St. Joe church earns Purpose Driven award
Green Valley to be recognized at Saddleback
By Susan Mires
April 5, 2005
ST. JOSEPH – There’s no Sunday School at Green Valley Baptist Church, St. Joseph, anymore.
For a year, classes had tried to cover a Bible study lesson and build meaningful relationships through the traditional program on Sunday morning.
“We began to realize those two things can’t all happen in 50 minutes. You have to give more time to it,” Pastor David Mason said. “That’s been a big discovery for us.”
Last fall, the church eliminated the Sunday School program and created Connection Groups with the goal to connect people to God, His Word, His people and His purposes. The small groups still meet at the church and do look a lot like Sunday School, but there are differences.
“It’s more relational. It focuses on teaching people the Bible rather than the Bible to people,” said Gary Mathes, pastor of education and Christian education.
Green Valley’s efforts to transform its small group structure are part of the reason the church was selected for a Church Health Award from Saddleback Church. Mason and Mathes will accept the award at the annual Purpose Driven Church Conference in Lake Forest, Calif., in May.
“This award is all about balance, health and strength over size or shape,” said Kathy Chapman Sharp, director of communications for Purpose Driven Church. “Being purpose driven is not about size, it’s about being biblical and eternal.”
In addition to the all-expenses-paid trip for the pastors, Green Valley will receive a $1,000 gift with the award. About 75 churches will be recognized at the conference, with 49 from the United States and the rest from churches around the globe. The Church Health Award was first given in 1999 with five churches receiving the honor.
Green Valley began following the Purpose Driven model several years ago as the staff read Rick Warren’s book Purpose Driven Church. It defines the church’s mission as five core purposes of worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry and evangelism.
“Our weekly schedule is based on accomplishing the five purposes,” Mason said. Tired of using big events and reinventing the church to try to reach the community, he said the Purpose Driven model provides a clear sense of direction.
“We don’t have to wonder what we’re about everyday,” Mason said. “It’s not because Rick Warren invented it, but the church had lost it.”
Green Valley was nominated for the Church Health Award by Suzie Stablein, an employee of Purpose Driven Church, who worked with the church during its 40 Days of Purpose and 40 Days of Community campaigns. Sharp said the church was selected because of the way it invests itself in the community and the manner in which members are striving to follow Christ.
For several years, Green Valley has used creative methods to share the Gospel. Through Random Acts of Kindness, they have delivered loaves of bread to apartment residents, stuffed animals to hospital patients and bottles of water to shoppers at the mall. On Good Friday, the Living Cross presents a visual depiction of the crucifixion at a major intersection in St. Joseph. The worship service is relaxed and contemporary with a casual dress code.
“We love what we’re doing as a church,” Mason said.
In 2002, Green Valley was one of the first congregations in Missouri to participate in 40 Days of Purpose in the first nationwide offering of the program. As thousands of churches have discovered since, the campaign helped members develop a clearer sense of their mission as believers.
While 40 Days of Purpose answered the question “What on earth am I here for?” it was 40 Days of Community that taught “what are we here for.” Green Valley participated in the national pilot last fall for the second campaign developed by Warren and Saddleback Church. With the theme “We’re better together,” the program examined how each of the five purposes is best carried out in small groups.
Those small Connection Groups provide a place to develop love and fellowship, said Lori Biggs, who leads a women’s group at Green Valley. Besides Sunday mornings, the group meets twice a month at a member’s home for fellowship and to plan ministry activities, such as their outreach to parents at Green Valley’s day care.
“Everybody has their spot and they don’t miss because they have their spot,” Biggs said of her group.
The senior adult class was skeptical of the change at first, leader Ken Adams said. They feared the group might be split up, but they have since embraced the changes, with members taking on more responsibilities. One of the biggest changes was rearranging the classroom to sit in a circle for Bible study. Adams said members are sharing their insights and attendance has jumped from about nine to 15 or more.
“There’s definitely a sense within our church that we need one another and the purpose of a small group is not to meet, go over a lesson, pray and go home,” Mathes said. “It’s where the Christian life is lived out in the context of community.”
The process is not without its struggles, however. Mason said it is difficult to transition a traditional church to the small group structure. Group leaders face resistance to change.
“The idea and the concept are very good,” said Koelle Barbour, another Connection Group leader. “There are going to be some pains getting there because not everybody is going to like it.”
But through the Purpose Driven campaigns, more members have become involved in ministry and have a deeper sense of community, Mason said.
“Now we’re in the area of making disciples, not making decisions,” he said.
While the Church Health Award is a pleasant recognition, Green Valley leaders say they still have a lot of work ahead.
“I’m not sure what this thing will look like at the end, but so far we’ve made good improvements,” Mathes said.