a question of intentional branding.
  2. Student Presence. How does this church reach out to the campus, and can we serve a student population including UChicago, surrounding public schools, and the seminaries?
  3. Membership. What does it mean to be a member at University Church? How many members do we have? Do THEY know they are members? There are a lot of reasons we have to make this process more fluid and digestible.
  4. Infrastructure. How can our internal mechanics (by-laws, logistics) be set up to a) encourage healthy participation in church life by members, and b) expand the knowledge base beyond staff and a few members who have been here “since forever.” There is NO WAY to invest in here until we all know what “here” means.
  5. Finances. The move from “think about it” to “do it” often requires funding. Simple as that. No worries: We’re solvent, but can stand to grow more.
  6. Building. This is an old building. We’ve replaced two boilers and have spent the entire summer making repairs to be ready for *sigh* Winter. We also need to begin equipping our building for the 21st century (i.e. sound and video upgrades).

Take a deep breath, because that seems like a lot. But they are interrelated; taking care of one eases pressure on the next. In thinking about growth and repair, it’s important to be clear and honest about where we are. In short, I LOVE WHERE WE ARE. The challenges are opportunities that I know we can face.

Meanwhile, we’ve got some real ASSETS here at the church, and we spent time discussing these next:

  1. Dynamic Worship. Able to meet many different needs; spirit filled and diverse.
  2. Community. “You make a visitor feel at home better than any other church I’ve experienced.” This quote, and MANY more like it, come directly from the visitor feedback I receive. People want genuine community; we do this well, and praise God.
  3. Space. Almost any program we can dream up, we can do within our walls.
  4. Genre. In theology and practice, we are a low-church, liberal Protestant congregation that is flexible enough to reach the “believer” and the “seeker.” Love transcends all (the ONLY requirement is that you must love potluck dinners)
  5. Arts. Classical. Hip-Hop. Painting. Photography. Singing. Composing. Dancing. Poetry. Crocheting.  All that…here…without even trying.
  6. Social Justice. When I say, “Justice is a theological imperative,” you say, “Duh! Let’s go do it!” We are an active congregation.

See! Amazing! Then I spoke about three concrete ways to step into what we believe God is calling us to be.

  1. Nurturing campus/student ministry. We’re about to hire a youth minister. Programs are en route.
  2. Hospitality Committee. To help with our welcoming spirit during Social Hour and abroad. We need a group of people who have that GIFT of hospitality. If that’s you, see me. I have more thoughts, but again, see me.
  3. Marketing/Branding. We need to be on the internet. In social media. Stream our services online for the sick and shut-in (whether in the hospital or at Regenstein library). Logos on everything we distribute (did you know we have a LOGO?). Not because we are UNIVERSITY CHURCH but because we have assets to share with the world! How can we do this if people can’t find us?

That’s it…that’s enough, right? It was a life-giving and meaningful meeting; so much so that the board decided this conversation needs expanding. So now it’s your turn. Add to the dialogue. Fill in the blank:

“It’d be nice if _____________ happened here.”

Let us be prayerful about this season in our church’s life. Ask God for wisdom in how you and the church can be the best vessel’s possible. And let’s get to work!

One more potluck before *sigh* Winter, okay? Love you.

—Pastor Julian