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Getting Back to Basics

Sometimes the truth is hard to hear. But ask Disciples in Santa Cruz, Calif., how the truth drove them to a new beginning in ministry.

In 2006, Church Extension was piloting its New Beginnings Assessment Service at Garfield Park Christian Church. The Santa Cruz congregation had been a strong church in the community for years, but about 1960, the world around it began to shift. The congregation began a deep decline, even though the community around it continued to grow.

In partnership with the Northern California-Nevada Region, New Beginnings consultants arrived to find a congregation with an average worship attendance of fewer than 30 people. This small group of mostly octogenarians rattled around in a huge, deteriorating building they could not adequately maintain.

The pilot study revealed that the congregation had fulfilled its former mission years earlier, and now needed to take a hard look at the community around it. In that radically changed context, the congregation needed to name and claim a new mission.

“The New Beginnings report was exactly what I hoped it would be,” said pastor Steve DeFields-Gambrel, “which was brutally honest—wonderfully, lovingly honest. It really propelled us forward.”

The New Beginnings assessment surveyed the situation and then named conditions at the church. It also engaged the members in a significant conversation about the future of the ministry of the congregation. The congregation conducted small group meetings to unpack the assessment and to begin the hard work of re-imagining their future in this changed ministry setting.

Meanwhile, DeFields-Gambrel used the report to develop a 70-page ministry plan that identified a new mission, vision and purpose for the church. The congregation, eager to find new life in mission, approved the plan and started down the challenging road of redeveloping a ministry.

In December 2007, just a year after the New Beginnings assessment, Boyd Hughes, a former participant of the church, attended worship at the Santa Cruz church, now known as The Circle Church (Disciples of Christ). He wrote, “…15 years ago I would not have bet a nickel on the chance of that congregation reaching their 100th anniversary. When I visited last month I saw a congregation that was alive, vibrant, and witnessing to God’s love like few others I have seen. The congregation is a cross section of the population of Santa Cruz, which is no mean feat in itself….”

The members of the church decided to change the name as a way of indicating they were becoming a new creation with renewed energy for mission. Through The Circle Church, Disciples once again have a vibrant witness in Santa Cruz.