Vision Revision: County Line Embraces Updates for a Post-COVID World
By Carl Stagner
Regular readers of CHOGnews and followers of Church of God social media over the past decade have come to associate County Line Church of God with extensive service to the Lord and community—and massive baptism celebrations! While the Holy Spirit certainly can’t be bought, predicted, controlled, or cajoled, it would be difficult not to detect evidence of the supernatural in the atmosphere and activity of the Auburn, Indiana-area campuses. But in a post-pandemic world, countless congregations like County Line have had to pivot to regain solid footing perhaps formerly taken for granted. Factoring in the variables of church attendance in a society increasingly virtual, a decline in those who identify as Christian, and a general increase in divisive hostility, County Line Church of God knew it was time to refresh and revise the vision that directs and focuses the mission to which the Lord has called them.
Stuart Kruse has served as senior pastor of County Line Church of God for fourteen years, following an eight-year stint as associate. A glimpse into the mind of this minister offers rationale for a vision revision.
“The previous vision statement was, ‘Restoring our communities with Christ…one life at a time,’” he reflects. “It had been in place for fourteen years and served us well as we became more of a presence in our surrounding communities. County Line is located in the middle of about six to seven different towns/cities, so it’s a challenge, but we have congregational members highly involved in each of those communities. One of the phrases that drove us in this time period was, ‘If our church were to close its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community protest or care?’ Like I said, I believe we moved the ball down the field in this way. One of our staff was at a Walmart, buying supplies for an event, and the checkout lady asked what it was all for. The staff person said it was for an event County Line was doing in the community. The checkout lady responded, ‘Oh, County Line Church—that’s the church that helps people!’ When I heard that story, I knew we had made headway.”
In the life of a local church, there are times and seasons when circumstances seem to warrant change. The creation and issuance of a new vision and direction, even if only slightly refined, can prevent congregations from falling into a rut. Flourishing churches, like County Line, proactively identify and avoid such pitfalls.
“The post-COVID era precipitated us looking at our vision,” Pastor Stuart continues. “Over a five- to seven-month period of seeking the Lord, we felt him calling us to be more intentional about taking the church outside the walls to spread his love and joy. Our culture has become more and more hateful toward one another, but we have the answer! Lives transformed by Jesus will naturally display a more loving and joyful attitude toward others.”
County Line’s new vision statement is “Multiplying the love and joy of Jesus throughout a hurting world…one life at a time.” Everything about the statement was intentional on the part of church leadership, including its Christ-centered focus and its retention of previous components.
Pastor Stuart explains, “We believe the word multiplying was important because God is not interested in addition, but rather multiplication. We see this throughout Scripture. From the beginning, God wanted his people to multiply in order to have more and more people he called his own. After Jesus, it was no longer about multiplying the family of God through having babies, but rather a spiritual family that multiplied disciples. So, in this next era of time, we want to multiply salvations (reach people who then reach people who then reach people) disciples (disciples who disciple another, who disciple another, who then disciple another to the third, fourth generations, and beyond) and churches (churches who start churches who start churches, etc.).”
“And church can look a lot of different ways these days,” he continues, “because fewer and fewer are wanting to attend a church building on a Sunday morning. There are a lot of names for this, but we are going with ‘Fresh Expressions’ of church. Encouraging our congregational members to take their passions and hobbies and start gatherings of people around that same interest to learn about faith in Jesus. I explained the love and joy of Jesus part earlier, but Jesus said his disciples would be known by their love for others. He also told us his joy in us would be complete. So, we want to internally show more love and joy toward others.”
Pastor Stuart goes on to say, “‘Throughout a hurting world’ goes back to Matthew 9, when Jesus was gazing upon the people who were lost without a shepherd, and he looks at his disciples and tells them there are so many people to reach and care for, but so few people willing to join him. We want him to see hands raised all over County Line Church saying, ‘We are with you Jesus. Send us!’ We want to have the same compassion for the world that Jesus did. The “one life at a time” was part of the old vision, but we wanted to keep it a part of the new because Luke 15 says all of heaven stops and celebrates just one person who repents and commits their life to Jesus. If there are over 7 billion people in the world, and all of heaven stops to celebrate just one person coming to know Jesus, then that means every single life on this earth matters. The current climate of our culture can seem like a daunting task, but if we all focus on that one life at time, amazing things can happen.”
How might Pastor Stuart encourage other congregations and their leaders to take a second look at their existing vision and mission statements and perhaps analyze whether adherence, adjusting, or replacing is possibly in order? And why does it matter that congregations are in tune with their vision and mission?
“As I mentioned above,” Pastor Stuart explains, “things have changed since COVID, and we can’t just keep doing things the way we used to do them. People are no longer just going to show up to learn about Jesus. We have to be more intentional about taking Jesus to people outside the church. The trend was already shifting away from us prior to COVID, but COVID accelerated it. And sometimes an old vision statement can become stale and put on a shelf. It’s good to sometimes stop and reassess where culture is currently and see what God may have for us to strategically keep reaching and discipling people for him. As we’ve all heard, the message never changes, but the methods do. It’s time for all of us to reassess the methods we’ve always used. And believe me, I’ve been in ministry for twenty-two years and it scares me to do things differently, because I know how to do it the old way. The old way is comfortable and fits my wiring. Doing things differently will challenge me and make me think in ways I never had to before. But I’m embracing this next season and saying, ‘God, I don’t want to become irrelevant. I want our church to keep having an impact for you. So, please lead the way and teach me as we go. You know what needs to be done, I don’t. But I’m willing to listen and obey.’”
“Imagine,” Pastor Stuart concludes, “what could happen if pastors and churches everywhere were just honest with the Lord about what we don’t know, and find ourselves relying on him and his creative wisdom more than we ever did? Only good could come from that.”