If you follow me on Twitter or have me as a friend on Facebook there’s a good chance that you have seen me post a sunrise photo with the title “Good Morning”. I get the joy of crossing the Arkansas River on Southwest Boulevard each morning as I come to work at the office. As the sun rises over the river casting a silhouette upon the sleepy city there is a reminder that today is a new day. A day of new opportunities. I am reminded of the verse:
The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
his mercies begin afresh each morning.
Lamentations 3:22-23 (NLT)
On a more technical side I really enjoy looking back at these photos and learning from them. Composition and lighting dramatically influence the final image (photography 101). What better demonstration of this than seeing a variety of shots from basically the same location but with varying light, exposure and composition. So for all you photo newbies like me out there–exercise: Take a series of photos from the same location and bring them all together and critique them based upon composition and lighting. What moods are differentiated by the changes? What composition and lighting combinations work and don’t work?
Don’t you just love digital photography?
Don’t you love a new day?
A quick note about this series of photos. If you haven’t heard, we have experienced a wide extreme of weather here in Tulsa over the past month and a half. I think this series of photos encapsulates those swings quite nicely. I hope you enjoy!
Thought I’d share a few recent pics.
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!
So in January 2003 we moved out of the Union 8th grade center and began renting what is now our current facility. Paul Bartel who was an intern with the church at the time was tasked with finding a facility for the church as the rental agreement with the school was very expensive. At first the search was focused on a office facility and not necessarily a meeting facility. But after searching for a month or so and coming across a couple of connections he was put in contact with a local businessman who had a nice facility that had already been used once by a church. That church had decided to close its doors and that freed up the facility to be used by The Heart. Under the initial agreement we would be renting about 70% of the actual space. While the rest was to be maintained by the company (Villa One) we had been given permission to make some changes to increase the size of the sanctuary area.
The initial remodel was quite drastic as we removed one wall in the “warehouse area”, removed a wall in one of the “classroom areas” and constructed 2 stage areas. We had a very gifted construction foreman in our congregation at the time, Wayman Penner who led much of the actual remodel process. We also had some people with really good taste in decor and such, Janis Hisey and Amanda Bartel and there were others as well. We also installed a new sound system put together by Charles Hofer. Through several hours of volunteer labor we managed to get the facility ready for our first sunday which I think was January 5th, 2003.
The new facility was nice. 1. It provided what would become more of an identity for our church. While we met in the school I don’t think we really had a good grasp of who we were. The new building, partly because of the architecture and decor and partly because of location helped us to begin to see exactly what God was calling us to. 2. It provided some much needed releif from the routine of set up/tear down. Anyone who has ever done the “portable” church thing knows exactly what I’m talking about and how old that gets. We had done it for about a year and a half. I know there are a lot of churches out there that have done it much longer and much better than we did. I stand in solidarity with you! 3. The building brought us new opportunities for ministry. Because of the architecture many thought we were some kind of club, and this can be really handy when you are trying to reach a certain demographic. So we started a new Saturday night event called “Live @ Villa One”. It featured live music from local muscians, we put out a variety of art supplies for people to paint or draw or model, and we had games and coffee. In hindsight the event worked fairly well, but didn’t effectively reach who we wanted to reach. This would have required actually serving alcohol…which we weren’t going to do.
There were some downsides to the building. 1. The sense of urgency went down. We now had a “home”. Having a home helped to make “us” feel more like a “family”. So our intentionality with relationships began to slip. 2. The remodel was a distraction. While we worked hard to remodel the facility with excellence and did a great job, it took our focus and energy away from reaching our community. It takes a very disciplined person to lead this process as the church must remained focused on continuing to reach out to the community. In hindsight, we should have spent as much time and effort in building relationships with the surrounding neighborhood as we did with the remodel. 3. Things began to feel comfortable. I know that this is related to no. 1, but it can’t be overstated.
So despite all the downfalls our church began to experience growth. In the fall of 2003 we did an Outreach postcard mailer that connected us with some families and households. We went through a period of baptizing a bunch of folks. A lot of them had come from church backgrounds, but had walked away from God and religion in general as they became adults. Things were going pretty good. And then we got a double whammy. Because we had attracted a lot of younger people and couples, we saw several of them leave due mostly to career choices. We had about 5 or 6 key leadership couples leave in the span of about 1 year. Two elders, 3 children’s ministry leaders, youth leaders, community group leaders…solid, faithful leaders who we needs to disciple this group of new believers. Needless to say it was tough. It is still hard to think back to that time and all the good things that were in motio at the time. A lot of things are still in flux because of a lack of leadership.
As we came out of this exodus we had an opportunity to actually purchase the building. We sensed that God was leading us in this direction. 1. There was already money in the bank for this left from the sale of the Parkside Church. 2. The cost of our mortgage would be substantially less than our current rent. 3. We would have full control of the entire building. We needed it desperately for our children and youth. So we bought it.
I can feel it coming in the air tonight…
Yes. Tonight I fulfill a goal of mine. I am riding along with a friend of mine who is a police office with the Tulsa Police Department. I will be taking a video camera along with me so hopefully I’ll have some good stuff to share with you all.
What’s happening in your world tonight?
I have a confession to make. I’ve been spending time in a part of town that I probably shouldn’t be in. Yup, I’ve been truckin’ myself to the “other side of the tracks” the last couple of weeks. In fact I’ll be over there again on Thursday. But I must say that I’ve learned alot.
I live in Tulsa, OK. It’s a great city and a great place to live. It really has a unique blend of culture and diversity that I haven’t experienced in other mid west towns and cities. Tulsa also has a very rich and unique history. A history that I’ve learned over the last couple of weeks that has a very disturbing and dark side to it.
This week I’m going to be posting some thoughts, reflections and issues related to the June 1921 Tulsa Race Riot (or as some have called it the Tulsa Race War). If you are unfamiliar with this event it’s ok. I was too up until a couple of weeks ago. And if you think its time that we just leave the past in the past, then I agree with you. Well, at least I would have agreed with you up until a couple of weeks ago. Stick with me this week cause I want to broach a subject that doesn’t really have an answer and I need your input, your perspective.
Are you with me?
P.S. If you want to do some background research here is a great start.