Opening the Church to the Next Generation

February 24, 2019

A StartNew Church Growth Story

The following is an interview with Matt Schuler, StartNew Incubator team leader alumni. Matt leads Holy Cross Lutheran Church in Oxford, Michigan, as the Senior Pastor.

Matt, briefly describe the ministry you started/are starting through StartNew.

We restarted an older church. We took an older, existing church and are working to bring new life into the congregation and community. We wanted to move from “doing” church to “being” the church.

How did you get plugged into the StartNew Incubator?

Bill Woolsey, Executive Director of FiveTwo, invited me to participate a couple of months after I began as pastor at Holy Cross. In 2015, the culture in our congregation was the #1 thing that needed work. We had a “country club” church posture. Anyone could join us…as long as they looked and acted like us.

At the time, we averaged 60 people in worship each week. The average age of our regular attenders came to 70.

So, as we started our re-start efforts and sought growth, we saw the opportunity to launch a 2nd worship service and hire additional staff — the right mix of staff. A ministry coordinator who would serve as a worship leader and the go-to person for some activities in the church. And a communications person who would be responsible for digital, print, and social media. We filled each of those roles in under a year.

Any story you would like to share on how God blessed your 2nd worship service?

The 2nd service opened up the opportunity to connect with people who would not have attended our previous worship service. In our need for musicians, we reached out with an ask to our preschool parents. For this new service, we desired an attitude of “Do not just come and see. Come and share”. One guy who stepped up, and has been serving with his musical gifts for a year now, said he had stopped believing in Jesus. He felt very angry with God. Over the year, God has been doing much in the relationship we have formed. As I have been discipling him in faith, he has helped me through the loss of my dad (as he had lost a parent, too).

As a congregation, what mindset changes did you experience?

We started rethinking the mission and vision of the church. Both short-term and long-term plans were formed. We began growing into a community church mindset that is active and in the community. We have become more of a presence, rather than a brick building that gets ignored.

What steps toward restarting did you take through the StartNew process?

The process helped us clarify our identity, leading us to be more true to who we are as a congregation. We worked on our mission statement a lot. We had multiple “StartNew” table talk discussions of 6 to 12 people. We asked ourselves questions like, “What is God telling us in His Word?” and “Who are we best equipped to reach?” All of that work contributed to us crafting our mission statement – “Holy Cross Oxford is a community welcoming all people of all ages to Follow Jesus, Learn, and Grow”.

What kind of impact did a church restart have on the congregation?

In our growth, we were pruned… some people left. People think of pruning as nipping that small twig, here or there, but we lost some thick branches. Some long-time, honored, significant members of the church departed for congregations where they felt more comfortable.We definitely felt the pain of those fractured relationships. But, no one was lost from the Kingdom. Those who moved on did not leave the faith, they just moved on to another congregation.

So, what is this Beers and Bibles I hear you started as well?

Something we knew we needed to start was fellowship outside of the weekend. So, Beers and Bibles was born and meets at HomeGrown Brewing Company in Oxford. During our time together (two Tuesdays a month), we open up the Bible, read through a Gospel of the Bible and simply ask questions to one another. We will ask something like, “What do you think Jesus is trying to get at in what we just read?”

We have had a good conversational flow that includes men, women, 20-somethings, retired, etc.. The church hosts the event but it is not exclusively “church” people. All are welcome. You do not need beer knowledge or Bible knowledge.

Personally, I find I invite people to Beers and Bibles before inviting them to a weekend worship service because it is an easier way to start a conversation about Jesus.

A group of us also join in on HomeGrown’s trivia night two Wednesdays a month. Our team (“Holy Cross Oxford” for all patrons to see) has rolled our gift card prizes into rounds of appetizers.

How has community building been going with those who work at the restaurant?

Besides Beers and Bibles and Trivia night, I also find some time to write sermons there. I’ve learned all of the names of the staff members (about 20 people), the owners, and the brewmasters. We also have a group of ladies from Holy Cross who get together twice-a-month at a local coffee shop. These are all opportunities to be outside of the church building – to be a blessing in the community.

Have you encountered folks at the restaurant who have made their way to Holy Cross for worship?

While wheeling a keg in the building one evening {chuckle}, a young couple asked if I indeed was a pastor. They started checking out Beers and Bibles. They now come to church regularly. They attend my small group. When we met, they had not attended church in years but wanted that connection and community.

Anything else you would like to share?

In starting something new, it comes down to a willingness to talk about Jesus that is invitational and loving. At Holy Cross, we always want to lift people up and not bring them down. And a big learning – even if you aren’t starting something brand new, you can breathe new life into old things with Jesus. Holy Cross was unknown in the community in our recent history until we started making new introductions and started sharing God’s loves with our families, friends, and neighbors. StartNew has helped us return to the roots which were there when the congregation originally was planted in Oxford. We are going back to our beginning to walk with Jesus into our future.

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