January 30, 2022
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
In my address to our leaders earlier this month I shared a story from 20 years ago when I took my first and only sabbatical. I won’t inflict you with all the details I shared with them but it ended up with me going to Zermatt, Switzerland for five days of solo hiking. I plotted a number of local hikes, and one that seemed especially appealing was a glacial peak called The Breithorn (pic) which was rated as a low difficulty climb. It sits along a range of stunning 4,000-plus meter peaks of which the Matterhorn is one. (pic) I learned that there are a number of local guided expeditions up the Breithorn, but of course, that costs money, and my budget was based on the free hike options.
I had gotten to know my waiter at the hotel. He was a strapping twenty-something German who did a lot of climbing in the area. I told him I was thinking of doing a guided climb of the Breithorn. He sat down at the table and said, “Dude,” (I didn’t know Germans knew that word!), “Dude, you don’t need a guide. Its easy. You take the gondola up to the ski area and start walking toward the peak. Its an easy walk up.” So my budget and I took this as a sign from God.
After I finished dinner headed up to my room passing the front desk where the woman who ran the hotel was standing. She had a kind of maternal instinct to make sure all of her guest stayed alive, so she stopped me and asked, “I understand you are thinking of climbing der Breithorn?” I thought, how did she know? I said, “I am.” Then she asked, “You are using a guide, yah?” I said, “Well….”
She said, “No, you will use guide.” I said, “Actually, Johann was telling me I didn’t need one and…” She cut me off, “You don’t listen him! You listen to me. Last year 3 German boys thought they could climb the Breithorn without a guide. They got caught in a storm and died. You will use guide. Promise me?” Well, that’s just unfair. I had to promise. So I did and thought, after all it’s probably best because it would be a bummer to die on sabbatical, so the next day I booked a guided trip.
You have to fill out all this paper work that basically says the guide isn’t responsible if you do die, which I thought was interesting because isn’t that the reason you get a guide. But what I found unusual were the number of questions asking about my vision. Does my eyesight ever cause me to get dizzy? Do I have trouble focusing on items near or far? Do I get double vision? I didn’t think much about the questions, until…I was on this path going to the peak. Roped in with others in our group we walked a path about six inches wide that crested a very narrow ridge. The guide warned us before starting this ascent not to look up while walking. We would stop occasionally to take in the scenery, but when we walked we were to keep heads down and focus on the path.
Halfway up I realized why. The descent both sides was treacherously steep dropping a good thousand feet or more. The mountains in the distance were miles away. For the first time in my life I had the strange sense of what can happen when your eyes try to focus on two objects at the same time. Part of your sight wants to focus far away, and part tries to focus on the path you’re walking. It starts to make you dizzy, which means you become wobbly, and people who are tied to you at 14,000 feet on a six-inch wide path take exception at wobbly hiking partners. The guide explained that if this happens just cup your hands around your eyes so that you only see the path. He promised that we would stop at different points on the way up so we could take in the scenery, but he was also clear, when we move, you only look down at your next step.
I learned an important motivator and sustainer of mountain climbing. You must have something to aim for, something that inspires you to risk and dare and attempt; But, you never get there without focusing carefully on the next steps and paying attention to what is immediately before you.
That’s why I am calling the address today Double Vision, because this is going to be a year of looking ahead at the big vision peaks toward which we believe God is calling St. Luke’s to scale, while at the same time focusing on the present steps of ministry in front of us.
This past year our Governing Board appointed a group composed of leading staff members and an equal number of lay members of the church to work with a strategic planning organization called Auxano, for the purpose of defining our future vision as a church.
The CEO of Auxano, Jim Randall, was our consultant, and what I want to do for the remainder of this message is three things: explain the process we used, share what we identified as our future vision and strategies, then look at the immediate steps needed this year. There is an outline you can use to write down the key information in this message and if you’re watching online you can access this outline in the chat.
A diagram(pic of diagram) helps us picture the unique 1:4; 1:4 process Auxano uses, and if you want to read more about it, there is a book that fully describes everything we did as a Visioning group last year. It is called God Dreams (pic). It begins with the Beyond the Horizon Vision—a picture of God’s preferred future for the church at least five to 20 years out. In other words, it is beyond the horizon. Next, you identify the four 3-year Background Strategies or areas of focus that will be most important to accomplishing this vision. Then you get to the next 1:4, the Midground Vision that focuses the work of the church for the coming year, and the four Foreground Initiatives, or 90-day goals that will be renewed each quarter.
Interestingly, the metaphor Auxano uses is mountains (pic). The far peaks almost out of range are the Beyond the Horizon Vision. The closer mountains are the Background Strategies. Then the near hills are the Midground Vision and the road in front of you is the Foreground Initiatives.
So let’s start with what we developed as the Beyond the Horizon vision statement: We envision St. Luke’s as an explosive force of God’s radical, just and inclusive love, reaching hundreds of thousands of people in Indianapolis and beyond who have given up on church or the possibility of a God who cares about them. (We call it Reaching Beyond for short)
Just sit with that for a minute because this statement contains much. First the character and spirit of our congregation: a force of God’s radical, just and inclusive love. Not just a mild force but an explosive one. This is a force we must be energized to release and make known. We are compelled to share this love that is both just and inclusive.
We also speak in terms of reaching hundreds of thousands. Obviously this is not talking about people in pews, but people who can be influenced by St. Luke’s. Covid has made us aware of how far our reach can be. The pandemic has helped us experience the evangelistic scope of John Wesley who said, “The world is my parish.” Each week we now have more than 3500 people watching a service, joining a class, or downloading material, and as many as 8000 a week connecting through some form of social media.
And, then we have clarified our target audience: people who have given up on church or the possibility of a God who loves them. This describes the fastest growing spiritual group in America, those who say they are spiritual but not religious. We want to help people experience a church that is not narrow, exclusive or condemning but is spiritually alive and hopeful.
To carry out this ambitious dream we identified 4 Background Strategies that will be crucial to our expansion. They are:
City Impact—means we will seek to relieve the suffering and improve the lives of our neighbors living in greatest need and greatest risk. We have identified four key aspects:
1—Increase the impact of Four Outreach Initiatives we already have—Housing, Education, Food Insecurity and Justice—with a goal of serving 10,000 people and deploying 250 new volunteers.
2—Launch a Freedom School this June for 100 students in which 85% or more retain or improve reading levels in order to dismantle the pre-school-to-prison pipeline. To do this we will need at least 250 volunteers.
3—Raise $100,000 for a Hope Center that helps 1,000 families in poverty. One leading indicator of family crisis is having diapers for babies which we heard one Sunday back in Advent. We want to provide 500,000 diapers for families in need which will identify further ways we can offer wrap-around services to help households out of poverty.
4—To do this, we will train and deploy 75 Hope Ambassadors who connect with these families and therefore connect them to the resources available and thus decrease the infant mortality rate.
The next Background Strategy: Equipping Disciples means moving people beyond just attending church activities to experiencing genuine life-transformation by living out their faith as fully engaged, followers of Jesus Christ. We will build on the work of the last ten years of engaging people in small groups by offering clear pathways for spiritual growth, faith-sharing, serving with our gifts, and developing leaders. Our aim is to involve 2500 people in such practices.
To do this we will create a connection team that personally connects with attenders to St. Luke’s to help them get better involved in the life of the church and take next steps in their discipleship.
We will also create a team to identify, train and equip new leaders in the church who represent the diversity of our congregation and the community around us.
Our goal is to help people live lives that look like Christ and to make disciples who make disciples.
Third, Inclusive Expansion has to do with our worship and hospitality and evaluating how well these welcome the diverse populations around us and what unintended obstacles there might be. Our goal is to increase our worship attendance by 10% by June 2024. To do this we will conduct a series of listening sessions to engage all voices in the church in evaluating ways our services can appeal to greater numbers of people of all ages, races, and spiritual needs. We want to understand any ways our services and fellowship experiences prevent others from feeling that they belong and thus consider ways to help everyone feel safe, included and inspired, so that we can reach those who have given up on church or the possibility of a God who loves them.
Finally, Multi-site Launch means we will consider ways to extend our reach beyond our current geographic location. We believe this will look like a number of things:
First, this Spring we will launch a Digital Campus that better connects the hundreds of people who join us online and do not have ability to connect with us in person. Covid has already extended our reach nationally. We will develop intentional ways to engage our online community in discipleship practices. Our plan is to get at least 1,000 people who are connecting in some way online to take a next-step of involvement. We have a team of people defining measurable steps that will tell us if we are making progress and what engagement means for an online community.
We also plan to identify Micro-sites of St. Luke’s: gatherings of people in communities where folks are joining us online and where we might connect them in person for fellowship, study opportunities, and missional engagement. An example of what this could look like is a mission event we do here in Indianapolis also takes place in micro-site locations like Fort Wayne, Evansville, and other places where people already say, “St. Luke’s is my church.” We hope to have three micro-site locations this year.
Also, we feel called to consider new physical campuses of St. Luke’s. Most specifically, our Governing Board has accepted an invitation by the Central District to adopt Broad Ripple United Methodist Church. In recent years this faithful, but declining group of members, has struggled to keep their church going. They approved by over-whelming majority, for St. Luke’s to take possession of their building.
Now this proposal was actually something that started in 2018 when the district approached us with the idea. We put together a team to study the pros and cons of this invitation. We even met with leaders of the Broad Ripple Church under the leadership of the district superintendent over a six-month period to study together a book on multi-site strategy called Better Together. After a nearly two-year process we were ready to make an official proposal and then Covid-19 happened. We simply put everything on hold while Kevin Davis has provided pastoral leadership to that community while also serving as one of our congregational care pastors.
This past year the DS asked us to pick up the conversation, and after renewed analysis by our discernment team, they recommended to Governing Board that we go forward with this proposal and our board approved. We now have a team working on a strategy to establish Broad Ripple as another location of St. Luke’s UMC. Brad Kalajainen, founding pastor of Cornerstone UMC, the largest in the Michigan conference, is consulting with this team on what our strategy will be.
Why would we consider such a move? First, it’s because we were asked. This is an opportunity to maintain a United Methodist presence in an important, growth potential part of our city.
It’s also something we believe moves us toward the vision God has for St. Luke’s as a church with a heart to help others find and give hope through Jesus Christ but in the context of an open, inclusive welcome for all. For those of us whose only experience of church is St. Luke’s, it is easy not to realize how radical and rare such a church is. Other communities are eager to experience a church like St. Luke’s but their neighborhoods.
Our agreement with the conference is not just to adopt Broad Ripple but commit to injecting new energy into that church with our St. Luke’s DNA-a church with a passion for helping others find and give hope through Jesus Christ but in the context of an open, inclusive, welcome for all. I am excited about this possibility. Broad Ripple is a popular, busy, commercially-thriving district that attracts people from all over the city. This is a great opportunity to extend the presence and reach of St. Luke’s’ and with the resources, spirit and passion of our church I am confident we can do this!
I have been in contact with colleagues of mine who have launched similar multi-sites to ask what their experience was like. Rev. Lisa Yebuah is the pastor of a satellite location of Edenton Street UMC in Raleigh, NC. This is one of the largest churches in that conference, and after being on staff several years, they sent Lisa to begin Southeast Raleigh Table. They also started another new campus with a different pastor and both sites are within 2 miles of the main church.
Lisa said this came about because of a visioning process in 2009 when the church committed simply to do what they felt God wanted, not what they wanted. When Lisa went to start this, some members felt a sense of loss. But Lisa said if you asked all of those people today, they would say, “It was the greatest thing they ever did!” They see the people these campus locations are reaching, people who despite living so close to the main church, would not have come there, and they celebrate being a part of an undeniable work of God. I love particularly one thing Lisa said, “This decision helped the church exercise its spiritual muscles.” They had gotten used to doing comfortable things that met the needs of the people in the church and it reawakened them to the daring faith they had not exercised in a while.
In Oklahoma City, my friend Dr. Bob Long, has been the pastor of St. Luke’s UMC for 25 years. Several years ago they responded to opportunities to establish new locations. A new one in Edmonds now worships 500-700 people. Another existing church they took over in an underserved part of town, did not make it as a congregation. But to their surprise it became a new location for their Missions Hub, and they’ve been shocked by how God has used that. Just one example is in their mobile meal distribution. A few years ago they served 5,000 meals a year. Now they are serving 250,000 meals each year.
In both of these situations, the overall attendance of the churches has grown by 50% since they started these satellites.
Such an action at St. Luke’s isn’t new. We did this in 1995 when we started The Garden. Also, as I said last Sunday, this is the way St. Luke’s began, a group from Central Methodist downtown, left with the blessing of that church to start a new congregation on the northside.
As well, this is how God works. God satellites. God comes to where people are so they will know and experience His love. God reaches out doing whatever is necessary to connect with people. So the idea of multi-siting is very much in line with our own practices and beliefs at St. Luke’s.
So let me pause here. I know this probably feels like drinking out of a fire hose, but we want to get your responses to a couple questions. We are going to use an online poll that shows how we in this room and those watching online can respond to what we’ve just heard. You need a smartphone to do this. If you are in-person you will see a QR code on the screen. Just point at the screen and that will bring up a website with the four Background Strategies listed. Just click on your choice. If you are watching online, click on the link in the chat and that will take you to the same location where you can participate, and in a moment we will see a tally of our responses…
Questions: Which of the 4 Background Visions do you think will be most significant in helping us reach greater numbers of people who have given up on church or the possibility of a God who loves them?
Q 2: Which one of these do you have the most questions about?
Now, as I pointed out earlier in my mountain climbing story, you can’t move forward and look up at the distant peaks at the same time. You have to turn attention to your next steps and what is immediately in front of you. That’s the bottom 1:4 of this long range strategy. Each year we focus on 1 Midground Vision and below that, four 90-day goals, or Foreground Initiatives. These get renewed each quarter. These are the immediate next steps.
Our One Year Midground Vision is You Belong. Between now and this July we want to reengage over 6,000 members and current attenders and reach out to 1,000 new people with the radical love of Jesus. As people slowly return to active church engagement, we want everyone to know that they belong at St. Luke’s and that God has a purpose for them.
We started this work six months ago, so we are half way through this first Midground Vision. Some of the Foreground Initiatives we have already worked on include maximizing our Christmas concerts as reengagement events which was very successful. Combining our online viewership with those in-person we had 8,000 people watch our Christmas concerts, the most in our history. We are also working on a database cleanup to get accurate information on every member and keep current with all St. Lukers on their needs and concerns.
Looking ahead the four Foreground Initiatives for this current quarter are:
A 5-3-1 Initiative in Lent. You are going to be hearing more about this in the weeks ahead. We want every St. Luke’s active attender, about 2,000 adults, to pray for five people who do not have a spiritual family, invite 3 to St. Luke’s events, and bring at least one new person to an Easter service in person or online. If we do this, then over 40 days we will pray for over 10,000 people, offer 6,000 invitations to St. Luke’s events, and have a goal of bringing 2,000 guests to an Easter service.
Town Halls. We will also be offering town hall events to get feedback from members on this long range vision. We want this to be a time to reenage St. Lukers in the life of the church. To follow when these events will happen, sign up, and learn about other associated activities with our long range vision, you can go to www.youbelongindy.com
Lent Invite Events. We will have events like a big Gospel Concert in March and Easter Egg Hunt that make for great invite opportunities, along with Sunday services and Holy Week activities, as well as the town halls and the Outreach events that will be occurring.
Building Feasibility Study. We are assessing the needs of our facility here at 100 W. 86th St. and what will be needed to provide vibrant ministry for the next generation.
Again, I know this has been a lot but let me add just a couple more things in closing. First, what I have shared here is not inclusive of all ministries and efforts in St. Luke’s. These are just events related to our future vision, but we hope this will bring focus and purpose to many of the other things we will still keep doing.
We will still give emphasis to being an inclusive church. We will still work on anti-racism efforts and pour into our Minority Business Incubator; and we will keep working to make our United Methodist Church fully inclusive of LGBT members.
We will still have an emphasis of reaching young families, children and youth. That does not go away. We set that as a priority 9 years ago and we will continue to seek to reach the next generation.
And we will continue to support our many Outreach partners and international ministries in Kenya, Haiti and Sierra Leone.
Now, did I say all this was easy? Absolutely not. God doesn’t call us to easy-land but faithful-land. Does it cause a disequilibrium to look at events that are beyond the horizon while carrying out the everyday. Yes. That’s why this message is called Double Vision. Its disconcerting at 14,000 to get dizzy. But I can tell you, there is nothing like standing at 14, 500 feet and staring eye to eye with the Matterhorn. When you get to the mountaintop the dizziness goes away.
So let me share two emails with you. One is from Linda Arant, a St. Luke’s member who heard this vision described at our Winter Summit weeks ago. Linda is a founding member of St. Luke’s. She was baptized in Central Methodist and her parents were part of that original group that started St. Luke’s. She’s been here her whole life. She said, “When I think about where our church is and where we hope it will go—I think if my parents could see what St. Luke’s has become, they would be so very proud. We must continue to take risks while also remembering where we came from. I am so grateful for this church.”
And finally this, a person who first connected with St. Luke’s online this year and shared with me in a recent email sharing her appreciation for our openness and aliveness.
Hi Pastor Rob. My story explains what St.Luke’s has done for me. I grew up the youngest of 5 children living in Williamsport IN. Our family was poor but loving family and I would describe my upbringing as wonderful!
Every Sunday my parents would dressed us up for Church and Sunday School. The church we attended was in Attica IN, where my mother’s sister and her husband attended.
On Saturdays my father managed a pool hall in Williamsport and one Saturday he talked the guys at the pool hall into attending Church with us the following Sunday…. It was then we discovered our Church was not a welcoming Church. My Aunt and Uncle were furious that we would bring “those” type of people to their Church. So therefore our Church going came to a sudden stop.
Although I believe in our Lord and read the Bible I didn’t think I needed a church. The pandemic changed all that! I began watching your services online in early 2020 and began just recently coming to St Luke’s in person along with my husband. You taught me that St. Luke’s is an all inclusive, all welcoming church that changed my whole way of thinking!!
I want to thank you for giving me the community of church back!! We look forward to becoming members. Happy New Year!