“God has a future for us!”
For the members of Ardara (Pa.) Presbyterian Church, those words were hard to imagine less than a year ago.
In November 2014, church leadership was planning to spend the last of the dwindling church funds and close the church at the end of the year. Fast forward to November 2015: worship attendance has more than doubled, people are on a waiting list for the next new members class, and a budget surplus is being invested for future outreach and growth.
Glenn Meyers, Ardara ruling elder (RE) and pulpit supply, says the theme of this story is God’s faithfulness. He noted that over the past year, “Proverbs 3:5 (trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding) and 1 Peter 5:6 (humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time) have guided us.”
The catalyst for Ardara’s turnaround was a Vision Vitality workshop, part of the reception process into the Presbytery of the Alleghenies. All of the church’s REs were required to participate in this “church vitality check-up” led by the EPC GO Center’s Bob Stauffer.
The workshop helped the REs realize they were “one step above dead,” Meyers said, explaining that they likened their situation to the scene in “The Princess Bride” in which Miracle Max (played by Billy Crystal) declares that Wesley “is not totally dead, he’s mostly dead.”
The congregation’s college of elders—of which Meyers is a member—joined the Session to assess the state of the church. The combined group made a number of hard decisions, including “right-sizing” the budget and making a change in pastoral leadership. Meyers, who had grown up in the church and later attended seminary—and whose wife, Heather, was the church secretary—agreed to serve as pulpit supply.
Earlier this year, the Session (which by then included a class of new REs) began a study of the Westminster Confession of Faith. In addition, a Vision Vitality Team that included church members as well as REs began evaluating the needs in their community and developing “bridge events” to meet these needs.
A survey of residents on one street—with such simple questions such as “How can we serve you?” and “How can we help you?”—resulted in a growing number of people in the community talking about the church. More awareness of the church developed through a “Grace Harvest Festival” held at the church on October 17, in which members of the congregation provided free family activities such as pumpkin bowling, face painting, and refreshments.
The impact of these efforts is evident every Sunday.
In less than a year, worship attendance has doubled from 35-40 to 75-85—and “in the 90s on good days,” Meyers says. A new members class of eight joined the church this fall, with five more people on a waiting list to join. These new members include both extended family members and new people who had never before been to the church.
A year ago, the only services Ardara held were Sunday worship and a combined Jr. High/Sr. High meeting. In 2015, the church added a regular Bible study, a women’s fellowship group, and a biweekly elementary school gathering. A men’s retreat took place this fall.
Further evidence shows in the church’s finances, as giving is up dramatically in 2015—to the point where receipts now exceed the budget. One result of this was that the Session sent Glenn and Heather to the EPC General Assembly in Orlando.
“We knew we had a story to tell,” he said, “and we were so encouraged by stories of others in the EPC. We returned to Ardara with the message, ‘God is at work in the EPC!’”
In addition, the church is working to pay off its financial commitment to its former denomination as quickly as possible, and planning for more community outreach ministries as well as sending more REs to the 2016 General Assembly.
Church members like to point to another tangible sign of the church’s revitalization—the front entrance. In 2014, the porch and front door had deteriorated so badly that they were unusable; congregants entered and exited through a barely visible side door. In 2015, a memorial gift arrived that allowed for repairs. The front entrance is now a noticeable signal that Ardara is “opening its doors” to the community.
The congregation is not keeping its funds inside the church, which celebrated its 120th anniversary on October 25, 2015. A search of the records showed that the original building cost $968.27. To celebrate this anniversary, the church raised $968.27 to fund EPC church planting.
“This is a great way for us to say ‘Thank you’ to our new denomination for all they’ve done to help us,” Meyers said. “We now have organizational vitality; we want gospel vitality. We want to see people saved. We want to see conversion growth. God is doing so many good things in this church…He has a future for us!”
That may have been hard to imagine one year ago, but the leadership and members of Ardara Presbyterian Church now expect a very bright future.