Following Jesus into the Next Century:
St. Peter’s at 100 Years
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” - Hebrews 13:8
Shortly after World War I, German Lutherans from Russia moved from the Dakotas to California, settling in the Bruceville area of Franklin. These families were the beginning of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in 1920 (officially incorporated as a congregation May 17, 1923).
There is something pretty amazing about starting a new church. There is excitement. There is a lot of partnership and community. The people tend to be united together in purpose-in mission. I’ve had that privilege as part of a core team sent by St. Peter’s to plant a new church in 1999. It felt like the book of Acts as a new church was started and we were “devoting ourselves to the apostles’ teaching, the fellowship, the breaking of the bread, and the prayers,” and God was at work and adding to His Church.
As we look back on 100+ years of faithful ministry for St. Peter’s in Elk Grove, we look back at God’s tremendous blessings, at how He grew these families into a congregation that has grown, multiplied, served, sent, and has been home and family in times of joy and times of sorrow for thousands over the last century. We truly rejoice in God’s faithfulness and blessings!
But there is also little doubt that St. Peter’s is at a little bit of a crossroads. Elk Grove has changed greatly in the recent decades. The role of the church in our society has changed, and we’re not the center of life in the community like we once were. In my recent class on “Living in Community: Loving Your Neighbor and Walking Together”, I mentioned the following statistics (quoted from Greg Finke’s book Joining Jesus on His Mission: How to Be an Everyday Missionary):
· Surveys reveal that over the last few decades literally millions of people who previously were members of churches have walked away.
· Even in so-called “churched” communities, the percentage of “church-goes” actually attending worship on any given Sunday hovers between 18-22%.
· The number of Americans who say they have no religious affiliation has hit an all-time high.
· Confidence in organized religion has hit an all-time low.
· Less than 10% of adults under 30 regularly participate in the life of a local congregation. In overwhelming numbers, young adults perceive the organized church to be unnecessary to their spiritual journey.
The context in which we do ministry is not the same as it was 100 years ago, but the God that we serve and the Gospel that we proclaim are the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). There may be many obstacles, though I prefer to talk about them as opportunities, and God has placed us here for such a time as this.
So as I look back at the beginnings of St. Peter’s, and as we look forward to her future, I ask myself what it would be like to be planting St. Peter’s today.
New life is exciting, like I said earlier. It is also simple in many ways. By that I mean that the church in the first century was built on the same things that the church of the 20th century was built upon, and those are the same things that the church today continues to be built upon. The church is built on the apostles’ teaching (God’s Word), the fellowship (the community of God’s people being called together by the Holy Spirit), the breaking of the bread (gathering around the sacrament of Holy Communion), and the prayers (praying together).
Often we’re trying to compete with everyone else. And while there is plenty to celebrate and learn from other congregations, we often forget that we’re not competing and trying to match them program for program. We are trying to be a faithful family of Christ, united in community and gathering together to Glorify God, Grow in Christ, and Share His Love and Forgiveness.
It’s time to talk about what that looks like in our context today. It’s time to turn to the Lord in prayer, and turn to our community in love and service (thanks be to God, I rejoice that so many of our people are doing this regularly). And we do this not for the sake of growing St. Peter’s numbers or increasing our giving, but for the sake of the kingdom of God. We do it to love and serve our Lord by loving and serving our neighbors.
I imagine that those early families of St. Peter’s looked at this little rural town and saw a mission field in a lot of ways. They knew that the center of their living in community was the church. And God called them together. I am sure it was exciting and that it grew them in faith and life with God. So they worshipped together, they fellowshipped together, they prayed together, and they lived out their lives together.
We live in a mission field today. It looks a lot different than Elk Grove 100 years ago. The way that we approach it might look different. People aren’t going to just show up at St. Peter’s. In fact, many in our city don’t know Jesus at all. Even many of the descendants of those first members no longer have faith at the center of their lives. But I think too often the church gets discouraged by this rather than recognizing the amazing opportunity we have in a mission field that our Lord has planted us in today. We are here for such a time as this!
I think it’s pretty exciting! And it reminds me of our need for being simple. Worship, fellowship, praying together, life together, and loving and serving our neighbors together for His glory! Following Jesus in the next century!
Pastor Joe Dapelo