The Heart Church Part 4
So in 2005 as we began the process of purchasing our building we were faced with another major remodeling project. The city required that our lot be rezoned to appropriately reflect the fact that we were a church and not a business. So we had to add parking, we had to update our fire code and we had to do it within a certain amount of time. Certainly the parking lot was a big enough project compounded by the fact that during this time petroleum prices began increasing making asphalt too expensive. But the fire code issues where by far the biggest headache. First, somehow the building was built without a sprinkler system already installed. In order to install a sprinkler system we would literally have to dig up the road as the water mains were located on the other side of the street. And then we would still have to install the plumbing throughout the building with all the drop in ceilings and walls in place. Bottom line, a major and very expensive headache. So we managed to work with the city council to get approved an alternative that would allow us to meet code without installing a sprinkler system. It was just going to require more labor and materials on our part, but still be much cheaper than the alternative.
In the end we were looking at about a $20,000 project to bring us up to code that would allow us to get our certificate of occupancy and the parking. But this was further complicated by the fact that as a church we began to plateau. The last of the leaders to leave at this time was our worship pastor and his family. Again, another core leader who had been with us from the very beginning. And let me make it very clear. None of these people left with any kind of resentment. As a matter of fact most of them left with heavy hearts because they didn’t really want to leave. We still have very good relationships with all these people. As a church one our core values is to train up AND send out leaders. We just didn’t think that God would send out so many of them and in such a short amount of time. (We still hold this value even though it has cost us much and I think that it has greatly multiplied the impact of the ministry of The Heart Church.) So we went into another major remodeling project with the church struggling to maintain its current growth if not declining. Prior to the ’05 project we were beginning to hit the 90 to 100 mark in attendance on Sunday mornings. By the end of ’05 that was beginning to decline and by ’06 we were down to 75 to 80 as an average.
All of this, plus the fact that we had been going at it so hard for 5 years began to take a real toll on Mike. Admittedly, he began to struggle with depression. Fortunately, during the summer of 2007 he went on a 3 month sabbatical. That summer and the ensuing fall was really the low point. Mike came back from his sabbatical refreshed and renewed and refocused. The Heart was just bottoming out. That summer we had to take out a small loan just to stay afloat for the rest of the year and our attendance stagnated. So by the end of 2006 we were declining in attendance and in debt and struggling to stay afloat. In those desperate times is when God begins to move and I think it is because we have nothing left to offer or to fix the obstacles we face. As staff and elders we began to just seek God and ask for him to move us.
2008 started out with difficult decisions, particularly in terms of budget. We started the year with a bare bones, no frills budget. Pay the utilities, pay the mortgage, make payroll, payoff the loan and if there was anything left we celebrate and put it back into ministry and outreach. As a church we also we back to foundational basic truths. I know this sounds like, “Duh!” But there are seasons to the life of a church. Where previously we had a good core of solid people who were mature in faith, we were now looking at a group of very young Christians and many non- or pre-Christians. So we started with a series on finances and incorporated Dave Ramsey’s FPU. We immediately had enough sign up for 2 classes and by spring 2007 began to see a turn around in our finances as people began tithing regularly. God was on the move. Most importantly, we reintroduced the basic ideas of personal Bible study, prayer, and intentionally relating to friends, neighbors and co-workers. By summer attendance was steadily growing. There was not a major jump in attendance, in fact if you ask most people they would probably say that it has been hard to notice, but the statistics don’t lie. The church began growing financially and numerically throughout 2008 and continuing into 2009. Obviously, we are not ready for an “explosive” growth moment quite yet and even in 2009 we are in a season of discipleship as we continue to equip and train people, preparing them to move into leadership positions.
So where are things headed? Well, I believe that God is going to continue to gracefully grow The Heart. I am sensing that this fall we will make some major changes to our children’s ministry that is going to bring new energy and excitement to that ministry. And that will have an effect on the rest of the church as people are more comfortable and excited to bring friends and neighbors to the church. I also recognize the importance of preparing for this influx of new visitors when it comes to discipleship. We have a good core of community groups in place so we are not starting from scratch, we just need to improve what we have with some minor adjustments and systematic thought.
I am excited for the rest of this year and the future for what God has in store for The Heart church!