Core Purpose

As we find some distance from the “end” of the COVID-19 era (let’s be honest, COVID is going nowhere; we are just understanding how to live with it), we’ve find ourselves facing an unknown time.  The pandemic changed the way the church functions, and we’ve been told by all the “so called experts” that we should never expect to return to the way things were, but instead we need to embrace the “new normal.”  A fellow pastor told me that all churches are now “new church plants,” that we are all starting over and rebuilding.  Some may view that as scary and disheartening.  I see it as a huge gift from God!

You see, we had become stagnant.  I mean the “Big C” church, but I also mean Cason.  We were a church that had lost its mission.  Yes, we were doing good things for people, but we were like the sheep in Jesus’ parable about the least of these. We were doing good things, but we had lost focus on “why” we did these things.  Our real purpose was to stay alive and open so that we could worship here with our friends. I can recall in one of many vision workshops someone said that we were the “homeless” church…not the church that feeds the hungry or the church that shows God’s love by providing clothing and shelter and comfort.  The “homeless” church.  Kind of fitting in my eyes.  We had forgotten that our home was the Kingdom of God.  We had forgotten that what we did for the least of these, we did for Jesus.  We had forgotten that our job was not to be open so that we could worship but so that we could serve. We had lost the “Jesus” in all of it.

It was at this point that Cason found its core message: inSPIRE.  Focusing on service, worship, discipleship, hospitality and generosity might seem simplistic, but the truth is these five “pillars,” as we call them, are the five tenants of Christianity.  These areas are touchstones that remind us of what Jesus taught us.  And Pastor Carey Nieuwhof puts it best, “A focus on the core purpose of church: introducing people to a relationship with Christ, with each other and life-changing discipleship, will be the one thing that church can offer that the world doesn’t.”  It’s true.  The core purpose of the church is to introduce people to a relationship with Christ, who taught us to serve, to worship, to make disciples, to show hospitality and to be generous.  The world wants you to focus on your needs; Jesus tells us to focus on others’ needs and your needs will be met. Let me put it this way; People in this world are not just looking for information—they’re looking for transformation. So our job is not to give them information about God; we need to let them experience God.  And Cason’s core is all about experiencing God.

Back to my original point.  We were told that people would not come back to church.  We were warned that we had to change how we do things in order to reach people in the post pandemic age.  But we have seen such transformation in the church since we adopted our core message that we just kept following God’s plan.  We kept pushing service and worship, discipleship, hospitality and generosity…even in the midst of low attendance, lack of volunteers and a season in which no one wanted to serve in leadership.  We stayed on message, and now a funny thing is happening: people are being reached!

It started with the re-commitment to our Children’s Ministry.  We decided to use the pandemic time as a chance to revisit and revitalize our commitment to Children.  Meetings were held, parents consulted and plans made.  But most importantly, the church prayed for the opportunity to once again minister to children and families.  It was slow going; however, our committed Sunday School angels Sara Knight and Andrea Rawls never gave up on reaching children and created a system of online and mailed curriculum that kept children connected to the church.  As the pandemic restrictions eased, Emily Popolizio, the Chair of Family Ministries, began to put plans in place to expand our offerings to children beyond Sunday School.  This resulted in the creation of our Cason Kids Chorus.  Then a partnership was formed with C. Ron Allen to create Cason Kids Club.  Dick and Marleen Weir assembled a team that worked with 15 underprivileged kids, many who are homeless, and provided them with food and fellowship three days a week for six weeks.  They learned about public speaking, computers, table manners – even aeronautics!  It was an amazing success, which prompted Emily to create Cason Kids Care, a social action group for children.  Coupled with the Cason Children’s Chorus on Saturdays, this group of 15 children will do projects for social awareness and justice throughout the year.  Their first project was the creation of a lemonade stand that will raise money for a nonprofit organization. (You can see the announcement in the Good News this week.) Core purpose in action.

In early 2022, we were approached by a group known as the Seekers.  This is a group of 20-30 year-olds who gather each Sunday for dinner and spiritual exploration.  We partnered with them and currently there are 60+ young adults who call Cason home.  The exact group that we have been told over and over we would never reach now meets here once a week and are so thankful for a church that shows them such hospitality and generosity.  And worship!  Currently, once a quarter we have a worship service on Sunday nights with the church and seekers, followed by a time of food and fellowship.  It’s amazing to see the way that this group praises God.  This ministry has borne amazing fruit!  One of our couples in the congregation made it their mission to attend the Sunday dinners, and when one of the young adults fell on hard times, they welcomed him into their home.  Core purpose in action.  But wait, there’s more.  Several of the young adults have children, and so Emily created “Bible Buddies” so the children have a place to be while their parents take part in the Sunday dinner and discussion.  This Sunday I brought the message, and one of the parents couldn’t stop raving about Bible Buddies.  He said, “I thought it was just going to be child care, but my kids came home and told me about a Bible story they had learned.”  Core purpose in action.

There’s so much more.  But here’s the basic point: The truth about moving forward after COVID is that the advantage of the local church isn’t content; its community and connection.  It’s reaching out to those in need, those who don’t know Christ, or those who have forgotten that what they are doing is for Christ.  Despite all odds, Cason is growing.  While the last place it will show up is in worship, it is showing in our missions and ministries.  And that is the way you bring people into the church post pandemic.  Connect with them, serve them, show them hospitality and generosity.  Doing these things is a form of worship and discipleship.  CORE MESSAGE IN ACTION.

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