This past Sunday at Church of the Suncoast we had our 1 year birthday! It was an amazing day. We had 113 people, dedicated 4 children, and baptized 5 adults, and 2 people recieved Christ! I should have some pictures up later this week so check back in for those.
Just to make it to our first birthday was really a battle against the odds. 8 out of 10 church plants fail within the first year! God has really been good over the past year.
Here is my talk from Sunday:
Today I’m saying something that still seems so unlikely, something that a lot of people said would never happen, something that people thought was just a pipe dream… BUT, “Happy 1-year Birthday Church of the Suncoast!” How cool is that?
How cool is it that an untested church planter, with just a handful of brave people, with little in the way of resources, and nothing really but a vision to help people that were far from God take their next steps with Him, how cool is it that in all that uncertainty, and inexperience, and weakness God showed up and here we sit after 1 year with a church where there was no church! Here we sit with over a 100 people calling this church their home all in just year. All from scratch. All totally because of God!
As you have seen in these stories you guys (in your own words) have proved that God is still active and working in our world. God can still do the impossible. God is still changing lives, healing hearts, and giving people a purpose and a hope.
Today as we celebrate all the stuff that has happened in the past year I just want to talk for a few minutes about the Suncoast, it’s Past, it’s Present, and it’s Future. Birthdays are always a good time to look back. They are a good time to remember the good times and to look forward to where you are going.
PAST (OUR STORY)
I was thinking this week that the majority of the people here today at the Suncoast were not here a year ago at this time. I mean as I look out here there are only a handful of you that were connected a year ago. That’s so awesome in a lot of ways because it just shows how much we have grown, but it also means there is a gap in our understanding. And, as we continue to grow and move this vision forward I think we need to stop ever now and then and just look back at how all this got started.
Take a little trip with me with your imagination for a minute. Imagine a college age guy with me. This college age guy grew up in the church and had always kind of been around people that were used to the God thing. Sure he went to a public high school and was surrounded by people that were not Christ-Followers, but for the most part they all had some kind of contact with the church. Maybe they went to a local youth ministry or they grew up Catholic or something like that. They all were pretty open to his invites to church and they all kind of could get what was going on.
But, now that this guy was in college he was meeting people in a new town that had no clue about God or the church. All they knew was that it was boring and irrelevant, and the only people they knew that went there were just too judgmental. Our college guy wanted to bring them to church with him but for the first time in his life he began to see church through the eyes of those that had never been before.
The music was outdated, the people seem to care more about what you had on then what was in your heart, and the pastor, the preacher, used words that were hard to understand and besides that it was down right boring. As our college guy met more and more of these people his heart was broken and he knew that if he ever had the chance to do church he would make it so that everyone could “get” what was going on and find it relevant to their life. And, it would never be boring.
That college guy I’m sure you can guess was me and the one person that sticks in my mind most was named John. John worked with me while I was in college; he was a young guy with a young little family. He was a hard worker, and a great person, but had been burnt by too many of those “Christians.” He had a hard heart towards God because the only Jesus he had seen was the judgmental people that he had been snubbed by. I tried to share as much of my journey with God as I could but I was so frustrated because there wasn’t a church I could point him to where they would put things on a level he could connect to.
I don’t know what happened to John. I would like to think he found Jesus. I would like to think that some how, some way one day he comes walking through our doors with an amazing story. What I do know is this. If John had a church like Church of the Suncoast his story would be different. He would have found out that we saved a seat for him and kept him in mind in everything we did.
That’s really how all this got started. God planted a seed in my life. He gave me a vision for a church that would be different.
Now fast forward 8 years and it’s the winter of 2005. There were about 10 people gathered in my living room hearing me talk about this different kind of church we are about to start with not a lot of money and without even a location to meet in yet. Those crazy people stuck around though and on April 2nd 2006 Church of the Suncoast had its first weekly service with nearly 70 people packed into the Discovery Point Day Care over in Suncoast Crossings behind Super Target. Take a look:
And here is me on the little stage:
We plugged along in there until the summer of last year. I had grown the church successfully from 70 down to 30. Those were some fun days. We were tempted to go out and buy all the newspapers from the people selling them around the Suncoast Parkway just to have them come and fill one of our plastic lawn chairs we used as seats.
I can’t even tell you how many times I wanted to give up that summer. But, I held onto the vision God had given me and verses like this:
“For the vision is still for the fixed time, and it is moving quickly to the end, and it will not be false: even if it is slow in coming, go on waiting for it; because it will certainly come, it will not be kept back.” Habakkuk 2:3
Have you ever felt like God had promised you something and it didn’t come true? I’m sure we all have. I was having one of those moments last summer. I would take this verse and read it over and over again. I was holding onto it for dear life on a few of those Sundays last summer.
But, even while things looked slim from the outside God was doing some amazing things in peoples lives. He was changing lives and building a team of people that He would use in a few short months when we moved here to Oakstead and had our Grand Opening with 163 people!
We bought new equipment, promoted the fool out of the Grand Opening, recruited volunteers, and about 30 people got connected to the Suncoast as a result of all that work. AND, we capped last year off with our first Christmas Eve service with 153 people!
In less than 1 year God blessed the Suncoast with two services over 150 people, connected about 70 of those and allowed us start 2007 full of hope and optimism.
Now all that being said here is the number that makes me humbled, and blown away that God would allow me to be a part of this thing. 31 people in the past year have taken their first step with God by rolling out the welcome mat of their heart and allowing God to come in. 31 people started a relationship with the God of the universe because of this church last year. 31 people accepted Jesus gift of eternal life. You can’t put words on how big that is…
We are celebrating some of that today as we have our 3rd baptism celebration after this service. If you came today and maybe you are one of those 29 and haven’t taken the next step of water baptism then you can still do that. We have some clothes waiting for you and during the announcements later on you can slip out and change and we will celebrate even more what God has done.
You can’t put into words how cool that is and you also can’t put words on how this church has blessed people beyond our community. Last year because of your offerings we supported 2 other church plants with over $4,000 in support, we gave nearly $3,000 to the local Land O’ Lakes Prison Ministry, and over $5,000 to help a poor church in the slums of Sao Paulo, Brazil. I know that the reason God has blessed this church so much is because we have been a blessing to others. The reason we ended 2006 DEBT FREE is because we didn’t hold our money with a white knuckle grip but with an open hand.
This year we have seen even more of those blessings. We have crossed the 100 barrier 3 times and our average Sunday attendance is 95. A recent church planting survey I read indicated that the average church plant in America only reaches 30 people in their first year of existence, and only 50 by the end of year two. God is definitely up to something here at the Suncoast.
Also this year because of your generosity we also have hired a Children’s Director and will be hiring other positions to help manage even more growth.
That’s our past and present. That’s how God and a handful of people got this thing started in a nutshell. That’s how a crazy dream God put in my heart became a reality. That’s how our faith became fact! Look at this next verse:
“Where there is no vision, the people perish” Proverbs 29:18
Where there is not a clear sense of direction. Where there is not a clear vision for the future this verse says the people perish. Where there is no vision, the company perishes. Where there is no vision, the family perishes. Where there is not vision, the team will perish. Where there is no vision, the church will perish!
I can’t even tell you how many times I have seen this happen in life and in the church business. People have quick success and then they relax and rest on their abilities and they begin the slow decline to death. Think about all the “Dot.com’s” of the late 90’s. How many of those are still around today? They had a lot of quick success, then because they have a lack of vision, they fell by the roadside.
Church of the Suncoast has a real danger looming over it. Because we have had some quick success in the church planting world we can get comfortable and start resting on our abilities, stop taking risk, and start maintaining our 100 people or so and abandon the vision. And as soon as we do that this place will begin the slow decline to eventual death.
Now don’t get me wrong. It would be the most natural thing to do. It would be the most natural thing to just pull the wagons into a “Holy Huddle” and only worry about our comfort and needs and wants. It is extremely uncomfortable to reach out to the thousands of people still not here yet. It is extremely uncomfortable to keep pushing the envelope and to stay culturally relevant. It is extremely uncomfortable to take risk with thousands of dollars in promotion, and new staff, and new meeting facilities.
BUT, if we don’t we will die. We will be just another typical church that only cares about the already convinced and basically flips off the community around them and tell them they can all go to hell…
So where are we going? What is our clear vision for the future? Here are a few elements of that. These are just a few tangible things to look forward to and to look within to see how you might be a part of making it come true. The first is:
> MORE THAN DOUBLE OUR SIZE BY NEXT YEAR
Here is why this is a part of the vision. The church is more like an organism than an institution. It something that is supposed to be alive and active. And, just like any living thing, it is supposed to grow. Healthy things grow. So it should be natural for a church to grow.
Well, then the question is why do so many churches stop growing? The answer is simpler than you might think. They forget that the church is not a place for the healthy but it is a place for the sick. They start focusing on the already convinced and forget that Jesus said His mission in life was to seek and save the lost, those far from God. Look at Jesus words:
“For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.” Luke 19:10
The truth is there are tens of thousands of people all around us that don’t know God the way the Bible says you can know Him. That is why we have this vision and I would argue a Biblical mandate to keep growing.
Next Sunday is a great time to get started on this part of the vision. Easter is one of those days people are most open to coming to church. I challenge you to invite and invite until you know someone is going to come with you next Sunday. It might mean 3 invites to people, maybe 5, but if we all invited until someone said “Yes” we could get started on this piece of the vision. Here’s another tangible piece:
> NEW SPACE FOR SUNDAY AND OFFICES
We have been in talks with the people from the new middle school and high school next to us in Concord Station. We are trying to get into one of those new schools come summer time or by this fall. You can be praying about that. We really would like to get into the new 3-story middle school.
Why move though? One word, VISIBILITY! We have zero visibility back here in the back of this neighborhood. People don’t even know there is a school here unless they live here. Our signage in very limited in the neighborhood and it makes it tough for guests. So we are trying to get into something with more visibility. Again because we know it’s not about those of us that have already found this place.
We also have been looking for office space. Now that we have a staff of paid and volunteer workers we really need a spot to work from. It would create a sense of synergy and even give the church a more permanent feel. You can be praying about this as well, and you can keep your eyes and ears open. You know people we don’t know. You just might have the connection that lands us in some nice space with ridiculously cheap rent.
Here another piece:
> ADDITIONAL SUNDAY SERVICE [FALL?]
Having one service is great because you kind of all feel like one church. It’s a good feeling, but it’s not good for people.
We live in a world of options. We have 20 different kinds of toilet paper for crying out loud! People like options and having multiple services gives people just that. It also allows you to serve at a service and then go to a service. Our awesome children’s teams won’t have to ever miss a service again.
So the question is when? When do we roll the dice and do it? This fall would be a logical time. The fall is always a great time to add things to a church. But, that depends on a lot of things. It depends on God’s timing, it depends on us being amazing inviters of our friends, and it means we need even more people to step up and volunteer. But the fall would be a possibility.
The fall would also be a great time to add:
> MORE STAFF
As the church continues to grow so our staff needs will continue to grow. In fact you need the staff before the growth. I’ve never seen a relevant, excellent, exciting, dynamic ministry without a key person running it. It takes tons of awesome volunteers and it takes someone to own it.
So how can you help? Adding staff means adding needed income. We have rent, and programming supply costs, and salaries. It takes real change to see real change.
Here is the final piece for now. A vision is organic too. As you get bigger, it gets bigger. Here is a piece down the road just a ways:
> SEMI-PERMANENT HOME [STORE FRONT]
To sustain long term growth we will need to find some kind of semi-permanent home like building out an old grocery store in a store front. Something like the Big Lots, or the old Wal-mart, over at 41 & 54. Something like that to rent out and transform the environment. Something that would allow us to take the excellence factor up several notches because we don’t have to lug equipment around each week. Not a permanent home like our own building, but a semi-permanent home to sustain the growth until the right spot opens up for us to build down the road 10 years maybe. I don’t know.
But, I do know this. It’s been a fun ride and the best is yet to come. The best days are still ahead of Church of the Suncoast. We have only begun to scratch the surface of what God wants to do in our community through the Suncoast. You guys are a part of history in the making. You are a part of God’s story unfolding here in our area.
I am forever grateful and humbled that I get to kind of stand up here every week and try to guide this thing. I am no different than any of you. I am on a journey like you guys and struggle each and every day to be Christ-Follower. Thank you for taking a chance on the Suncoast!