Monday, August 04, 2008

Learning from HopeSpring

Yesterday we participated in worship at HopeSpring in Winter Garden, FL -- originally a new church start that began as a daughter church of St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando, now considered an extension campus of St. Luke's. That may sound like an insignificant distinction, but actually it represents a huge and challenging change in identity for the people of HopeSpring, resulting from concerns about sustainability based on projections for worship attendance and financial solvency.

Our visit to HopeSpring provided some helpful learning:
  • Hospitality, hospitality, hospitality! We were warmly greeted -- in the parking lot, at every entrance, in the worship service -- and afterward, we were treated to a tasty lunch, complete with little buckets filled with treats with our table settings.

  • Holding worship in a school is challenging. They shared that with only one morning a week in the space, and no permanent "home base," it's very difficult to cultivate a sense of identity among people in the community. Additionally, they talked about the incredible commitment of resources -- time, energy, and finances -- it takes: about $20,000 a year in rent, plus all the equipment and the movable units for storing it; and human resources for transporting everything in a big trailer, schleping the stuff in and out, and setting it all up and taking it all down week after week. Add to that the challenges of working with school administration, time constraints, and difficulties with consistent air conditioning (a particular problem in Florida!), and it hasn't been a breeze. In a few months, HopeSpring will be moving into a more permanent home for worship and mission: 10,000 square feet of an old Winn-Dixie supermarket, which they're converting into ministry space.

  • Mother-Daughter relationships between congregations aren't easy either. Lead pastor Gary Shockley planted a church in Pennsylvania before -- a parachute drop -- and he went into this one naively thinking that it was going to be a piece of cake with the energy and passion of a large team of people already on board and significant financial resources to invest. Even with two years at St. Luke's building a culture of invitation and hospitality and nurturing a core group to prepare them, before the church plant even began, and even with significant funding from the mother congregation, the district, and the Conference, he's found it incredibly challenging to navigate all the dynamics. Particularly with the recent change from daughter church to extension campus, and all the resulting changes in budgeting and staffing relationships, it's been complicated.

  • Planning is an imperfect science. When they made their plans to plant HopeSpring in Winter Garden, the housing market was booming. They specifically targeted this community because there were plans for 60,000 new homes and a town center to be built. They did their homework, studying demographics and designing their worship and ministry to meet the needs of the people with whom they expected to be neighbors. However, only about 12,000 homes were built, and with the economic slump, everything has come to a screeching halt. The school is literally in the middle of nowhere -- a stark reminder that projections are only projections, and lots can change without fair warning.

  • In spite of all the challenges that accompany any church planting project, God is faithful! HopeSpring leaders are genuinely excited about this new venture, and lives are being transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ. I suspect HopeSpring will be successful, even if it's not exactly what those who began expected, and even if it's not according to the timeline they originally developed.

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