Visions of Vitality
90-year-old Bethlehem Covenant completes vitality pathway, experiences growth and new ministry
Bethlehem Covenant Church in Minneapolis traces its earliest roots back to a South Minneapolis home, where in 1913 a Sunday school for children studying at Minnehaha Academy was started. On December 28, 1922, Bethlehem Covenant Church was organized with 26 charter members. The facilities of Minnehaha’s school chapel and classrooms were made available to the new church.
Fast forward 90 years, and Bethlehem is now the first church in the Northwest Conference to complete the Vitality Pathway and develop a resulting Strategic Ministry Plan.
Each church that has engaged elements of the Vitality Pathway has a unique story to tell. BCC’s journey began in 2008 when the church was in the midst of a pastoral search process. Delegates to the NWC Annual Meeting heard about Veritas from John Wenrich, director of congregational vitality for the Evangelical Covenant Church.
Leaders from the church were excited about the potential impact of Veritas at BCC, but decided not to proceed with the process until a new pastor was called.
Pastor Ryan Eikenbary-Barber was installed on Sept. 20, 2009, and one year later, on Sept. 25, 2010, 60 members of BCC participated in a Veritas seminar led by Mark Stromberg, current NWC superintendent.
“There was an excitement generated that day that can only be explained by the Holy Spirit at work in the congregation,” said Charlotte Sjoberg, president of BCC.
Veritas helped build momentum for the church to form a Vitality Team, and one month later, potential leaders for that team were being identified. Leaders from Bethlehem were also invited to participate in the first Navigate meetings in Kansas City, and out of that experience, Bethlehem was paired with two other NWC churches on the Vitality Pathway: Edina Covenant Church and Rice Creek Covenant Church.
In January 2011, BCC’s Vitality Team held its first meeting, and by March 2011, church leadership was participating in an EPIC workshop, also facilitated by Stromberg. To keep the congregation informed, the Vitality Team developed a month-long devotional series based on the 10 Healthy Missional Markers.
“A lot of effort has gone into keeping the congregation informed about the process and outcomes,” Sjoberg said. “It has been very
rewarding to hear people outside those directly involved in the process talking about becoming a more healthy missional church.”
On May 15, 2011, the congregation took the PULSE Survey during its worship service. Seventy-eight percent of those who responded were positive toward starting a second, more contemporary worship service. BCC’s Vitality Team spent the summer studying the demographics of the church’s neighborhood using MissionInsite, a tool provided by the NWC to all its constituent churches.
In the fall of 2011, church leaders attended “ONE: A Unified Approach to Strategic Planning,” a presentation by Wenrich and NWC staff designed to help facilitate the planning process. BCC leaders decided to break down the job of developing the Strategic Plan into “bite size tasks” and set a goal of completing the plan by May 31.
“We started putting up ‘Post it’ flip charts [in the room] where we held our meetings that summarized the main points of our meetings so the congregation could follow our progress and give us input, if they had questions or ideas,” explained Lowery J. Smith, BCC’s vitality chairperson.
“We were a stable congregation and it was easy to think there was no need to change anything. After a realistic evaluation of where our congregation was moving, I believe we have taken strides toward becoming a healthy missional church,” Sjoberg said.
The Strategic Planning team developed a Mission Statement, Vision Statement and a set of Core Values. From there, the team also created Critical Success Factors, and a first draft of the Strategic Plan. After a second draft, the planning team presented the Strategic Plan to the Church Council on May 17 and it was approved.
“We have committed ourselves to studying the Bible more. We are seeking to take more risks and leaps of faith,” Eikenbary-Barber said. “Bethlehem is developing a series of small groups to enhance fellowship and discipleship, study God’s Word, and serve others in need.”
“We pray that the final Strategic Plan will not sit on a shelf and gather dust, but can be updated and modified on a regular basis as conditions and priorities change,” Smith said.
“The Vitality Pathway invited us to go exploring our own uncharted territory. It gave us the freedom to step away from stability towards health and vitality,” Eikenbary-Barber said. “There is a profound sense that the Holy Spirit is moving in new ways at Bethlehem Covenant Church.”
Vitality Pathway testimony from LaBolt, SD
Word of Witness: Mark Chapman - Extended Version from Covenant Communications on Vimeo.
Redeemer Covenant uses soccer—and an unused field—to reach out to its community
“A mission field in our own backyard” took on a literal meaning when Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN, turned its seldom-used softball diamond into a popular soccer field last summer.
Brooklyn Park, a second-ring suburb of Minneapolis, has an increasingly multicultural population of nearly 76,000. Soccer is a common denominator among the varied ethnicities represented in the area. A deep desire to reach outside church walls and meet their neighbors led the church to host its first soccer camp for local children and their families last summer (with an improved program offered again this season).
The origins of the camp actually go back a couple years. At that time, Redeemer’s pastor Steve Larson had already been praying for opportunities to reach out to the growing population of Latino families in the community. A new Spanish-speaking Covenant church plant, La Bendición, eventually started meeting at Redeemer, a location that was central to where many Latino families live and work. Both congregations have flourished through opportunities to share worship and fellowship, serve together in the community, and reach out in the name of Christ.
La Bendición’s pastor, Juan Lopez, recognized the possibilities of creating a soccer program both as an outreach to the neighborhood children and as a way to involve families within his own congregation. Lopez knew that church attender Santos Gonzalez had been a professional soccer player in Ecuador, so he shared his idea with Gonzalez for inviting neighborhood children to come play soccer at Redeemer’s field. Gonzalez became excited by the idea and volunteered to be one of the coaches.
Conversation ensued regarding a joint summer soccer camp. Some members of the Redeemer congregation had been suggesting for a few years that the church purchase soccer goals and set them up on the unused softball field. The idea began to take hold among both congregations, and they prayed together for God’s blessing.
Creating a program
Plans for the program quickly fell into place. Kickin’ Kids Soccer Camp would be offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings from mid-June through mid-August. It would be free and available to kids between the ages of 6 and 15.
Four coaches—two from each congregation—volunteered to lead the camp. From La Bendición came Gonzalez and Lopez, who had learned to play soccer in his native Colombia. And from Redeemer were Kenny Oyederu, a certified soccer coach who came to America from Nigeria 16 years ago, and Keith Weiman, a longtime member of the church who had played soccer as a child in the United States.
Support from the two congregations was strong. Within two Sundays, they gave enough money for the goals, nets and field-marking equipment.
The next step was to get the word out to the neighborhood. The churches created brochures in English and Spanish, which they passed out door-to-door and mailed to children who had previously attended church programs.
On the first evening of the camp, volunteers had taken care of all the details. The coaching staff set up goals, and the facilities staff marked the white game lines. Balls were inflated to the right pressure, and the water jug was filled and perched on the coach’s pickup tailgate with plastic cups ready for water breaks. Information sheets and registration forms were available in both English and Spanish, and the first aid kit was handy.
Everything was prepared. The field was ready. Would anyone come?
When 20 children showed up, the staff was thrilled. Through word of mouth, attendance more than doubled after that, with about 50 children on the field each successive session. By the end of the summer, the roster listed the names of 85 soccer players.
Each session of camp started with prayer and a short devotional. The kids were divided into two groups—6- to 10-year-olds in one group, and 11- to 15-year-olds in the other. They practiced soccer basics, concentrating on just a few skills at a time. Sometimes they divided into teams to scrimmage, but no score keeping was allowed.
Campers also learned to get along with each other. “After each clinic we would think of a word like love or respect and ask the kids what that word meant to them,” says Weiman. Such dialogue gave the coaching staff a chance to emphasize the character qualities of good sportsmanship.
Hosting on the Sidelines
Much more happened in the soccer camp than kicking, dribbling and passing the ball on the field. While the coaches and assistants concentrated on the players, hospitality team members connected with parents and family members on the sidelines. They warmly greeted everyone, registered new children, provided water, and directed individuals to a portable restroom that was wheelchair accessible.
The hospitality team passed out information about upcoming vacation Bible school, AWANA, and children’s events offered by Redeemer and La Bendición throughout the rest of the year. Most of the material was published in both English and Spanish.
Enhancing the future
This summer the church has expanded the camp to include 3- to 5-year-olds for a half-hour at the beginning of each evening of camp. Age-group levels meet consecutively rather than all at once to relieve the congestion on the field. A regular 15-minute devotional tailored for each age group is incorporated into the evening’s schedule.
For this summer’s session, rosters filled up completely in the two younger age groups after one week of registration, and soon there was a waiting list for the 10- to 15-year-olds as well. Most exciting was the fact that two-thirds of the 100 participants this summer do not attend either Redeemer or La Bendición.
This year a small fee for the camp was required ($10 per child or $25 per family). The church recognized that players are more committed to consistent attendance if the family has invested something in the program. With the registration fee, each player received a team t-shirt.
“Redeemer Covenant Church is striving to be a community learning compassion and worship that is centered on Christ,” said Pastor Larson. “The joint soccer program with La Bendición created an appreciation between the congregations as we began to learn more about each other. Through the strength of our work together, we compassionately engaged the community that is so close to our door.”
Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” With that in mind, Redeemer and La Bendición seek to be places of light and warmth in a difficult world, providing fun along the way through ministries like Kickin’ Kids Soccer Camp.
Adapted from the article that appeared in the August 2011 issue of the Covenant Companion.
First Covenant St. Paul's partnership with Farnsworth grows
Farnsworth Aerospace Elementary is a public school across the street from First Covenant Church on the East Side of St. Paul. For many years, students from the school participated in the Religious Release Program offered at First Covenant. In 2006, Dr. Vincent, principal of the school, agreed to have those students participate in a Christmas musical, which was presented both at the church and the school.
Two years later, Dr. Vincent became the principal of Cleveland Middle School, in addition to Farnsworth Elementary. The middle school had struggled for the past 5 years with low results from standardized testing and was on the “No Child Left Behind” list as a result. It was clear the school needed transformation.
In 2009, the Christmas musical “Just Believe” played a part in that transformation, with students from both Farnsworth and Cleveland schools participating with children from the church. All performances were held at the Cleveland auditorium and Sunday worship was moved there as well for a special performance.
With each production, the level of participation of students increased and the expectations grew higher. This year the Ministry Team and Lay Leadership sought to engage more of the congregation in the whole process, with the goal of building relationships with the community. A large team of drivers provided transportation while others provided food for all rehearsals. A Prayer Team was praying for the whole production and for each participant by name, as the congregation was challenged in worship through adult spiritual growth opportunities to “become missional friends,” the theme for Lent. Even though there were many obstacles and difficult challenges along the way, the spring production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” came together in a miraculous way.
“As a result of the relationships formed with the Farnsworth students, many are participating in the Wednesday night program and some are even bringing their parents,” said Richard Voth, Minister of Worship & Creative Arts at First Covenant Church of St. Paul. “Forty percent of the cast from Farnsworth have signed up to go for the first time to Covenant Pines Bible Camp this summer. God is at work!”
The Gallery joins with local grade school
One of the Northwest Conference’s newest churches, The Gallery Covenant Church in St. Paul, has begun a relationship with the Barack and Michelle Obama Service Learning Center, a grade school in the church’s neighborhood. The Gallery has made a bold commitment to move 35 percent of its offerings outside its doors to serve its local community. The largest part of this giving will be going to the Obama school.
Pastor Brad Kindall, the son of public school teachers, felt early on a financial and people-power investment in one of the local schools would be one of the best ways to let the local community know his new church was there to serve. The Gallery’s first investment will be purchasing what is called a Peaceful Playground for the Obama school. The school had applied for a grant to purchase the playground, but was disappointed to see the funding fall through. Principal Lori Simon told Pastor Kindall the teachers were “jumping up and down” when they heard The Gallery had stepped in to help.
In addition, The Gallery community will be investing volunteer hours tutoring students in reading, serving at evening school events, gardening with the second grade classes, and providing monthly treats for the faculty and staff.
“Over 90 percent of the students at this school are living at or below the poverty line. We feel honored to be able to serve Jesus in this way,” Kindall said. “Five years from now, just imagine the stories we’ll be able to tell of God’s handiwork!”
Prairieview Covenant Church sends bears to Haiti
Six-year-old Josh Mottl was watching the news about Haiti’s earthquake in January when he felt very strongly that children in Haiti needed stuffed animals to comfort them. He stood up in Prairieview Covenant Church in New Richmond, WI, two weeks in a row and told of his project and asked people to help.
Josh and his family could never have imagined what would come from that request for the church people to help him. The New Richmond News came to his house and interviewed him for a front-page article in mid February. He collected 530 animals and had calls from as far away as Barron and Ladysmith, WI, for donations.
At Midwinter, Nancy King, wife of Prairieview pastor Rudy King, went to the World Relief meeting on Haiti and was able to connect with the Rev. Ed Carey of Kingdom Covenant Ministries, in Miami, FL. They have many Haitians in their congregation and they are able to get things to the people of Haiti. Volunteers from Prairieview mailed 12 large boxes of animals to Miami in early March. It has been fun to see what God can do with a small child’s dream.
Zion Covenant hosts baseball bat giveaway
On Dec. 24, 2009, Zion Covenant Church joined forces with Rally Sporting to give away 120 personalized baseball bats to kids who might not otherwise have received a Christmas gift. The giveaway was the idea of Randy Hartl, who owns Rally Sporting with his wife Anita. Randy’s co-worker, Lowell Peterson, is a member of Zion Covenant Church and led the effort to raise funds to support the initiative.
Each child was given a tour of the plant where the bats are made and then invited to sign their names to be laser inscribed on their bat. The highlight of the event was the presence of Minnesota Twins batting coach Joe Vavra, a childhood friend of Randy Hartl’s. Joe was available for pictures and conversation and distributed some bats at Children’s Hospital on Christmas Day. Plans are underway to repeat the giveaway this Christmas.
First Covenant Church in Willmar, MN, opens its doors
Situated about 2 hours west of the Twin Cities, First Covenant Church in Willmar, MN, is also seeing its ministry context shift. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Kandiyohi County is 9.7 percent “persons of Hispanic or Latino origin,” compared with a statewide average of 4.1 percent. The city of Willmar itself is closer to 15 percent Hispanic or Latino. First Covenant Church in Willmar is at the beginning of considering God’s will for Hispanic ministry within the congregation. One year ago, the congregation became aware of a Hispanic church called Templo Mahanaim Asamblea de Dios that desperately needed a place to meet.
“Where they were meeting they had no heat and the temperature in the building was in the 30s,” said Dan Johnson, senior pastor of the church. First Covenant leaders met with the Hispanic church’s pastor and wife, Hector and Sara Pinochette, and worked out a free facility sharing deal. “We just wanted to help them out until they could get their feet underneath them,” Johnson said.
Over the past year, the two congregations have begun to interact through shared meals, a few joint services, and collaboration during a summer outdoor service. Johnson has also formed a close friendship with Pastor Pinochette. “The benefits for us have been subtle, but powerful. We have had the opportunity to extend grace and love to our Hispanic brothers and sisters and to rub shoulders with them,” Johnson said. “Hispanic ministry now has a face and names and is up close and personal, whereas before it was simply a people group. That reality, in and of itself, is huge.”
Johnson hopes that bridging the cultural divide between congregations will only continue as church leadership considers the future of Hispanic ministry at First Covenant in Willmar. “I think God has been preparing us for Hispanic ministry in our community through this relationship with Mahanaim that otherwise would not have happened,” Johnson said. “We continue to pray and seek God’s leading.”