A little girl handed Pastor Randall Kay the box. He opened it and pulled out a small tea cup. "This is from the film 'Beauty and the Beast'. I believe this character's name is 'Chip,'" Pastor Kay talked to the kids about how many times we feel like we're not good enough. We feel like we're not smart enough, athletic enough or good enough looking. We feel like we have a chip. But if you filled up that cup with water, he said, the water would flow out through the chip. When God fills us up with His grace and love, many times it's through our 'chips' that God's grace and love flows out.
Like a magician who points out, "There's nothing up my sleeve," let me note that Pastor Kay never knows what's in the box. The box is sent home with a different child every week. The child puts something in the box and Pastor Kay must then come up with a little sermonette about whatever he finds. Usually kids bring something they love, but on occasion they bring something they believe will make the morning difficult for the pastor. He consistently comes through.
Children's ministry has long been an important focus of the ministry of Felton Bible Church. Every summer their Vacation Bible School, offered free of charge, ministers to hundreds of children of the San Lorenzo Valley. Every week of the school year the church's Awana program draws dozens of elementary school students.
But this Sunday there were only six children who came forward for "What's in the Box?", the weekly children's sermon. I served as a youth pastor at this church, leaving fourteen years ago. When I first came to the church and during the years we were there, many more children came forward -- some Sundays as many as two dozen. There were several babies in the church this Sunday, but I only saw a couple of teenagers.
Pastor Kay -- and church members we met for lunch after the service -- said that the church has been facing the challenge of declining numbers, particularly young people and families. The leadership has been discussing this challenge with the congregation and prayerfully considering actions to be taken in the future.
Felton Bible Church is obviously not unique in dealing with this problem. They have still been able to meet their financial obligations. They still are providing a number of important ministries for the community. For instance, every Sunday the church bus transports a number of seniors from local care facilities and senior communities. There were quite a number of seniors in the service, and most of them also attended a Sunday school class. The seniors heartily sing along with the hymns in the class (choruses predominated the music in the service). Ministry to seniors is a very important part of the church, but again, it does raise questions about the church's future.
The church facilities, including a sanctuary that is one of the largest meeting rooms of the area, a quality kitchen, and a full-sized gym, are made available to the community. The church reaches out to serve the community in a number of ways, but the outreach doesn't necessarily lead to people attending on Sunday morning or becoming part of the regular life of the church.
Discussing these things with a friend after the service, he mentioned the idea that the decline of the church might have more to do with the culture than with the particular ministry of FBC. "Just as the church has declined in Europe, perhaps the same thing is happening in the United States," he said.
There certainly is something to that, but this year, Mindy and I have seen churches in California flourishing greatly. It does seem that some areas of this state particularly challenge the viability of churches. I have a friend who once said that if you can't plant a church in Southern California, you can't plant a church. But in Northern California -- and particularly in the Santa Cruz area -- there is indifference and even hostility to the Church that makes for a very difficult environment. I was encouraged to see that the leadership of the church recognizes these challenges and is working to take the steps necessary to continue to serve Christ's church in the area.
The church has much to offer: warm, friendly people, Biblical preaching, and a highly visible location in one of the most beautiful places on earth. Recognizing the "chips" in the ministry, I'm sure that God's grace will flow through those chips into the San Lorenzo Valley.
Service Length: 1 hour 5 minutes
Sermon Length: 32 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Greeting time during the service , special visitors (family members, former members) particularly recognized from the front
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 97
Probable Ushers' Count: 115
Snacks: coffee on table in foyer before worship, donuts and coffee on each round table in the fireside room after worship with donuts and coffee on serving tables and water and lemonade on a separate serving table in the same room. The food and coffee on the round tables makes it easier for people with mobility challenges to enjoy the fellowship time without needing assistance.
Musicians: drums (male), bass (male), piano (female), three vocalists (female)
Songs: My Hope is in You
At the Cross
In Christ Alone
Miles to place: 148
Total California Miles: 12,994