“State of the Church Address” 2 Peter 3:18
First Baptist Church, Murfreesboro, TN
January 11, 2015
Pastor Noel Schoonmaker
In 2014, God did wonderful things here at First Baptist Church. Psalm 150 says, “Praise God for his mighty deeds,” so let’s take a few moments to celebrate God’s work in our church over the past year.
First, God led numerous people to join our church in 2014. Our new members last year include Nancy Flanders, Stephanie Stump, Erin Stump, Bill and Ginger Nagey, Steve and Jimmie Lou Tate, Joe and Ann Caston, Mike and Beth Petroka, Brynn Mangrum, Glenda Schott, Hulon and Charlotte Watson, Joe Sawyer, Patsy Smith, Toni Walker, Richard and Margaret Snyder, Erica Goslowsky, Bob and Sharon Elliot, Allie Elliot, Steve and Donna Gibson, James Youree, Brianne Montgomery, Amy Jordan, Helen Ponder, Kris and Brooke Kohlmeier, Mary Cotey, David and Ann Davis, Chad Slycord, Matt and Regan Underhill, Tony Buckner, Tom and Naomi Mitchell, Franklin Bennett, W. T. and Francis Victory, Brittany Williams, Mike and Helen Singleton, Al and Katherine Hollis, Mary Montgomery, and Jim Haynes.
In all, we welcomed 51 new members last year. According to our office records, this is the largest number of new members we have received in several years. We are thankful for each of these folks, not just because they have made our church bigger, but because they have made our church better.
Second, God grew our average worship attendance last year. Worship attendance in 2014 was up 5% from 2013. Over the past two years, our average Sunday worship attendance has grown from 412 to 473.
Third, God grew our average Sunday Morning Bible Study attendance. Bible Study attendance in 2014 was up more than 5% from 2013. Over the past two years, our average Bible Study attendance has risen from 387 to 423.
Fourth, God allowed us to baptize 10 people last year. We are thankful for grace of God in each of their lives, and for their commitment to Jesus Christ.
Fifth, our music ministry continued to shine with beautiful instrumentals, stirring special music offerings, and an exquisite offering of Christmas music last month.
Sixth, our children’s ministry transition has gone well. We were without a full-time children’s ministry throughout 2014, but our interim preschool and children’s ministers, Stacey Buford and Lacye Krisle, and our lay volunteers in the preschool and children’s areas, have done a tremendous job. We had a fantastic Easter event for children at Oaklands and a wonderful Vacation Bible School last summer. Children are enjoying our Wednesday evening programs, including RAs, GAs, mission friends, and children’s choirs, which form them in the way of Christ. This was evident in the uplifting Christmas program our children performed last month.
Seventh, our youth ministry continued to flourish. There was excellent participation in youth small groups. There was Youth Sunday when our young people led the whole congregation in various aspects of worship. Our youth carried out multiple mission projects as well. For example, they did local missions to support homeless ministries. They did regional missions on a trip to the Neverfail community in Sparta, Tennessee. They did international missions on their trip to the Dominican Republic last summer. They also thrived with special events such as Jesus Journey and with their weekly Endeavor meetings on Wednesday evenings. It has been a blessing to have our youth so active in various dimensions of church life, including the way they provide leadership in Sunday morning worship services through offering prayers, scripture readings, and musical talents.
Eighth, our senior adult ministry is vibrant. The monthly Young at Heart meetings feature strong attendance and informative and entertaining programs. Our seniors are taking trips on the new church bus to various destinations in Tennessee. Additionally, a Senior Adult Choir was started last year. They meet regularly on Fridays and perform music at nursing homes and other venues in the community.
Ninth, our Christian formation ministry thrived last year with an emphasis on spiritual disciplines during the season of Lent and another beautiful collection of Advent devotionals written by church members. We had 17 women attend a spiritual retreat at Lake Chickamauga. We had 23 men attend a spiritual retreat at Monteagle. One major development in Christian Formation was the launch of our new “DEEPER” program on Wednesday evenings that includes activities for children, youth, and college students, as well as multiple opportunities for adults. Wednesday night attendance has increased significantly and people have grown deeper in their faith.
The various studies for adults included the book of Ezra, Jesus’ parables in Luke’s gospel, Philippians, how to lead life-changing Bible studies, Christian Finance Management, Creativity and Spirituality, Ceramics, The Five Love Languages of Children, and New Testament Interpretation. Our line-up for the winter is stellar, so please make plans to join us on Wednesdays as we go deeper in faith and fellowship.
Tenth, we continued to have wonderful fellowship opportunities, including the new Dinner 8 program, our “Coupletime” groups for marriage enrichment, our basketball outreach on Monday nights, a dynamic, co-ed intramural volleyball league, a co-ed church softball team, and a men’s 30 and over basketball team.
Eleventh, God has boosted our financial giving in a major way. Our budget year runs from July 1-June 30, and starting this past July, we increased our budget by about 5.5% or so, a considerable increase. Thus far, I am happy to report that we are outgiving our increased budget requirements. To give you an idea of the increase in our giving, from July 1-Dec. 31 in 2013, we gave about $562,000 to the general budget. Over the same period this past year, we gave about $635,000. From 562,000 to 635,000 is a grand increase, so thanks be to God, and let’s keep up the good giving!
Twelfth, we continued our longstanding tradition of powerful mission work. Our church was founded in 1843 due to the need for a missionary Baptist church in the area, and these days we often talk about 3-D Missions: local, regional, and international. This past year, we carried out international mission work in the Dominican Republic. We sent over 200 Operation Christmas Child boxes all over the world. We supported missionaries in various countries including Africa, India, China, and Indonesia. We also collected a generous International Missions Offering to support Baptist missionaries all over the globe.
We carried out regional mission work in the Neverfail Community near Sparta, Tennessee where we donated and distributed school supplies, provided a community luncheon, offered a one-day VBS, and beautified the property of Neverfail Community Church. We also carried out regional mission work at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where we shared the gospel with people, held a week-long VBS for children and youth, provided week-long programs for men and women including Bible study and recreational activities, and repaired multiple buildings in our construction ministry.
We also did substantial mission work locally, right here in Murfreesboro. Our WEE School continued to provide Christian education and loving care for preschool age children. Our Fine Arts Academy continued to provide Christian musical instruction to the community. We had church members volunteer with to various ministries in town and reach out to individuals and families in powerful ways. Due to a new deacon initiative of collecting a benevolence offering each time we observe the Lord’s Supper, we were able to increase our Benevolence Ministry to 3 times per month. Through this ministry, we helped many people with basic needs such as shelter and food. We worked with the Child Advocacy Center and the Domestic Violence Center to help multiple families at Christmastime. We also had a wonderful Christmas caroling outreach to seniors in our community.
One of the most exciting local mission developments in 2014 was the Coldest Nights Program. Starting in November, we partnered with Journey Home and the Murfreesboro Rescue Mission to become the host site for this program that provides a warm shelter for homeless men on nights when the temperature drops to 30 degrees or lower. We have also been providing a hot meal for the men. I was talking with a friend in the program last week who said how much he appreciated the tasty meals. We also had a Christmas Eve celebration for the men in the program, complete with a huge meal, Christmas presents, holiday decorations, and Christmas carols.
In this brief review of 2014, I am only naming a few highlights. We also ordained four new deacons, heard several meaningful lay testimonies in worship, and observed the Martha Stearns Marshall month of women preaching when my wife Dayna preached a powerful message from Luke 17. We inaugurated the Dene McCullough Scholarship, had a wonderful women’s spring banquet, held our first annual Maundy Thursday Communion service, introduced our new church logo, and made major improvements to our physical facilities including two new boilers that heat our sanctuary and two-story building and a beautified facade for the CrossMain building. The radio station 94FM THE FISH recognized us as Church of the Week. We launched a brand new website that’s mobile compatible. We held our first “Friends and Food Fest” with food trucks on Main Street and had a great turnout. Our Sarah Ministry continued to provide food and support for families in bereavement. We had Bible Study classes doing countless beautiful things for God. We also held a choir and pulpit swap with the First Baptist Church on E. Castle Street. It was a wonderful day of multicultural, multiracial worship that blessed and energized both congregations. Their pastor, James McCarroll, and I are already brainstorming about how to get our congregations together again this year.
I could go on, and I am sure I have left out many of the great things God has done in our midst, especially since the intangibles are often what God uses to bless our church: an atmosphere of love and harmony, God’s transforming work in individual lives, and other marvelous things that cannot be quantitatively measured or tidily enumerated in an address such as this.
God has moved among us in 2014. Great things have happened here. And together as a church family, we give the glory to God. Psalm 115:1 says, “Not to us, not to us, O Lord, but to your name be the glory, because of your love and faithfulness.”
Let us now turn our attention toward the future and anticipate what God might want to do at First Baptist Church in 2015. Over the past few months, I have spoken with the ministerial staff and a group of deacons about how we might set some church-wide goals for 2015. We discussed numerous different ideas, and based on those discussions, I want suggest a few church-wide goals for 2015.
But first, let me offer three important disclaimers. First, we are not presuming God’s will but prayerfully seeking specific ways to grow in Christ and share His love. Second, we recognize that church growth in many ways resists quantification and cannot be accurately measured in numbers. Third, these are not goals for the church staff, but for the church as a whole to consider and pursue. Our mission here at First Baptist is all about “Growing in Christ and Sharing His Love,” and you will see that every goal I am about to propose relates directly to growing in Christ and/or sharing Christ’s love.
One: Let us seek to increase our average Sunday morning worship attendance to 500. This past year, we averaged 473, so this is not a terribly ambitious goal. But it does call us to reach out to friends, coworkers, family members, and neighbors and invite them to worship with us.
Two: Let us seek to increase our average Sunday Morning Bible Study attendance to 450. This past year, we averaged 423. So this goal calls us to plug in to a Bible Study class if we have not already done so, and to reach out to friends, neighbors, and coworkers and invite them to come and study the Bible with us.
Three: Let us seek to start one new local missions initiative in 2015. Our Missions Committee will help us in discerning how to pursue this goal, but the whole church can pray about this and be ready to contribute to new initiatives when called upon.
Four: Let us seek to have a total of 105 church members participate in our mission trips this year. We chose the number 105 because it would represent a 10% increase in mission trip participation over last year. This goal summons church members who did not go on mission trips last year to consider trying a mission trip this year. For example, you could plan to go on our South Dakota mission trip during the last week of June. You could plan to go on the week long youth mission trip in June. Our youth minister, David Cates, is always happy to take adults as chaperones and fellow missionaries. You could plan to go on a Neverfail Mission Trip this year, which is normally a one-day trip to a destination about an hour and a half away by car. To participate in a mission trip is to share the love of Christ with others and to grow in Christ personally as well.
Five: Let us seek to read through the New Testament together as a church. A key way to grow in Christ is to read the Christian scriptures. So here is the challenge: we want as many people as possible to commit to reading through the entire New Testament from February 1 of 2015 to January 31 of 2016. Even if you have read the New Testament 20 times in your life, we are challenging you to read it again with us over the next year. You can read it straight through in canonical order at your own pace, or you can use a tool that we will be distributing which assigns 5 chapters per week for you to check off as you go. We can do this, sisters and brothers. It’s only five chapters per week. When we read Holy Scripture, the Spirit will help us to grow in Christ and will lead us to share His love.
Someone might be thinking, “But isn’t the Old Testament important, too?” Of course it is. We considered challenging the church to read the whole Bible in a year, but we really wanted a goal that the vast majority of our church would be willing to pursue and able to accomplish. We wanted it to be attainable for young and old, and for people with busy schedules. If you want to read the whole Bible, please go right ahead. But we are focusing as a church on absorbing the New Testament over the next 12 months. If you are unable to read, we encourage you to listen to the whole New Testament on audio recording. We encourage you to consider whether you want to take the New Testament challenge and to let us know if you decide to take it. We will provide ways for you to sign up in the next few Sundays. We want to have as many of our folks as possible read the entire New Testament by January 31 of 2016.
These five goals represent concrete aspirations that summon us to spiritual growth and Christian service. Of course, we have other hopes as well. For example, since we welcomed 51 new church members last year, it would be great to welcome 52 this year so that we average one new member per week. If you are thinking about becoming an official member of our church, please know that we would love to have you. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want to talk about it. Other hopes include having more lay testimonies in worship and creating a Long-Range Facility Use Plan for our Church. But we want to focus on five goals: increasing average worship attendance to 500; increasing average Bible Study attendance to 450; starting one new local missions initiative; having 105 church members participate in our mission trips this year; and reading through the entire New Testament as a church family.
In 2 Peter 3:18, the scripture says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” We are called to grow, to mature, and to develop in grace and knowledge. We can grow in grace by sharing the good news with people and inviting them to worship and Bible Study. We can grow in grace by participating in church missions. We can grow in the knowledge of Lord and Savior by reading through the New Testament and learning what the Holy Scriptures teach us about Jesus Christ.
Of course the end of 2 Pt 3:18 says, “To Christ be the glory both now and to the day of eternity.” Indeed, to Christ be glory for all that God has done in this church since its inception in 1843. To Christ be the glory for the ways the Holy Spirit has worked in our midst in 2014. And to Christ will belong all the glory for anything good that happens here in 2015 and beyond and even to the day of eternity.