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"Buenas Noches" Social Club
The Full Story of how Christ the King Church
uses demographics in ministry. . .
In the ‘80s TV musical Cinderella, a Keene-eyed, nasally-voiced Leslie Ann Warren sings about the positive side of being stuck in a world of one, albeit not one of her own making. "In my own little corner, in my own little world, I can be whatever I want to be," sings the deposed mistress of the house as she slaves over a hot fireplace.

But while no one could ever blame the cruelly treated Cinderella for finding refuge in a fantasy world, in real life God never calls us to remain in our "own little corner in our own little world." This is especially true if it’s a self-inflicted world, a place where a person or a church chooses—whether consciously or subconsciously—to remain, because it’s only there where they’ll assuredly never be challenged or made to feel uncomfortable. Meanwhile, others in perilous times have learned that the only way to "take the Kingdom" is to do it by force.

It was getting a glimpse of the Kingdom that motivated the 40+ members of Christ the King Lutheran Church in Sumner, Washington, to break out of their own comfort zone, beginning with how they reached out to each other. Internally, a division was keenly felt between the different age groups. While a wide rift between generations is hardly uncommon in today's "forever young" culture, it has a particularly divisive effect in the church world. With the old saints needing the young ones—their vitality, new ideas and passion for God, and the young converts needing the old—their wisdom, their common sense and cadre of continuity, it 's lamentable that in these times, too seldom the twain seem to meet.

But some churches are finding a way for these walls of partition to be broken down. When the Reverend Lori Bonkowski, pastor of Christ the King, saw the problem of "separatism" in her own church, she knew that it would take more than a rousing Sunday sermon—or even a series of them—for people to change. She decided it would take a bold and comprehensive revisioning process, one that would be long enough and safe enough to allow people to freely open up with one another and get down to the nitty-gritty of what was plaguing their church. More importantly, it would have to contain a strong biblical imperative—one that would help the believers graduate from the touchy-feely element inherent in small groups and move on to discovering their larger purpose—not only in relation to the church, but to the world around them. For the church to grow and flourish, the members would have to see church as more than just a social club.

For Pastor Lori, Percept’s three-month ReVision process seemed to encompass all those elements—and more. In February of 2002, the church began ReVision, concluding with a retreat at the end of May. Bonkowski was intentional about mixing up the groups, integrating generations and gender that ranged from age 30-75. She was also very deliberate about who would lead the various groups.

"We wanted to make sure that they were people who were positive, willing to grow, mature in their faith, and who understood outreach and ministry and mission beyond these four walls," says Bonkowski. To aid her with the process, Lori elicited the help of Joan Nelson, a church planner for the ELCA of the Southwestern Washington Synod. Joan’s contribution was to train the facilitators of ReVision. According to Bonkowski, the results were nothing less than amazing. Suddenly people who had never talked to one another broke out of their ageist aggregates and began interacting with one another. What had started out as a demographic debriefing session soon became an important sharing of spiritual journeys.

"While the numbers were important, in our small groups people spent more time looking at scriptures than at statistics—specifically, looking at the pieces of scripture that were tied to what they were talking about that day," says Bonkowski. "From there, they started reflecting upon their lives and then listening to other people’s stories. They were then able to say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know that about you,’ or, ‘I had an experience similar to that in my life.’ So that was really important. Just by people getting to know each other’s stories a little bit better, it helped to build community within the congregation."

Just as importantly, the process of sharing their testimonies with each other made them cognizant that others outside the church needed to hear their stories—especially those who had never been introduced to what was inarguably The Greatest Story Ever Told. In that respect, the demographics help to stoke a fire that the small groups had already lit. In its totality, ReVision became a pivotal force in propelling what was formerly an insular group into a whole new paradigm: Believers who saw themselves as partners in sharing the gospel. Like the oft-heard commercial jingle, many of Christ the King members were soon singing a new song: "Oh, oh, I got a new attitude."

The church’s new-found faith is already in the works. Besides some one-time events like a homebuying seminar and college-aid night that served to open up their doors to the community, Christ the King has recently started an Alpha Course—classes that teach the fundamentals of Christian faith to seekers and new believers alike. And, in response to the expressed need of the community for outdoor recreation, particularly recreation that would accommodate the high amount of children in their neighborhood (a demographic that surprised them), the church is considering developing the property behind their church into a community soccer or baseball field. The church is also starting a Stephen Ministry. Conceived by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, Stephen Ministry is primarily a caring ministry where a member can be consistently connected to a person outside their own faith community. It could be a person whose child has been taken away because Child Protective Services (CPS) has been called in, someone who is going through divorce, lost a spouse or maybe just someone who needs a regular ride to the doctor. By showing the love of Jesus Christ through simple acts of kindness, the members of Christ the King hope to demonstrate to the unchurched world around them that the church is more than just a quaint little building down the street.

Besides developing new ministries, Christ the King’s style of worship is beginning to undergo transformation as well. This past November, the church started a new Prayer and Praise Service—a service where they’ve replaced the organ with other, more contemporary, instruments of worship. While the service may not exactly be rockin’ the rafters, for a group of mostly older folks soley used to standards like Faith of our Fathers and Blessed Assurance, any change toward contemporary is radical. But for boomers and younger people, simple changes like adding a keyboard and changing the style from preaching to a more organic, interactive format where people can share thoughts, ask questions, etc., is a strong attractant.

And it seems to be working. Already one unchurched person from the community has joined the congregation, with others starting to visit. "One" may not break the church growth charts, but it’s a promising sign in an area where people are more likely to get excited about their new mountain bike or gun rack (depending on what side of the outdoor-lover demographic equation they fall on) than sitting rigidly in a stuffy, 90-year old church. They may be "worshipping the creation rather than the Creator," but on the other hand they don’t see dull, lifeless religion as much of an alternative.

It all comes down to the heart. As Pastor Bonkowski says, "It’s not about how much theological knowledge you’ve acquired, it’s about what Christ has done for you." While Christianity is not a subjective religion, "I feel, therefore I believe" it is about transformation, about being translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light. "This one thing I know," says the blind man who only had one answer for the naysayers and doubters of his day, "I was blind, but now I see!"

"Our members are beginning to realize that what they do is as important as what the pastor does," says Bonkowski. "They always say, ‘Well, I don’t know what to do, I need to talk to the pastor,’ or ‘I don’t know how to tell people about Jesus.’ And I keep saying, ‘Do you know Jesus? Do you have a story about how Jesus is active in your life? Then you can tell that to somebody else.’ People don’t care about how much you know, people care what’s in your heart. And if you share with people what is in your heart, that makes a difference."

Ron Coen, of the Southwestern Washington Synod Outreach Board, speaks enthusiastically about the transformation he’s observed at Christ the King. "Rev. Bonkowski speaks strongly about Percept’s role in helping her congregation remember that they are called to be a Great Commission congregation. It was clear that Percept, through the focused Bible study associated with the ReVisioning process, helped them to not only discover who their neighbors are, but to discover who they are as a church. Bonkowski underscores this observation. "ReVision helped us get a handle on what it means to be the gospel for others in real, tangible ways," says Lori. "This process is about risk-taking. What risks are we willing to take for the sake of Jesus Christ and spreading the gospel to all nations? We don’t know where this will lead, but we do know in the process we are doing ministry." -Jenni Keast

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