Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The State of the Church 2007

The Annual Pastoral Report
Pastor Matt Mitchell
Year in Review: 2006

Dear Church Family,

It’s an honor to report to you as your pastor. Thank you for your loving support and care for me and my family in 2006. I feel like Paul did in Philemon 7 when he said, “Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, [LEFC], have refreshed the hearts of the saints.” It is a joy to be your pastor.

My favorite moment of ministry in 2006 was the memorial of Craig “Tiny” Older. Our church building was full of people who aren’t exactly like us–Tiny was a part of a bikers’ club, and there were sights, sounds, and smells that most of us aren’t used to. But this church family didn’t miss a beat! You reached out to all of Tiny’s “other family” with the love of Christ in true hospitality, affectionate care, and biblical truth. I couldn’t be prouder.

Thanks are in order to the 2006 Leadership Board: Wally Kephart (chair), George Leathers (vice chair), Blair Murray (elder), Keith Folmar (deacon), Tom Hampton (deacon), Charlie Weaver (deacon), and to all of the other elected officers and ministry leaders whose names appear throughout this Annual Report. We have a unified leadership that loves the Lord Jesus and wants to give Him our all. It’s fun to serve alongside you.

Thanks also go to our church staff. Cindy Green is like a smiling Energizer Bunny–she keeps going and going and going. Donna Wolfmeyer and Holly Lockwood kept us connected to each other and kept me out from under a pile of paperwork. Stacey and Tom Fisch both served in 2006 as temporary ministry staff. Stacey did a first-class job with the Challenge Conference, youth and women’s ministries. The Family Bible Week Tom directed this year was tremendous. I love working alongside this staff.

2006 was a tumultuous year for attendance and membership. We had a number of people leave church for various reasons and a number of people start coming for the first time. The average weekly attendance for the year was 128 people per week. That’s down four people per week on average from 2004 (the last year for which we have accurate records). But the average attendance for the last quarter of 2006 (October through December) was 140 people per week. We received 8 new members: Ernie DeGrasse, Bob & Sylvia Gisewhite, Lloyd Hampton, Rick & Edie Sipe, and Dan & Jen Kerlin. We are clearly growing right now, and it’s exciting to see.


2006 was unique in a number of ways:

In January, we held a movie night, showing the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor on the 50 year anniversary of the martyrs Jim Elliot and the other 4 missionaries in Ecuador.

In conjunction with a doctoral class I took in March on the theology and practice of prayer, I began a series of pastoral prayer retreats where I pray for each of our families by name and specific prayer requests when I can get them. This has been rich and rewarding for connecting me better with both you and God.

In April, my weblog, “Hot Orthodoxy” turned 1 year old. This has been a good outlet for my creative writing urges and another way of resourcing both our church and others. You are invited to join the discussion at matt-mitchell.blogspot.com.

In both April and June, the topic of discussion at the district and national leadership conferences was the proposed revision to the EFCA Statement of Faith. Our national leadership believes that it is time revisit our doctrinal statement, refresh it, update it, and make some strengthening changes. I have been able to be a part of the discussion, and think that it’s a healthy process for our movement of Free Churches.

In August, we ventured out of our four walls and participated in the first ever West Branch Community Days. I loved watching our people interact with the community, handing out free food and reading materials, and praising the Lord (even when no one else showed up!). August was a big month for us in outreach, as we also sent a ministry team to West Virginia to help Pastor Josh Perry and Crew Community Church get off the ground.

In October, we celebrated the first year of the new Pastor Prayer Team–a group of you who volunteer to pray for me and my family at least five days a week. You are a precious group of people to the Mitchells! We had a health concern with Heather’s heart in 2006, but thanks to your prayers and God’s care, nothing dreadful has shown up in tests. Thank you for praying. Also in October, Brian and Holly Lockwood attended a Family Fitness Retreat near Beaver Falls. That may be something we see pop up among us here.

And in the last two months of 2006, our church website: lansefree.org was refurbished and reloaded. Check it out.


I like to describe my pastoral ministry in terms of my three primary pastoral functions:

1. Preach the Word.

We tried to stay gospel-centered in 2006. The three major sermon series were the Gospel of Mark (with a focus on discipleship), the Book of Hosea (with a focus on the good news of God’s redeeming love and amazing grace), and Home Improvement: Building Our Families on the Gospel. The series on the family was received especially well, and hundreds of free CDs of those messages have been given out.

I was only out of the pulpit 7 times in 2006, but when I was, we were ably served by Kevin Howard, Tim McGill, Leroy Glover, Bruce Weatherly, Ralph Magill, Phil Alessi, and Kim Cone.

In 2007, we are going to trek with Israel into Numbers: Life in the Wilderness. Pray for me as I prepare biblical meals for our church family and try to dish them out on Sunday mornings for our spiritual nourishment.

2. Equip the Saints.

A big part of my job is meeting with ministries, committees, and leaders to help them achieve our purpose as a church. I enjoy it, and am happy to see what has been accomplished in the other reports throughout this Annual Report.

3. Shepherd the Flock

I had the privilege, honor, and responsibility of walking with many of you through big events in 2006. We had a number of births, sicknesses, deaths, and other big events in families, and it is a privilege to be involved in your lives. Heather and I enjoy an active hospitality, counseling, and visitation ministry. If you would like to connect with us, we’d be glad to!


At our last Annual Reports Meeting, we set out some directions we thought the Lord might be leading us in for 2006.

The first and foremost was a continuing emphasis on intentional disciple-making. We can’t lose that focus–that’s what we are all about. We are called, as a church, to make disciples that make disciples that make disciples to the glory of God.

In 2006, your Leadership Board worked to develop a disciplemaking strategy for our church. I think that we are closer to that than we were a year ago, but a completely comprehensive strategy is still elusive.

We also talked about a church plant in the Philipsburg area and an Associate Pastor of Family Ministries. Neither of those initiatives have moved much further than last year, but we’re still looking for God to do something along both of those lines in His perfect timing.

The other goal was to grow as a praying church, and I think God did that! We have seen a lot of prayer happen around our church, both planned and spontaneous. As part of my prayer class, I noted 14 current prayer ministries, and then our board came up with a list of suggestions for “total prayer permeation” which we have begun to implement. It’s very exciting to be a part of a praying church!


Our Leadership Board has identified four areas for which we need to REACH in 2007:


A new ministry in 2007 will the be the Connection Team whose focus will be to enhance fellowship connections between participants in Lanse Free Church. Connection Team members will provide a personal touch to a group of people (both established families and families needing assimilated) and pass on vital information to the leadership (Ephesians 4:16). The Connection Team will be like a “nervous system” for the Body of Christ at LEFC.

We also want to expand our Link Group Ministry and evaluate all of our ministries in light of our purpose to see how they fit in our comprehensive disciplemaking strategy.

One key goal for 2007, for the Leadership Board is to come to a resolution and direction concerning some suggested changes to our leadership structure. We have been talking stream-lining some things and creating some new lines of oversight since before August of 2005, and we hope to have something to present to you this year (or to abandon the project!).

All of this is part of growing healthy disciples within our ministry.


“Evangelical is Our Middle Name,” and we know that we need to grow in our witness and outreach. The good news (evangel) of Jesus Christ must be at the forefront and center of our ministry!

One new emphasis we are coming to, is an a focus on OUTreach, reaching OUT beyond our four walls. The most effective evangelism is our personally loving our neighbors, friends, family, co-workers, and even strangers and enemies with the gospel. We hope to facilitate more outreach beyond the walls of our building.

Personally, I have made 5 new “evangel-sharing” commitments. Perhaps you’ll join me in adopting these:

#1. I'm going to try to see people as eternal souls.
#2. I'm going to try to find opportunities to serve the lost around me.
#3. I'm going to try to always have a gospel tract on hand.
#4. I'm going to try to just take the plunge and say something.
#5, I'm going to try to pray that God would give me a heart for the lost.

We’ve invited former pastor Jack Kelly in August for a special series of meetings that we hope will also be part of reaching out to our community with the gospel.

And don’t forget to pray for the lost in Philipsburg and for a church to be birthed there!


Without it becoming our “focus,” we want to emphasize debt-reduction in 2007 so that we are free to attack new ministry projects in the future. I believe that if we all reach down into our pockets and give cheerfully (over and above our normal gift to the church), we will be able to significantly pay down our indebtedness and prepare for what God has for us in the future (an associate pastor, an expanded fellowship hall, a video projector system, a renovated sanctuary, who knows?).

This church has a fine history of giving, and as usual, as we give, God will give to us and we’ll be blessed (Philippians 4:10-19).


Prayer must remain our lifeblood. We need to trust God and faithfully continue to keep the main thing the main thing. It’s the Lord Jesus who builds His church (Matthew 16:18)!

Here are some ministries/ministers that I’d like to see us pray for in 2007:

- Young Adults Link Group/Leader (Singles, Graduates-Young Adults, College/Career)
- Young Marrieds Link Group/Leader (Couples in their 20's, pre-kids and babies)
- Youth Leaders to Take More Responsibility for Uth Ministries (Preferrably Parents)
- “Empty Nest” Link Group/Leader (Have Grown Kids)
- Philipsburg Church Plant Core Group (People with a heart for Philipsburg)
- Associate Pastor of Family Ministries

These (among others) are needs I see among us, and I am praying for God to fill them in His time. He knows what is best and can do more than we ask or imagine. Let’s “up-reach” towards Him!

“Let everyone who is godly pray to you while you may be found...Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous; sing, all you who are upright in heart!” (Psalm 32:6,11).

In His Grip,
Pastor Matt