On March 18-19, more than 60 people gathered at the new GC Surrey Hills church and Ministry Training Center (MTC) in Oklahoma for a workshop on the Love Avenue. It was the third workshop in the series: the Hope Avenue workshop was held in the spring of 2020, and the Faith Avenue workshop was held in the fall of 2021. We’re grateful to the Cincinnati West church for hosting the first two workshops.
Background and Context
In the March 23 issue of Update, President Greg explained our 3-Year Plan Toward Healthy Church, including the process of identifying “Vision” churches. U.S. Vision pastors were invited to attend these three workshops with their Avenue Champions. This was the beta testing described in the President’s letter.
So, what is a Vision church? Over the past several years, each of the U.S. Regional Directors has been working with a handful of pastors and congregations within their region. These Vision churches work together within their region as a “Vision Team.” The goal is to collaborate in a community of practice and provide High Challenge and High Support as they work toward the Healthy Church vision and strategies of GCI—to grasp the denominational vision, live the vision, and in time, share the vision with others. The high support includes training, tools, and support from the Home Office, their Regional Director (and others), and monthly regional coaching for the pastor and Avenue Champions. These three Avenue workshops have been just part of the training and high support.
The Love Avenue workshop
The Love Avenue workshop included presentations made by two pastors, a church planter, and two Love Avenue Champions on the following topics:
- The role of the pastor
- Mapping your neighborhood
- Making friends in your neighborhood
- Missional events
- The role of the Love Avenue Champion
The workshop was interactive by design. Each presentation was followed by small table discussions, whole room debriefs, and application time for individuals or local teams. The workshop closed with a Question & Answer session by a panel of the presenters and Communion.
Aleck Thompson, associate pastor and Love Avenue Champion in Eugene, Oregon, gave us his takeaway:
What always strikes me at these workshops is the comradery. In this specific case, I think this feeling of a family reunion came through not only in the times of fellowship over meals and in the evenings, but also during the sessions.
Each of our congregations may be geographically and socially diverse, but we share the same struggles and, even more importantly, the same solution in the person of Jesus. I appreciate each speaker opening up about the struggles they have and some of the strategies we can embrace for each of our congregations to grow.
Terri Westerhaus is the Love Avenue Champion in Cincinnati West, Ohio. She had this to say about the workshop:
I came away with three points. I was educated on the “apprentice square” tool. The four sides of a square were correlated with the four steps in guiding someone into a new role. It was simple, to the point, and easy to remember. I will use it for many things in life—not just church! Another presenter shared this tip: to help finance neighborhood/church events, ask organizations from your community to be sponsors. What a great idea! Third, community events are a way of creating a space for people to share their stories. Yes, it might get challenging at times, inconvenient for some, or even “messy,” but that is okay.
Tommie Grant, pastor of Ladson, South Carolina and GCI Board Vice Chair, had the following feedback:
The Love Avenue Workshop was AWESOME! It was amazing to see the Holy Spirit at work in the presenters. Each presenter was a practitioner expressing best practices from their experiences. They were able to convey ideas on getting to know our neighbors and developing relationships so our rhythms can be coordinated with their rhythms to create spaces where ALL feel welcome to experience the unconditional love of our triune God.
We are extremely blessed to have pastors and key leaders working together in shared ministry. The strategy of Avenue Champions multiplies the effectiveness of a pastor and helps equip and empower the saints at the same time. There is some intentional work on the front end, walking the Avenue Champions around the apprentice square, but once this has been completed, the Champions are free to step into crucial areas of ministry within their congregations. We are beginning to see and hear just how freeing and empowering the Team Based-Pastor Led and Avenue strategies really are.