By Andrew Gambill, LCU senior
At first glance, Lincoln Christian University (LCU), a small Bible college in the middle of Illinois’ seemingly endless cornfields, might seem like the last place students would be able to experience firsthand how ministry works across the country. However, through LCU’s Restoration Week trips, students like me are able to get those experiences and more. All students in their sophomore and junior years at LCU participate in at least one Restoration Week trip each year during their fall or spring break, and in October 2016 I got the opportunity to serve, and see God work in New England.
I had never been to New England, or anywhere on the East Coast for that matter, so I was excited to see a part of the country that differed from what I was used to. Not only is New England geographically different from Illinois, but the spiritual climate is totally different. In fact, New England is considered the least churched area in the country—a big difference from living in the Bible-belt where there is a church on every corner.
My team of seven worked with Restoration House Ministries (RHM) in Manchester, New Hampshire. RHM was founded by a former professor and graduate of LCU in 1996, and since 1996 has planted 17 churches across New England.
After landing in Boston, we visited Colonial Point Christian Church in South Windsor, Connecticut, also one of the first churches planted by RHM. We spent Saturday afternoon at Colonial Point helping around the church by pulling weeds, painting, and cleaning the toys in the kids’ rooms. We also got to hear from the lead minister, Jim Turney (LCU ’05), about what it was like working at a church plant. The biggest thing he emphasized was how important it was to make relationships with people in the community. I was amazed to see how much the members of the church volunteered their time. Everyone from the members of the band to the people teaching the children were all volunteers, roles that are all filled by paid, full-time staff members at my home church. It was amazing to see the congregants’ desire to serve and the joy with which they served.
After our brief visit in Connecticut, we went to RHM’s most recent plant about 10 miles south of Boston—Restore Christian Church in Quincy, Massachusetts, where they had just celebrated their one year anniversary as a church. If the job the Church is to engage the world around them, then Restore Christian Church completely embodies that mission, the staff there constantly stressed that they were a church that cared about Quincy and wanted to help in any way they could.
We saw this desire when we helped hang door hangers in the surrounding neighborhood, inviting families to the church’s Trunk-or-Treat event. Each door hanger had candy and a postcard with all the information on the Trunk-or-Treat. At first, I thought distributing the door hangers was a dumb idea, because we didn’t know if kids lived in the houses we visited and it seemed to me like we were wasting a lot of candy on those houses. However, the church staff made it clear that regardless of whether people came to the Trunk-or-Treat event or not, they knew the name of Restore Christian Church, and they knew that the church cared about them.
This theme of caring about the community echoed throughout the trip, and it reinforced how important it was to growing a healthy church. Every church planter we met continually stressed the importance of being involved in their community, and building connections and relationships with the people in the community. I think it can be easy for well-established churches to turn their eyes and ears from the community, and begin to pay attention to the needs of the people currently in the church, but in doing so they begin to ignore what the Church is called to do.
I still don’t have my post-college life figured out, but my trip to New England definitely gave me new perspective on how to help my church in its mission, regardless of size and whether I serve as a volunteer or in a paid staff position.