Jesus told the Pharisees that a house divided against itself cannot stand. So how does a church divided become a church united? It’s a question lots of churches have grappled with.
Senior Pastor Rick Grover knew that the answer for East 91st Street Christian Church (E91) in Indianapolis, Indiana, would be multidimensional and would focus on participation and connection. E91 called its yearlong effort Engage.
“Engage helped us encourage people to have that buy-in, the ownership,” says Grover, who came on staff in 2012. “We’d been very staff-driven as a church, so we wanted to re-engage the laity.”
E91 is like every other church: an imperfect place full of imperfect people. The church body, which is generationally diverse, struggled with the tension between honoring tradition and embracing change, uniting as one body versus worshiping as two distinct groups, overcoming the misperception that membership is limited to attending Sunday services, and increasing participation in missions and ministry. That’s why Engage addressed four key areas: membership, ministry, missions and momentum.
Grover explains it this way: “We wanted to see more people coming into relationship with Christ and connecting with the body of Christ. That’s membership. Once they were engaged, we wanted to help equip them to use their gifts in ministry and in missions. Then, if we’re doing those first three, that’s going to lead us to Momentum.”
The Momentum Grover is referring to is a church-wide stewardship training program that helps congregations transform the way they think about money, debt and giving. Momentum uses church-wide stewardship classes such as Financial Peace University (FPU), stewardship-focused sermons, and coordinated teaching for youth and children to share the principles of true biblical stewardship and to create a culture of passionate givers. The program was especially significant at E91 because it had never held a single FPU class prior to launching Momentum.
Grover had led his previous church, Owensboro Christian Church in Owensboro, Kentucky, through Momentum, and he knew the experience had been an incredible blessing to that church family. He felt that bringing Momentum to E91 could not only serve as a discipleship tool, but it could also play a role in the other elements of Engage.
Grover also hoped Momentum, with its church-wide focus and its emphasis on pausing every other church ministry for the nine weeks of FPU classes, could be a unifying force for the church.
“I saw it as a way to try to bring the whole congregation together—to be on the same page for something for an extended period of time,” he says. “You know: Focused intensity over time, multiplied by God, equals unstoppable momentum.”
A few elements of E91’s Momentum effort delivered the participation and community building they’d hoped to see:
Each Wednesday’s FPU classes included a free meal and childcare. Youth also met for Generation Change classes. “It was really fun,” says Susie Howard, who led Momentum’s education team. “We could welcome our neighbors, enjoy a meal together, and have the class. There was a nice intergenerational feeling around the table conversations, buzz going on every week, and people running their kids to their classes. It ended up being a real highlight for those who participated.”
2. Celebration Sunday.
At the conclusion of FPU, and with a limited budget no less, the celebration team pulled off a great closing service. “It was a wonderful, amazing day,” Howard says. During the last lesson, the team handed out poster board to each small-group leader, so FPU grads could illustrate how their lives had changed. On Celebration Sunday, the hundreds of posters were plastered up and down the church’s hallways. That day, Mercy Seat, a church from an impoverished Indianapolis neighborhood that had partnered with E91 for Momentum, also joined them to celebrate. Grover and Pastor Eric Whitaker of Mercy Seat gave a tag-team sermon—a fitting conclusion to the entire FPU series.
3. Special Ops Team.
The special ops team in any church’s Momentum effort encourages generosity by seeking out and meeting the needs of others. E91’s members took this aspect seriously. They raised money for two overseas charities and donated money and served at several local nonprofits. The team also created a wall to promote and celebrate their intergenerational efforts.
4. Prayer Team.
As one of its most creative features, E91’s prayer team held an interactive, walk-through prayer event at the start of Engage called “2014 for 2014.” Starting at 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day, E91’s Momentum prayer team and volunteer members prayed for different aspects of Momentum at a series of 10 stops at the church. The 33.6-hour event helped, “set the mind of our folks on what would be happening during the nine-week period and how to pray for each week,” says Ray Ellis, the prayer team leader. Just before Momentum started, E91 also held a prayer rally where they walked through the building and prayed for the specific activities that would be taking place in different locations. Each week, they also dedicated a classroom to pray for that week’s events.
At the conclusion of the Engage effort, Momentum took about 1,700 of the church’s 2,300 members through FPU from January through March 2014. By the end of the class, participating members had paid off $1 million in nonmortgage debt and saved $918,000—a $1.9 million turnaround. That was an average of $5,200 per reporting household.
In addition, members spoke of restored marriages, decreased anxiety during job layoffs, improved money habits and reduced debt. Everyone from the 20-somethings to the 90-somethings said the class transformed them. And just since March, E91 has offered FPU two more times.
E91 is still an imperfect church with imperfect people. The congregation still has obstacles to overcome as they strive to share God’s light and love to the people of Indianapolis. But Momentum succeeded in meeting needs and providing hope for hundreds within E91’s community. And that was a step in the right direction.
“We faced so many challenges,” Howard says, “but all of these amazing stories still came out—kind of beauty from ashes.”
East 91st Street Christian Church
Senior Pastor Rick Grover
Denomination: Christian Church (Restoration Movement)
Number of Locations: 1
Average Weekend Attendance: around 2,300
Pre-Momentum FPU alumni: 0%
Post-Momentum FPU alumni: 74%
Are you ready to create a culture of radical generosity in your church? Learn how Momentum can help your congregation.