Northwest Conference launches “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant” at 2014 Annual Meeting
With a theme of “Start Churches,” the 2014 Northwest Conference Annual Meetings—for both the Ministerial Association and church delegates—took place at Rochester Covenant Church in Rochester, MN, May 1-3. Conference leadership announced “50 by ’25: Our Mission to Plant,” a new initiative to plant 50 churches in the region by 2025.
“The mission field is huge … 83% of the population in our region is not attending church and needs to hear the good news,” said Mike Brown, NWC director of church planting. “We need to accelerate the pace of Church Planting to see the kind of impact we desire to see. We need to start planting some oaks in the NWC.”
Because the Church Planting process is a three-way partnership between the NWC, the Evangelical Covenant Church and local congregations, the Conference is calling on churches to consider how they might provide resources and support to see the family of God expand within its geographic region.
“Our intention is to see 50 new churches—50 mission outposts in 50 new locations—started by 2025. We need the support of our local churches to be able to plant,” Brown said. “We want to see new churches in every corner of the NWC, not just in the Twin Cities, but all across the region, because the need is huge.”
Delegates approved the full budget of $1,406,502 at the meeting’s second Business Session on Saturday morning, which includes a designated Church Planting budget of $381,560.
Friday Business Session
Gary Walter, president of the Evangelical Covenant Church, shared with delegates at both the Ministerial Association and Northwest Conference Annual Meetings via a video presentation highlighting the work of the ECC. Carol Lawson from the Department of Ordered Ministry, and David Kersten from North Park Seminary, were also in attendance.
Northwest Conference Superintendent Mark R. Stromberg shared about the many great things that churches can do when united together in service.
“We are churches that have covenanted to do life and mission together. It was never the intent for us to be completely independent and disconnected from one another. And while the local church does many things best, other things are best accomplished when we work together. The work of the Covenant, the work of the Northwest Conference, these things are worthy of your support, therefore I do not apologize for asking for it,” Stromberg said. “We need you to engage in our joint mission.”
Stromberg announced to delegates to the 2014 Annual Meeting that the 2014-15 budget includes funds to create a new, three-quarter time Director of Finance position. He also highlighted his intention to spend more time resourcing and supporting NWC staff, fortifying CHET Northwest Conference, identifying, developing, resourcing and supporting young pastoral leaders, and raising funds to build capacity for “50 ’by 25: Our Mission to Plant.”
Jon Kramka, director of congregational vitality, was joined by Keith Meyer, lead pastor of Hope Covenant Church in St. Cloud, MN, who shared how a Vitality Team has contributed to momentum and growth at his church.
“The Holy Spirit, through this process, reestablished what the mission was and healed relationships so that we could move forward. The Lord lifted our faces up,” Meyer said. “I think it’s very important that you have a commitment to this process that will last over many years. We are beginning to see answered prayer but it takes time, and a lot of work.”
Kara Stromberg, director of children & family ministry, asked attendees: “How do we help churches and families understand that the development of young people is an intergenerational opportunity?” She highlighted “Go: Serve,” a new service and learning event for NWC families with children, which took place April 26 at Redeemer Covenant Church in Brooklyn Park, MN.
Families at the event sorted 3,000 lbs. of clothing at Arc Value Village thrift store, packed enough meals to serve 63 kids for one year at Feed My Starving Children, made 600 sandwiches for the homeless through the Sandwich Project, and donated 310 lbs. of food to the Brooklyn Park area youth food shelf.
Ginny Olson, director of youth ministry, shared highlights from MOVE, a ministry service event for high school students, which took place a few weeks prior to the Annual Meeting.
“It was powerful to watch students and leaders come together and confront injustice together,” Olson said. “In this sacred space we watched as student said ‘I want to take a stand, but also I am stuck.’ This is why adults leaders are so important, to come alongside adolescents at these points in their lives.”
Olson also highlighted other NWC youth events like MUUUCE, Emerge and Adventures in Leadership, which call students to closer relationships with Christ.
Jeff Burton, director of pastoral care & development, and Judy Swanberg, associate director of pastoral care & development, gave a joint report of their work to support the “personal and professional growth of our pastors and ministry staff.” The ministry area of Pastoral Care & Development in the NWC supports over 475 church staff and other leaders, spread over four states.
“Many pastors feel the pressure of having to cover more ground, with higher expectations and yet accomplish all of this with steeper cultural incline,” Burton said. “To be able to lead, our pastors have to be an example of the healthy missional life.”
In addition to highlighting “50 ’by 25,” Mike Brown, director of church planting, shared about new churches and the strong impact they are having in the region. During Brown’s report, delegates approved recommendations from the NWC Executive Board to welcome two new churches into membership at the 2014 Evangelical Covenant Church Annual Meeting in June. The new churches include: MainStreet Covenant Church (Mound, MN) and New City Covenant Church (Edina, MN).
“Every one of these changed lives, every one of these new mission outposts, owes its existence in part, to churches like yours,” Brown said. “We need you on the team. I need you to put on your gloves and help put some seed in the ground. It’s time to plant.”
Conference leadership honored the ministry of Bethany Covenant Church, which closed in 2013, with prayer for the legacy of the church and its pastor at the time of closing, Greg Ellis.
“Courage and obedience says ‘that’ is what I would prefer, but ‘this’ is what I’m going to do,” said Superintendent Mark Stromberg as he commented on the church’s decision to close. “Sometimes God calls us to be an apple and produce seeds, and other times he calls us to drop the seeds to plant new trees.”
Minnehaha Academy President Donna Harris shared many highlights from the life and activities of the school through a video presentation. It is now entering its second century of ministry in the Name of Jesus Christ and delegates had an opportunity to be encouraged by the many ways that the school is remaining deeply connected to the broader mission of the NWC.
In addition to staff reports from the NWC, delegates to the meeting participated in the “Celebration of Mission” Ministry Fair where they had opportunity to learn about a variety of Conference and Denominational ministries and organizations.
Friday Worship Service
The worship team and choir from Rochester Covenant Church led attendees in worship during the Friday evening worship service. The 2014 Candidates for Ordination (17) and the new churches (2) joining the Covenant were also recognized and prayed for during the service. Members and attendees of the new churches joined their pastors and representatives from parent churches on stage for presentations of new church “birth certificates.” Parent churches were also given trees to serve as a reminder of what has been planted in Jesus’ name.
A special offering taken during the service raised an additional $3,200 to support the ministry of CHET Northwest Conference Conference, following a powerful word of testimony by one of its new graduates, Carlos Anzo Gonzalez.
Greg Ellis, chair of the NWC CHET Committee observed, “The Northwest Conference is doing an amazing job of supporting this ministry … a ministry to make sure that when Hispanic churches are planted, they are rooted and grounded in the Word of God, and they have the support of a loving denomination that was started by immigrants.”
Bethany Covenant Church was again honored with a special Living Legacy Litany and recognition of Greg Ellis and other church leaders present at the service.
John Teter, church planting team leader for the Evangelical Covenant Church, shared a message titled, “Church Planting in the New World.”
“As you think about your life and as you think about partnering and being a part of God’s movement here, I exhort you to suffer. … When we get to the city of God, not one of us will say I suffered too much,” Teter said. “I am utterly confidant you will see God move in ways you never dreamed. I am utterly confidant you will see this vision to plant 50 churches come to pass.”
To close the service, attendees celebrated the long history of church ministry within the Conference with “All Churches Once New.” The lights in the sanctuary were turned off, and everyone in attendance was given a flashlight to turn on as the period of time their church began was mentioned during a special reading. The end result was a room illuminated by participants’ individual lights, representing the past and future impact of starting new churches. “And so our lights shine … and so our light shines,” reflected Superintendent Mark Stromberg, prior to concluding the service with the singing of the Doxology.
Saturday Business Session and Workshop
During Saturday’s Business Session, delegates approved a ballot that included: electing Lowell Peterson to serve another term as NWC Executive Board Chairperson, electing David Brown (Brookdale Covenant Church, Brooklyn Center, MN) and Paul Knight (Hope Covenant Church, Grand Forks, ND) to 5-year terms on the NWC Executive Board, and electing Marc Belton (Sanctuary Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN), Steven Larson (Redeemer Covenant Church, Brooklyn Park, MN) and Bob Swanberg (Community Covenant Church, Minneapolis, MN) to 5-year terms on the Minnehaha Academy Board of Trustees, and Tom Verdoorn (First Covenant Church, St. Paul, MN) to a 3-year term. Delegates also approved the NWC and MA budgets.
Following the Business Session, Teter presented a workshop called “Church Planting in the New World.”
“People are asking in your church not, ‘Why should we make new disciples?’ They’re asking, ‘How?’ Do you have a plan? Do you have a system?” Teter challenged attendees.
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