By Cathy Norman Peterson
MINNEAPOLIS, MN (November 16, 2012) – When immigrant farmers started Bethlehem Covenant Church in Waverly, Nebraska, 130 years ago, they never envisioned the changes that would take place in their community in the ensuing decades.
What was then farmland as far as the eye could see has now been converted to housing developments. No longer a rural expanse of crops, Waverly has become a bedroom community of Lincoln, the state capital.
As it adjusts to those changes, the congregation has begun the process of church revitalization, a key element in the Covenant’s Start and Strengthen Churches missional priority administered through the Department of Church Growth and Evangelism. One step of that journey was to attend the third annual Navigate Conference held here for pastors and lay leaders at First Covenant Church November 2-4. Pastors remained for another three days for additional training and encouragement. Click here to view photos from that event.
Navigate makes it possible for churches like Bethlehem to connect with other congregations in their area who are also seeking to better respond to the changes in their communities. The purpose of the conference is to offer support, connection, and guidance to churches in the midst of that process, based on Ecclesiastes 4:12, “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
Dan Olson, who has served as pastor of Bethlehem for the past year and a half, joined pastors and leaders from 26 other congregations. Each church attends at the invitation of the director of congregational vitality of its conference.
Participating congregations may be at various points on the congregational vitality pathway. Bethlehem was just beginning. Other congregations had already taken advantage of additional resources the denomination offers such as Veritas, the initial workshop; EPIC, a follow-up workshop to Veritas; or Pulse, an assessment tool to help congregations evaluate the trajectory of their church based on 10 healthy missional markers.
“Vitality is a pathway, not a program,” director of congregational vitality John Wenrich is quick to say. “Navigate is a communal approach to congregational vitality where two or three churches walk the pathway together,” so that each congregation employs the available resources in its own unique and organic way.
Olson said it was especially encouraging for the team from his church to connect with three other rural Nebraska congregations. They expect to continue sharing experiences and encouraging one another as they move through the process.
Being together with churches from across the denomination also was of great benefit, even if they serve in quite different circumstances, Olson said. “Navigate gave us a sense of direction and community,” he explained. “It gave us a dialogue and it gave us courage to go back and face the issues. As a pastor, it gave me a comfort in knowing others are also learning how to listen and grow and move forward.”
It was a sentiment that was repeated again and again by participants throughout the weekend. Devyn Chambers Johnson, co-pastor of Community Covenant Church in Springfield, Virgina, attended the conference in 2011. Describing its impact a year later she said, “Navigate has helped our church know what to do next.”
Abraham Bejarano, pastor of Emmanuel Covenant Church in Northridge, California, said his church can set a fresh course for the coming year because of the several days his team spent with other leaders at Navigate.
“I’m excited to go back and share what I have learned,” he said. “You have real-life experiences of what people have learned, and I encourage anyone who’s in the process of trying to bring life to a church – this is a place to be.”