Often, I have referred to St. John United Church of Christ as the “Church on the Avenue”. Early in my
ministry in Bellevue people in the community would ask me where my Church was, and I would say, it’s
the Church on Fairfield Avenue. Most people knew then what Church I was talking about. I like the name
“Church on the Avenue,” however, unless we were going to change our name, I knew we needed to
market our official name to become known for who we are and to reach beyond our location.
We’ve done several marketing efforts over the past two decades: mass mailings, door hangers to every
resident in Bellevue, newspaper articles, ads in the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus programs, magnets, pens,
festival booths, and more. For almost 20 years Music on the Avenue posters, post cards, radio and TV
interviews, and concerts, have gotten our name known beyond Fairfield Avenue and Bellevue.
From 1999 thru 2007 we grew numerically as did our witness and programs. We became known in the
region. We moved from an average of 42 in worship to an average of 92. A 119% increase in 8 years! But
in 2008 there was a major decline. Some told me it was because of the national economic recession. At
first, I didn’t believe that, however, I’ve come to know from talking with people who stopped attending, that
economics did impact their continued involvement with the Church. There were other things that impacted
our decline, most of which related to relational connections, and the lack of children and youth ministries.
There are no magic answers to Church growth. Some will say non-traditional music and technology is the
answer. But there are still many congregations who are very traditional who are packing the pews and
meeting the needs of their community. Our first goal is to be faithful to God and go from there.
The most powerful mixture for Church growth seems to be relationship and focused programs. When we
know one another, we will work together and share the mission. When we know someone only by face or
acquaintance there is a hesitation to becoming involved beyond attending a worship service.
We do not need a ton of money to grow the Church. I say that because over the past two decades that
has been the main excuse for lack of growth. The good news is that we are not dead! We have quite a lot
of life and joy! In my opinion, we are sitting on the greatest opportunity for growth I’ve seen in a long time.
We are a progressive, caring, inclusive Christian congregation with a welcome that is wide. But, we have
become ingrown and are now dealing with the same ingrown behaviors as we did two decades ago. This
can be changed, if we want to change; and we need to change to grow. Two simple words describe the
change needed: Invite and include. We are great at welcoming people to worship when they show up.
But, we are not so good at inviting and including new people to what we are doing: Bible study, meals
after Church, prayer groups, Spiritual Growth Series, youth group, etc. The action of
inviting and including is free, it doesn’t cost us a penny, just our effort and love.
I envision a vibrant spiritual community of Jesus-followers who love God, love all neighbors near and far as we love ourselves, and care for the earth; a spiritual community where our purpose is to be and to grow the church through: worshiping God, inviting everyone, welcoming everyone, engaging and encouraging everyone; making disciples of Jesus; and serving those in need, on the Avenue and beyond!
From the Corner
is written by the
Rev. Keith M. Haithcock,
Pastor & Teacher of
St. John United Church of Christ
0n the corner of
Fairfield and Ward Aves.,