“An Occasional Letter”

As September marks the beginning of our 20 th year, I offer this first in a series of “Occasional Letters” to participants and friends of the Community Church. The purpose of the periodic letters will be to take a deeper look into the history, as well as current direction of our congregation – with particular emphasis on the challenges and opportunities before us. This initial “Occasional Letter” flows from a single word: growth.

When we held our first service in September, 1999 as the Community Worship Hour, my hope was to provide meaningful, spiritually-inclusive weekly worship services from September through May. After three very challenging years, the decision was made to become a church, change our service time to Sunday morning, and rebrand ourselves as “The Community Church of Lake Forest & Lake Bluff.” Additional changes included Sunday services year ‘round, while offering comprehensive ministry that included pastoral care, spiritual growth and outreach.

Over the years, even though we’ve had no intentional evangelism or marketing strategy following our initial rollout, we’ve done what eludes most churches in the United States these days – grow . While some numeric growth was necessary for economic viability and to fulfill my vision of full-time ministry at the Community Church, we’ve always seen growth as a result – not a goal.

Despite an approach to growth perceived as curious by many in the church world, nearly two decades since our first service we have grown in virtually every way:
-        The music program that in the early years all too often had me leading “Kum By Yah” (ouch!), has grown to become an extraordinary ministry which Ken Hall crafts for us each week;
-        At our first service on the beach three people were in attendance – today, on most Sundays our two Worship on the Beach services attract between 200 and 275 people;
-        For years we had no meaningful social outreach, while today we participate in multiple programs and also created the not-for-profit charity KidsUganda, which in 11 years provided over $1,000,000 in assistance and saw 75 people make short-term “Adventures in Service” mission trips;
-        Particularly since the arrival of Zach, spiritual growth opportunities have grown significantly - including four weekly meditation classes offered free of charge to the larger community;
-        Our budget has grown from an average of $23,000 annually the first three years of the Community Worship Hour, to an annual budget today of over $600,000;
-        We’ve gone from living hand to mouth with no real assets, savings or rainy day fund, to savings / investments of $350,000, an office in Lake Bluff we own free and clear, and no debt;  
-        Finally, we began with a part-time, unpaid minister, and now have two full-time clergy and part-time administrative, communication, and music professionals.

Truth be told, we have grown in ways that I never intended or envisioned. And, while our growth has brought innumerable benefits and increased the impact of our ministry, it has come with a price :
-        Our ministry has always been relationship-based, yet there are many people frequently with us on Sunday I’ve not as yet gotten to know;
-        I’m no longer able to call a significant percentage of our Sunday worshippers by name;
-        Some long-term participants in the life of our church have lamented “how the church has changed” and that “we don’t know many people anymore;”
-        And, as a church without a formal membership, it’s become increasingly difficult to know who consider themselves to be part of our church family. Those of you in business understand – it limits your effectiveness when it’s not clear who are your customers and clients.

So, we enter our 20 th year with some challenges, most which are rooted in the enviable position of having experienced significant growth. I for one prefer to think of our challenges as opportunities, providing us with the chance to implement the kind of innovative ministry solutions for which we’ve become known. In the meantime, we will continue to focus on providing dynamic worship, compassionate outreach, and opportunities for spiritual growth...all while doing everything we can to maintain the unique culture that is the Community Church.

Peace,

Tom

P.S. – Have a thought, idea, or feedback? Please reply to this email, which will come directly to me - thank you!