Just off one of the main streets in the little town of Cumberland, Indiana is a 62-year-old church in the midst of a revival. The congregation and staff of Cumberland Christian Church have an energy they have not felt for a long time.
A little over a year ago, the congregation faced major challenges: They had to ask a youth minister to step down. Their capital campaign to add on to their building did not live up to expectations. And a drastic change in worship style killed momentum and caused some people to leave. The aging building had seen better days too.
However, today when you visit Cumberland Christian, something new is in the air. And you feel it outside in the community before you ever set foot in the door.
“Our outward focus has been a major push over the past three or four years,” said Tom Scott, minister of Cumberland Christian Church.
Part of that focus in 2018 has been Invite Your One. Tom has been challenging each member to pray about one person in their lives who needs a relationship with Christ. Who is outside of these church walls that they can invite inside? On Sunday, November 4, members were asked to invite their one person to the worship service with them.
“We nearly doubled our average attendance for the year,” Tom said. “On an even more positive note were the stories.” Members excitedly introduced Tom to the people who came to church with them. Others said that their one couldn’t make it that week but were going to come soon. “It was so encouraging for them,” Tom continued.
Other outreach initiatives involve annual community events. Cumberland Christian hosted Truth and Treat night, a Halloween alternative that brought in 70 children to meet characters from the Bible—plus kids received candy. At Christmas the church will partner with the town’s street fair. And throughout the year the church supports the community’s various run/walk events.
“We compare it to planting a field,” Tom noted. “It takes some time of planting and watering the seed before the plants grow. We are waiting for God to bring about the growth.”
“It takes some time of planting and watering the seed before the plants grow. We are waiting for God to bring about the growth.” —@TDdhscott12
Cumberland Christian is also aware that their neighbors have concerns as well as celebrations.
“Our community is not known as a safe place,” said Tom. “The greatest needs right now are safety and security.”
The town of Cumberland is experiencing the fallout of being so close to the sprawling major city of Indianapolis. Crime and poverty are spilling over from east Indianapolis. The church has become a resource to provide information and assistance.
“We’ve had seminars where we talk about how to protect your home and how to protect your identity,” Tom said. “We’ve invited the Marion County prosecutor’s office to come speak about that. That’s something that we’re still working on: how do we address the felt needs of the people around us? Because our community is changing.”
Cumberland Christian is more determined than ever to reflect the light of Christ into the darkness of the world around them.
“We have had quite a few suicides in our community, and we’re going to look at how we can address that through the joy of Christ.”
While Cumberland may not be the quiet suburban town it once was, Cumberland Christian Church is seeing the ways Christ can speak directly into the lives of the people who live there.
“My preaching emphasis next year is ‘Becoming the Irresistible Congregation,’” Tom explained. “We’re going to look at the fruit of the Spirit, and each month we’re going to dive into what that fruit looks like and how it can help us become irresistible like Christ—the love that He had; the joy that He had; the peace that He offered. We’re going to explore how that fruit can meet the needs of the people around us, who need a better definition of love and a better source of joy that isn’t based on the substances they take.”
“How do we address the felt needs of the people around us? Because our community is changing.” —@TDdhscott12
During the summer of 2017, Cumberland Christian Church found an encouraging ministry partner in CDF Capital. Tom was at a minister’s lunch and met Mark Senseman, CDF Vice President of Ministry Development. Tom told Mark about the changing Cumberland area and the new approaches to ministry that he and his leadership had been working toward.
“The reason that I engaged Mark in a conversation is because he seemed like a nice guy who had something to offer the church. It was easy for us to latch onto Mark and explore how we could benefit from CDF’s expertise,” Tom said.
The first CDF connection was with the facility. As their outreach continued to grow, Cumberland Christian had begun to reevaluate the structure that they were inviting people into.
“Mark brought Chris Davenport (Senior Director of Facility Solutions) by one day, and I took them on a guided tour,” Tom recalled. “Chris was just brainstorming: What if you did this? What if that was over there instead?”
By the end of the tour, they had quite a to-do list:
- Furniture that was intended to create an inviting, conversational environment was too worn to fulfill its purpose.
- Outdated signage and poor security were making it hard for visitors and new families to feel comfortable.
- Ancient projectors, crumbling cork boards, classroom chalkboards, and cassette tapes served as constant reminders of the aging church’s need for restoration.
“Some of those things we had thought about before,” Tom said. “But we really needed that fresh set of eyes to say, ‘That isn’t working.’ We took that list from Chris and shared it with the elders, and a lot of items were things we could handle. For less than three or four thousand dollars we were able to update a lot of the church. In the last year we’ve completely reexamined the church and decluttered.”
This past summer, after CDF Capital celebrated the last North American Christian Convention in Indianapolis, we found ourselves with a supply of nearly untouched furniture that we wanted to offer to local churches to benefit their facilities. Cumberland Christian was one of the willing recipients.
“We were blessed with three couches, two chairs, four end tables, four cabinets, two wall displays, and a number of other items that will enhance our ability to minister to the needs of the congregation,” said Tom.
The furniture aligned with Cumberland Christian’s new vision to welcome incoming visitors.
“This summer we hosted a small group on Wednesday night where we went through Thom Rainer’s book, Becoming a Welcoming Church,” Tom explained. “It was a great study that helped us look at the building and programs from the perspective of a guest. Several new members joined us for the group sessions and provided some great insights into what we were doing right and how we could make some improvements in other areas.”
But the changes to Cumberland Christian Church are not just physical. The church is being renewed spiritually, from the inside out.
Through Tom and Mark’s relationship, Cumberland Christian Church discovered another aspect of CDF’s ministry: Leadership Capital.
“As Mark shared about the ministry of Leadership Capital, it sounded like an opportunity to try something different that might help spur us on as a congregation.”
Tom and his staff presented several different options to the congregation at their annual meeting, and the church chose the path of partnering with Leadership Capital.
“Keri Ladouceur came and did a guest visit, and she met with our core teams to talk about where we’ve been, where we’re at, and where we’re going,” Tom explained. “One of the big things we’ve been wrestling with is, ‘Do we stay here or do we relocate to a new facility?’ Keri has really helped us work through the pros and cons of that decision.”
Tom described Leadership Capital as cheerleaders for their congregation, urging them onward.
“We needed someone that would encourage us, partner with us, and give us the resources we need to press on with our spiritual journey. The last year has been very busy, and a lot has been accomplished.”
The church’s revival has been noticeable.
“They helped ignite a fire in us to get us going again,” Tom said. “We’ve had some new families show up since we started making changes a year ago, and they’ve sensed a new passion and energy in the church.”
“When you see that there’s potential and people are growing and getting excited about being part of the church, everything changes.” —@TDdhscott12
CDF Capital’s goal is to come alongside churches and help them grow, inside and out. Sometimes a church simply needs to know that someone believes in them. As Tom and his leadership discovered, there are team members like Mark and Chris and Keri ready to surround growing congregations with support.
“We are grateful for the partnership that has developed over the past year,” Tom wrote to CDF.
Yes, Cumberland Christian Church experienced what a number of congregations go through at some point in ministry—a series of disappointments. But they didn’t stay there.
“When you get to a point where things stagnate, it’s discouraging,” Tom said. “But when you see that there’s potential and people are growing and getting excited about being part of the church, everything changes.”