2020 3rd Quarter Update or How Covid Changed Us

Project 938 Family,

The Church has never felt more important. As I consider the intractable challenges of our culture – from the cultural divisions, the spiking depression & anxiety, the philosophical questions about what it means to be human – the church and the gospel she stewards has never meant more.

We have all been through a lot, and the deep exhaustion of our country is seen and felt. If you are like me, you sense a spiritual haze, a darkened gloom upon our world. It is into darkness that God has sent Christ to bring hope.

See, darkness covers the earth

and thick darkness is over the peoples,

but the Lord rises upon you

and his glory appears over you.

Nations will come to your light,

and kings to the brightness of your dawn.

Isaiah 60:2-3

I believe Project 938 has been sent into this moment and is being used by God to bring hope and light into our dark world.

Some Things to Celebrate

Together For West Chester – In the early days of the pandemic, we formed a new team to take point on our outreach in the community. T4WC took point on our offering for two West Chester food cupboards, Mother’s Day cards at a local nursing home, lunch for the front-line workers, and a food drive to support Act in Faith. They have teamed up with our small groups, offering assistance in connecting to local service projects in our community. Even now, they are making preparations to guide us into our Christmas outreach opportunities.

Groups – In the days before we were able to meet regularly, our small groups, meeting online, were lifelines for many of us to keep our faith growing and ourselves connected to friends.

Kids – Our 938Kids ministry stayed connected with Zoom calls almost every day for months and preschool families, receiving kits and sharing them with their neighbors.

938online – Our staff flexed from live, in-person worship to an online dynamic worship experience, highlighting the creativity, personality and gifts of our staff team. Many of our people got involved in creative worship songs, testimonies, interviews and plenty of opportunities to make us laugh.

Growth – The early days of the pandemic, we and other churches saw explosive growth and responsiveness. We had at least 27 people accept Christ during the season of tremendous online participation across the nation. During this time, we met some new people who have become a part of Project 938.

But our growth has not just been in new people, but with new opportunities. Struggles like the ones we have faced give us opportunities to grow. I have talked to many people who have faced anxiety head-on, have engaged challenges that had been left unaddressed for years, and have taken steps forward in faith, not in spite of the pandemic, but because of it.

Challenges and Opportunities

Some have said that COVID-19 would not alter history, but would simply advance it. Though we have enjoyed new opportunities and growth, we have also experienced transitions in the midst of the pandemic. Karen Nines, our Operations Director has had to step back from her staff position with us in order to support her family’s changes during the pandemic. The Giannotti’s, who anchored our next-gen ministry, have moved back to be near Becky’s family in Indiana. Mercedes Thomas who served us so well in communications has also moved to Indiana to attend grad school (do you see a trend?).

I am still amazed at God’s providence in bringing Josh Crum and Walter Kondratowski to Project 938 at the beginning of March. They have formed the core of our leadership around 938online.net and are the right people to step into the new holes in our ministry. Josh Crum, as of September is stepping forward to serve as our Family Pastor. This is not an exact replacement for Kevin Giannotti, but Josh brings fifteen years of experience in youth and family ministry to nurture our vision for the next generation. Walter will step in to support more in communication.

A Shift in Strategy

New churches typically build a “Staff to Grow” budget where they raise support in the beginning and hire a staff that a young church can grow into, usually over a three-year period. The pandemic hit at the beginning of our third year and has tested our will to get to self-sustainability by year three. We are taking the responsible course and have chosen to lower our expenses, shifting from a “staff to grow,” to a “ready to go” budget. We are lowering expenses, focusing our ministry on building leadership for a missional discipleship culture so that we can maintain a proper cash position to stay healthy and prepared for the challenges and opportunities that will come in the months ahead.

This has meant that we have not replaced Karen Nines’ operations role, and our communications role will be absorbed by Walter Kondratowski starting in November. Additionally, we have made the difficult decision of placing Laurie Evangelista’s position in pre-school ministry on furlough. As an employee, we have all enjoyed her faithfulness in serving our church since the beginning. As this is no reflection of her performance, we (and all of those pre-school cuties) hope to see her continue in a volunteer capacity as she is able.

Some have asked about our overall giving. Thanks to your generosity, our church has stayed strong, though the loss of regular worship services and a slight decline in summer online attendance has had a notable impact on giving through the second half of 2020. The real story is not a slight downturn, but rather the ongoing faithfulness of God to provide for us, His Church, in this community.

What is Ahead

Our theme verse for this year is John 20:21, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.” We are choosing to believe that God has sent us here for our community and for this moment.

21 Days of Prayer - Currently, we are seeking God with 21 Days of Prayer (text 484-604-0544 if you want to join). We are praying for BREAKTHROUGH for our friends, for our nation, for our community. We are trusting God to produce the kind of renewal that sparks new life in us for our community. Looking ahead, we are excited about these opportunities.

Church and Prayer in the Park – Last week, we met at SALT Performing Arts, our new space starting November 1st. We loved the space and enjoyed our first worship gathering indoors since pre-CoVid-19. This Sunday, we will meet at Oakbourne Park for “Prayer at Oakbourne” from 8:30-9am. October is probably the most beautiful time of the year in our part of the world and there is no better way of connecting God’s beauty than with prayer and worship.

‘The Running Man’ – On October 18th, we will launch our next series, on the book of Jonah. As we learn the ways this man ran from his purpose, we will hear real-life personal stories of how Jesus is the true runner and never stops pursuing people.

Pumpkin Derby Fest 2020 - On October 25th. After Church in the Park, we will bring back a favorite event for family and friends. This year, we will not just roll pumpkins, but bring back a favorite Launch Team memory: pumpkin launching.

938:ONPURPOSE - For seven Sundays starting on November 1, we are going to “double up” on our mission and vision. We will gather each Sunday morning at either 9:00am or 11:00am to focus on rebuilding community around our mission as a church. These will not be “worship services per se,” but will connect us, inspire us and equip us for how we launch in 2021. We say double up because we will also be rolling our 938online service each of those Sundays also at **new times**: 9:00 & 11:00 am. So, engage with 938Online at 9am and come build community around our mission at 11am. Or, build community at 9am and run home to catch 938Online at 11am. Make sense?

Food for the Hungry - This Fall, as we focus on our mission as a church, we will take action, helping people find their way back to God as we take initial steps to begin a “Community Transformation Project” in Peru. We will have the opportunity to “adopt a child” and sponsor the necessary infrastructure change in a community while being able to relationally engage with this community and their leaders.

Christmas in West Chester - Yes, Christmas will be different this year, but we will still go

big to celebrate the greatest moment of all time with a series of outreach opportunities leading up to multiple safe Christmas Eve celebrations at Uptown Theatre on High Street. This beautiful venue will allow the space, and the social distancing to take this new Christmas tradition to the next level.

2021 – Well, it is hard to know exactly what to expect from the virus in the new year. We are gaming three scenarios and will be prepared. These days, preparation is more important than planning. We don’t know what meeting or what church will be like exactly, but we do know that the gospel will continue to bear fruit (Col. 1:5-6), that Jesus will continue to actively build His Church (Matthew 16:9), and we know that in a world where everything changes, these three will remain – Faith, Hope and Love – and we will hold tightly to them as the one who gives them leads forward.

Following Jesus with you,

Pastor Marc