I have been attending Willamette Christian Church in West Linn, Oregon, for six years. This is by far the longest I have attended any church in my adult years.
I left one previous church because I disagreed with the youth pastor’s approach to music in the junior high ministry I helped lead. But at 22 years old, I was proud of myself for at least trying to address the situation first. I met the pastor for coffee and expressed my concerns and possible solutions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested and it was the end of the school year so I took the opportunity to gently remove myself.
I left another church because of a breakup–it was a small church and he was there first and that was fine. And I left another pretty fabulous church because I moved out of town. There are myriad reasons we come and go from one church to another, but one thing I love about church community, is that you never graduate out of it. You can leave if you want, or you can participate and attend as long as you please. No one makes that decision for you.
When Willamette was going through a growth spurt two years ago (let’s be honest, it’s still growing!), my initial instinct was to leave (having been burned by big churches in the past). My husband gently explained that he preferred to stay at least for awhile, so (again, rather proud of my response), I chose to actually get more involved in the building campaign and other ministries.
Here’s what I have learned. Keep in mind that although I have actively served in a few different areas, I don’t really know a whole lot about life behind the scenes. These observations are merely from the perspective of a regular attendee and sometimes server. My church is certainly not perfect; I don’t always love that it’s an administrative-heavy church, and other churches I’ve attended do other things better than Willamette, but in response to a recent sermon about the long-range effects of Encouragement and all the negativity towards the Church on the Internet, I wanted to share Ten Things My Church is Doing Well (in no particular order).
- Children’s Ministry
My church loves children and has a deep desire to see them know Jesus. They have developed a simple, strong curriculum for older children but even the toddlers and infants are prayed for and read to. Also, just this past Sunday, approximately ten minutes after I mentioned to my husband how much I don’t care for administrative-heavy churches, I overheard a visitor commenting to a friend how impressed she was that we have classrooms for all different grades and a check-in system and–*sigh*. I guess that’s why Administration is a Spiritual Gift; God can use Administration too for His glory.
- Men’s Ministry
It’s easy to do Women’s Ministry (and they do it well!). We are naturally wired for community and conversation, even if we’re introverted. It’s a whole other thing to run a Men’s Ministry where men want to engage. Men are funny about faith and vulnerability. It’s hard to reconcile meekness and machoism, but Willamette has created a variety of programs and fellowship opportunities where men apparently feel comfortable because the ministry is thriving. I also appreciate that the men often work through the same Bible studies as the women.
- Willingness to Change
A building campaign, service times, and home communities are just a few of the areas where my church has exemplified flexibility. Although our church had grand plans to expand our building to support all our new families, the city failed to grant our church permits unless we built an extra road through our property. The church determined that this would not be the wisest use of resources so they have adjusted the plans for a physical addition, adjusted service times, and rented space across the street, and they are open to possibly having a second campus in a different part of town.
Regarding Home Community Groups, I have often felt that the administration has interfered with individuals choosing to get involved in a community group. I’ve been meaning to approach the pastor in charge of this area, but haven’t made the time. However, I recently visited our church website and noticed that they have listed the Home Community Groups that have open space and included information about demographics and what they are studying together. This is huge! This open listing concept was something I particularly admired in a previous church, and I’m thrilled that Willamette is willing to move in that direction.
Lastly, a few months ago, while my husband walked around the lobby with our fussy daughter, he mentioned to the front desk that there is a monitor in the nursing mom’s lounge, but no place for dads to catch the sermon while caring for children. Within a couple of weeks, a monitor was installed in the lobby.
- Investing Financially
My church invests our tithes in a variety of outside ministries and invites us to also participate directly. We support a full-time position at a church in SE Portland, sponsor many facets of Africa New Life in Rwanda and Portland Leadership Foundation, and partner with families wanting to adopt children. These ministries are varied and vast, but we maintain good stewardship and don’t overextend ourselves. Our church occasionally brings in the leaders of the ministries we support to give the sermon for the week so we get a personal connection. I never feel pressure to give extra, but I do feel the passion behind the requests, and I feel included in the process.
- Middle School Bible Studies
There are over 75 middle school boys who attend a Tuesday morning Bible study at our church before school. Say what? ‘Nuff said.
- High School Ministry
The students who attend our high school ministry actively participate as leaders in our children’s and middle school ministries and many become interns at the church after they graduate. Their faith and leadership is not limited to Sundays and Wednesdays. They are strong leaders of character in class and on the field, and many participate in and lead Young Life on their high school campuses.
Although Willamette Christian is big, nondenominational, and focuses on high-quality programming, I never feel distracted by the technology. We have an easily navigable website and high quality graphic design. The bright lights and loud music that open each service are fun and usually not overwhelming (and if the sound is too loud, we offer earplugs at the entrance). We are passionate about technical excellence without making technology the focus.
- Community Involvement
The church organizes volunteers to spruce up our local DHS office with paint and toys. We provide an Open Gym in our sanctuary throughout the week and an after school hangout specifically for middle schoolers at our rented space across the street. Every few months we even host a dance for middle schoolers (there is a middle school a few blocks down the street). We have a playground on our property for families and children to use whenever (it’s a big natural community builder after services specifically). And we provide a lot of support for families who foster children and/or are going through an adoption process.
- Sharing the Pulpit
Although we do have a head pastor, Willamette Christian Church is not the Joel Dombrow Show. We hear from an associate pastor with a totally different style, the high school pastor, the middle school pastor, and leaders of various organizations that our church supports. It makes for a well-rounded, enlivening experience.
- Speaking the Truth in Love
It’s not Fire and Brimstone but it’s also not Be Your Best Self Now.
- (Bonus!) Praying with the whole congregation before the service if there is a pressing issue
This includes local/church family events like a man who recently walked away from his home and disappeared (our church even organized a search party) or praying for the families of students in a series of suicides at the local high school or the families of the victims of the Clackamas Town Center shootings (one of the them was a member of our church). But it also includes world events like Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, and various needs throughout Africa.
- (Bonus!) Security
I hate that a church has to have a security team. But, this is the age we live in and I appreciate that Willamette acknowledges that. Our security team is comprised of volunteers, and although many of them have served in law enforcement or the military, they maintain an understated presence. I feel safe and cared for.
Of course our church is doing many other things well, too, but these are things that I think are difficult to pull off, especially all at the same time, so…props!