Greetings from E-Z Yoke Retreat! What an awesome time of the year to experience God’s creation, especially up here in the now green mountains. Spring is finally here, and hills are in bloom! As the cold recedes, and the melting snow makes it into the ground, things start for germinate. The fun part can be seeing a favorite tree leaf out again, or better yet, something new taking root and starting to grow. In a similar way, something new is taking root at the retreat center that we are excited to tell you about, and we believe it can be a huge help to the local church.
As you may be aware, a large percentage of Christ-centered churches in the U.S. are plateaued or in decline in terms of participants. What you may not know is that this number has been shown to be very high – 85%! In addition 59% of U.S. churches have less than 100 people in weekly attendance, with the median size being 75. A small church, of course, can have important advantages, but this size also has serious limitations in terms of resources for moving ahead and for overcoming the common status of being plateaued or in decline.
We are excited about being able to help these churches. Over the last few years I (Tim) have been preparing myself to offer assistance to such congregations and their pastors. Education through the Growing Healthy Churches organization, the Society for Church consulting, various conferences, books, and other resources—plus my experience as an assistant pastor—has put me in a place where I can engage with a pastor and help their church revitalize and become a disciple-forming congregation that reaches out to the community around them in service and evangelism.
There are many reasons why a church might be struggling, and most are issues where outside assistance can be beneficial. Many churches are in maintenance mode, just keeping things going as they have been without much vision or drive to reach outward.
Others have the desire to reach out, but don’t know how, often finding that the visitors that infrequently come in the door don’t return. Another common trait in many churches is operating outside of their resources, trying to operate like a larger church, but without the staff and resources needed. To combat these issues, many churches campaign to bring in more help through more paid staff, and more volunteers. They spend much time and effort on this only to find it didn’t really help in the end, mismatched programs and unfocussed vision being the root of the problem. An invaluable source of help for these churches comes through outside assistance, but it usually doesn’t happen, especially in smaller congregations. The obstacles are many, cost being a big one.
Over the last few years, it has been gratifying to work with some local pastors and see a renewed excitement, as well as hope, in regards to the ministry of their church. But greater than that has been seeing positive change and results. When a church turns things around, members grow in their discipleship, and people find Christ, which is supposed to be the primary focus of the Church. When I first started down this road I had envisioned doing this work on a fee basis, but this generally means working with only the larger churches who can afford it. This along with other factors (like plugging in with our own church’s Saturday night service, allowing me to visit other churches on Sundays) has helped us aim in a different direction, namely integrating these concepts into the ministry we already are doing through the retreat center, and not charging for it. We are in a position to easily provide training and coaching for church staff and boards, and assist congregations with planning and implementation of new programs. The majority of my time will be spent offsite, working directly with a church and their leaders, but we will also be bringing them up to the retreat center for concentrated training, team-building, and re-envisioning. Our target area will be those churches within driving distance, namely the front range of Colorado, but starting with Pueblo.
This brings me to the next big challenge–funding. Currently, the retreat center is limping along financially, surviving but not bringing in enough funds to provide much in the way of support for personnel. The income we have is generally needed to support the facility and operational expenses. (The cost of taxes and insurance for the main lodge, for example, is about $8000). So we want to expand our support base enough to pay a full time salary for me, re-channeling what comes in from guests toward building upkeep, expenses, and some mortgage assistance in the form of rent. Personally, this looks like a large endeavor, but the potential for this ministry is exciting. We can easily come along side pastors and their congregations, helping them turn things around, and impact their community. Just the thought of helping one church become an outwardly focussed church, a church that regularly sees new people coming into a relationship with Christ, makes me very excited.
Please pray for us as we take this path, and also pray over our request for assistance. We will need prayer support as we do the work, and we will need financial support in order to stay afloat. We are looking for long term help, as well as some “start up” funding which will get us on track quicker. Another way you can help, is by getting the word out to pastors in churches that may need some assistance. Below are a couple buttons that will allow you to contribute financially towards this endeavor. We chose paypal as their fees are reasonable, and their security is very solid. The second button allows for setting up an automatic monthly donation. For those that prefer to send a check, our mailing address is below as well. Thanks for taking the time to see what we are up to. Please pray for us as this new ministry branch blossoms!
Any checks should be written to Shepherds’ Keep, which is the not-for-profit organization the retreat operates under.