Pastor's Report to Charge Conference 2016
This year, I again give thanks to God for the joy and privilege of serving as Lead Pastor at St. John's, along with our talented and devoted staff, leaders, and other very generous and committed servants who make up our church family here in Ivyland. Together, we believe that God is calling us to grow in our faith, to be His hands and feet wherever and whenever we are able, and to serve Him by reaching out to the many people in our community who are searching for hope and meaning for themselves and for their families.
The reality that we face, and one that we began to address several years ago, is outlined in a book I recently read by James Emery White, "The Rise of the Nones." He references the fact that although belief in God continues to be a value in the U.S., religious affiliation does not, and more and more people are checking the box "None" when asked to state their religious affiliation. Only 11% of older generations check "none," but greater than 35% of younger Millenials claim to be "nones." In 2007, only 25% of this group claimed to be "nones," so the trend is increasing rapidly. The other observation is that over 67% of Millenials who were raised unaffiliated remain affiliated, which is a much higher retention rate than older generations who were raised as "nones."
To be blunt, the end result is that fewer young families choose to be a part of any church family. They may believe in God, they may even believe in Christ as the Son of God, but they do not choose to join or attend a church.
On the surface, these are troubling times for the Church in general, and although we at St. John's are certainly seeing some of the results of this trend, the good news is that we know exactly where our mission field lies. Our staff and leaders continue to strategically plan for the future and to find new ways to reach new people. We give thanks that we have been able to hire consultant John Wimberly, who has been guiding us on this path. And I'm happy to report that we have made significant progress on nearly every one of the strategies for growth that we identified in 2015-16.
We've addressed the area of Communication Strategies by contracting with a web service named Eggzack to enhance our website, our mobile website, and our social media presence. Our Connection Strategies have included our presence at several local events such as the Middletown Grange Fair, where we undertook a very successful mission project to send clean water filtration systems to families in Africa. We also have become a church involved in Geocaching and have registered geocache boxes in Tyler State Park with information about the church and a prayer request book. We're also in the final planning stages for a new Lifetree Café ministry at an off-site restaurant.
We are also hoping and praying that our 40 Days in the Word campaign this Fall is going to be the springboard for an effective Small Group ministry. As far as Missions at St. John's, the strategy that is currently being implemented is the creation of hands-on mission opportunities, especially the kind that appeal to young families. In addition, a new Missions leadership team that will plan and coordinate overall mission activity has recently been developed, and we're excited about that.
One of our strategies speaks about "Spiritual Growth," and we're excited that we now have a daily devotional webpage, and we're especially excited to be planning a large spiritual renewal event in the Spring of 2017 that will incorporate a speaker, music, mission activities, family events, and a walk/run to support missions in Tyler Park.
Another strategy involves children, youth and families, and there is currently a team who is working on those initiatives. We are a congregation who believes that one of the greatest things we can do to build the Kingdom is to lift up our children and youth and to help them learn to love God and love being a part of a church family.
So our commitment to be Christ's church is the driving force behind all that we do at St. John's. It drives us to find new ways to faithfully fulfill our call to pass on the faith through word and action. And it drives us to love one another and to step beyond our comfort zones to reach our community.
Looking back on the past year, I give thanks for God's wisdom and direction. The ministry we've accomplished sounds like a lot of work. And it was. But we had fun. And we came further than I'd thought possible because we worked together. We've continued an excellent ministry of worship, education, outreach, children & youth ministries, men's and women's ministries, and mission opportunities. We have so many reason to be thankful to God for this past year, and even more reason to be people of hope and promise in 2017.
Thanks be to God,
Rev. Janice A. Puliti