The Power of Story to Reinvent a Church

The Power of Story to Reinvent a Church

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What happens when two distinctly different bodies of believers representing different cultures, different age groups, and different worship styles unite to form one remarkable church? Real Life Chapel is what happens.

September 25, 2011: Real Life Chapel and the Church of the Nazarene of Easton, Maryland, led by Pastor Frank Short, celebrated the Chapel's three years of existence and first year as one church body. Gathered around cloth-covered folding tables in the expansive multi-purpose room (which only moments before hosted Sunday morning worship with live band and pulpit) were young and old, millionaire and recovering addict, churched and unchurched, celebrating this momentous occasion by sharing a meal together. Their divinely orchestrated journey was neither easy nor quick, but their story is one only God could write.

In 1999, while attending Nazarene Bible College and working with Navigators in Colorado Springs, Pastor Frank climbed a Colorado mountain and prayed. Based on the Colossians 3:4 (NLT) biblical passage, "And when Christ, who is your real life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory," he began to envision a new type of church named Real Life Chapel.

But before this vision was realized, a series of life experiences tested patience and pride, refining both him and the implementation of his vision.

When the call came to become executive pastor of Bay Country Church, a non-denominational church in Cambridge, Maryland, Frank approached Nazarene leadership for permission to work outside denominational bounds. Permission was granted and yearly meetings began with the Board of Ministry held, ironically, at the Church of the Nazarene in Easton.

"The ministry at Bay Country was going well overall but I kept coming to these yearly meetings inquiring about a place in the denomination," says Pastor Frank. "They had no place for me. When I came to the Board of Ministry the third year, I came prepared to surrender my credentials and leave the denomination."

When Frank asked the question, "What do you need to do to surrender your credentials?" Board member David Sparks answered, "Do you have a vision for something?" Pastor Frank said, "Yes." Sparks replied, "So what does that look like?" And the rest is history.

Pastor Frank met Ken Balch, mission director for the Mid-Atlantic District, and handed him the description of the vision for Real Life Chapel nurtured since 1999. When asked where he might begin this new work, "Easton" was Frank's response. Balch replied, "Your vision may be a solution for our dilemma. We have a church in hospice care. If we don't do something we're going to lose the building and the property. The group has not been able to solve this problem." Balch paused reflectively and then continued, "You need a place to do this. We need someone to do something for this church. Why don't you consider using this facility to launch your new church?"

So Pastor Frank respectfully resigned his position with Bay Country Church and began the launch of Real Life Chapel.

Two congregations, completely different in approach from one another, began to meet in one building using different areas of the facility at different times.

The launch began. "This was no 'church planting' initiative where you choose an area, start an 'in home' Bible study, and build out from there," Pastor Frank insists. "This was a church launch." He knew only a few people in Easton and he contacted them. When they expressed interest, he asked them to invite anyone interested in a new work in Easton to an informational meeting. Three of these meetings occurred at the Easton Church of the Nazarene location.

Prior to the first meeting, he developed a logo for Real Life Chapel, invitational postcards, and the pamphlet outlining his vision. At the meetings, he handed everyone five invitational cards asking them to invite five people to attend the next informational meeting. By the second meeting, 26 people attended; there were 32 at the third. Pastor Frank plays the guitar, so he contacted his friend and guitarist, Pat Donahue, and asked his son, Dustin Short, a drummer, to join him in leading worship prior to the second and third night. At the third organizational meeting, Pastor Frank announced four upcoming "preview services" to be held once a month on the first Saturday night of each month. He distributed 10 invitational cards to each person asking them to invite family, friends, and acquaintances to these services.

June 6, 2008, marked the first "preview evening service" for Real Life Chapel. His sermon was defined by four P's: God's provision, possession, perspective, and potential. In an effort to spark interest, he presented these topics as a sermon series, which encouraged attendees to return for the next service in the series.

This first "preview service" proved a great success. Projecting an expected attendance of 75, over 125 people attended. Four families agreed to underwrite this new venture financially. One was a believer who didn't actually attend the church after the four preview services were complete (and the church services moved to Sundays), but said he believed in the vision.

Between preview services, the second Saturday night of each month, the Shorts planned "Connections" events hosted by those who supported the launch, giving attendees opportunities to build relationships.

On Sunday, September 19, 2008, Real Life Chapel was officially launched with 117 people in attendance. Short's launch model worked and a new church was born. But what about the other original, struggling church that also met at the Church of the Nazarene in Easton? Though little was actually said, they understandably felt threatened.

As Real Life Chapel grew, Pastor Frank became concerned about how he could help two congregations function happily in the same space. He met with the Real Life Chapel board and the group unanimously agreed that they needed to take responsibility for the care of the other smaller congregation. But the next question became, "How?"

Unanimously, the board agreed to be intentional about taking responsibility. They wanted to be as friendly and loving to the fledgling congregation as possible, on every occasion, regardless of the issue or response.

Lauralee had another idea. As a part of the Sunday School program, the children of Real Life Chapel would grow a "Mercy Garden." She created Sunday School curriculum based on biblical passages highlighting planting, growing, harvesting, and reaping. To introduce the concept, Pastor Frank preached on Isaiah 58:11 as a metaphor, sharing his belief that God would use the children and their well-watered gardens to repair the walls of this fractured church. Vegetables were planted and harvested. The produce was distributed to elderly congregational members on fixed incomes.

Joy Frost, Sunday School director, invited members of the original congregation to visit the children's classrooms and tell their stories. The two congregations began sharing and listening to each other, taking the time to get to know one another.

The final breakthrough came after the district appointed Frank Short as pastor of the combined congregations. The following Sunday, the pastor met with members of the original church and shared his story. They learned that he was raised in the Church of the Nazarene and grew up on the Delmarva Peninsula. For the first time, they realized he was one of their own, no longer a stranger. The two churches officially merged on the second anniversary of Real Life Church.

So, with great celebration, Real Life Chapel gave glory to God for doing something only He could do: two churches became one.

The reinvention of a church was complete. The Body of Christ, as one people, rejoiced.

Now, four years after its launch, the church averages 165 in Sunday morning attendance. Pastor Frank says, "We don't want anyone to remain a spectator. We're always trying to encourage people to move into being participants, members, and ultimately to become leaders."

Linda McGinn Waterman is an editor and lives in Charleston, South Carolina.

Stay updated on what's happening at Real Life Chapel here

Holiness Today, November/December 2012

Please note: This article was originally published in 2012. All facts, figures, and titles were accurate to the best of our knowledge at that time but may have since changed.?