People often ask me, "Where do you go to church?"
To which I reply, "Cedar Grove Community Church. It's the one on College Avenue with all the big trees."
In Livermore and Pleasanton, that response is met with nodding and smiling. People know my church. It's lovely. It's been there forever. It's experienced a lot of very public turmoil with its neighbors due to past desires to expand. But recently, expansion hasn't been at the forefront of CGCC's agenda.
Years ago, our church was thriving. It housed a church body of believers who happily attended services on Sunday mornings for interesting, low-key sermons and the opportunity for fellowship, but who were also fed spiritually by a set of small groups which met all over the community.
Our youth group was a place where teenagers felt safe, had fun, and wanted to bring their friends. Those of us in the youth group who didn't feel spiritually challenged on Sunday mornings were met with productive solutions... separate Bible studies and the creation of a youth missions board.
Bolstered by a calendar jammed with activities, a vibrant, well organized program for children, and an overtly welcoming atmosphere, CGCC's church family was growing rapidly, and a plan to move to a new location was born from that optimistic, joyful foundation soil.
A plot of land was purchased. Architectural drawings of the new building were placed in the lobby. Each elevation was crisp and sleek and bright, banked by panoramic views of purple vineyards and golden foothills, exactly the way a House of God should be.
Many of us can pinpoint the day all of those effectively-laid plans evaporated. It had to do with CGCC jumping on a bandwagon.
I've read parts of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, and it's an interesting and inspirational consideration of the purpose of human beings. Congregations across America adopted the structure of the book in a movement focused on the Forty Days of Purpose and discovering church-level fulfillment, something that would, ideally, translate to discovery of personal fulfillment on the part of individual parishioners.
It was a grand idea. Unfortunately, the process called for an effective reboot of each church's current system. This requirement, at least in the case of CGCC, appeared to cause the dissolution of small groups and the faltering of traditional activities. And, when the forty-first day dawned, there was no epiphany to carry our church to new heights of purpose or success.
There were, of course, other reasons and complexities to which I was not privy, which contributed to CGCC losing steam and slowing to a crawl. But I still contend that the catalyst came when CGCC stopped doing what was good in favor of doing something that was possibly better. It took its eyes off the road. It wasn't broke, and yet it volunteered to be fixed.
So where are we now?
I love my church, but today my loyalty is more dogged than devoted. I can remember how it felt to know that our church was meeting the vast needs of people, believers both old and new, of all ages; I remember the personal fulfillment I had in being utilized for good, participating in service projects and missions, etc. That sense of accessibility and acceptability has faded in the last few years. We are sluggish, we are despondent, and we are needy.
CGCC needs to be jumpstarted. And I think whatever changes are made need to begin with the women of the church.
Sociological, anthropological, and psychological statistics point to the health of any community being directly correlated to the health of the women in it. That holds for churches, too. If the women of CGCC were better educated by the church , better supported by the church , better connected with resources of all kinds by the church , their joy, purpose, and fulfillment would be positively affected, and thereby allowed the potential to spread to men in the church, children in the church, etc. This is a bold, though not altogether new idea.
According to scripture, Christian women ought to be among the most fulfilled, joyful, purposeful people in the world. Right now, any communication of that truth at our church comes in drips and drabs through one or two Bible studies and the annual Women's Retreat. That needs to change. It needs to be taught consistently and frequently, and such instruction should begin a lot sooner.
In my perfect church, the connection of women in all pertinent relationships would be facilitated by the church itself. Each person would be called to serve and would be served by someone else in another capacity.
I don't know how such a change would begin, but I want for CGCC to experience a Renaissance of involvement by its parishioners. The problem is... people won't feel compelled to participate and serve if they aren't better connected with the heart of the church, and they won't be better connected with the heart of the church unless they participate and serve. It's a sad, deteriorating cycle, and it must be broken to achieve progress.
It's time to recall all the ways CGCC has succeeded in the past, to cram its youth calendar full of safe, fun activities, to encourage interpersonal relationships of all kinds, to provide resources for the congregation (babysitting co-op platform, group dates for singles, childcare during women's Bible studies, fundraising events, etc.), and to invest in traditions we all love and want to share with our friends.
Thankfully, where it's a question of will, God does provide. All we need to do is ask.