Church plants, it is said, attract the mission minded, the power-hungry, and the hurting. We have especially been a church where people have come in pain. Much of this pain has been from churches and Christians. Over 50% of Covenant Grove is made up of people who have painfully left a church – either recently or in the distant past. This group would be considered “non-churched Christians”; they believe in Jesus but not in the Church. As a result, they have chosen to be isolated from a faith community. Isolation – in faith and in life – makes our problems worse.
At Covenant Grove, we have focused on Life Groups to be the main way we provide care. 85% of our church is in groups, and we make being in groups a big priority. Our first staff member was a licensed therapist, and she set the healthy boundaries for care in our church: she would not meet with people more than once if they were not in a group, and would only continue meeting with people if the issue was bigger than a group could handle alone. Our model of care is not therapy but Spiritual Direction – listening to people, praying together, and helping them hear the voice of God. It is all about listening to people, and being willing to have the right conversations – delving into the deeper issues that people so desperately want to talk about – but have no one to listen. We want to be willing to listen, and bring people back to God’s truth and light (John 17:17) – even if it means conflict.
Covenant Grove talks a lot about conflict. We are not a perfect church, and we make a habit of telling people this fact. We know conflict will happen, and we talk about the biblical way of dealing with it, following Matthew 18. One of our first sermon series was on biblical conflict, and we repeat these lessons at least once a year. The way of Jesus is harder (but better), and people quickly revert back to old habits. Dealing with conflict biblically is part of our membership class and a commitment that we ask all of our members to make (and one we are willing to call them on). We expect our leaders to handle conflict biblically. I invite people to talk to me directly when I have messed up, and I publicly share stories of how I have messed up, been confronted, and apologized. This authenticity from authority is especially winsome to people in the next generation. We have worked to be an intergenerational church that focuses on those in the next generation, especially those in their 20’s and 30’s. We have over 40 active attenders in our church in that age range (about 15% of our church family). Our hope is to be a healthy community of faith that can deal with conflict and bring healing. This starts with listening.
My wife and I were recently out for coffee. A woman who my wife knew came up and greeted us. As we asked, “How are you?” she answered for 15 minutes about the problems and struggles of her life, prompted by our nods, interest, and continued questions. She was going through a lot. As we listened she actually invited herself to our church! We then ended with prayer. My wife and I didn’t give any advice, we just listened and prayed. As the prayer ended she was in tears. She hugged my wife, and me too – even though I barely knew her! A powerful spiritual connection had been made; she knew that my wife and I truly cared for her with Jesus. It is about having the right conversations, pointing people to Jesus, and listening.
God will put you in the right place – be willing to listen and have the right conversation!