Riverside community church state of the church 2022

Hey there Riverside- Pastor Ed here. As we come out of the pandemic (let’s all pray that this is indeed the end- please God let it be the end ;0) I figured I’d take a few minutes and share with everyone where we are at this point at Riverside (disclaimer- I love run-on sentences and so yes I see them but no I don’t want to do anything about them- run on sentences is how my brain thinks and I’ve been told when I edit my writing too much it ceases to sound like “Ed” so I’m leaving them in there- sorry grammar lovers).

I’ve had lots of people ask me “when things will go back to ‘normal’ at Riverside?”. That’s an interesting question. I’m not sure we should call what the state of our church was in 2019 “normal” but I get what people are asking- when will church at Riverside be the way it was before the pandemic? Here’s my short answer:

I don’t think it ever will be the way it was again. There will be a new normal but I don’t see us going back to what might’ve been called normalcy in 2019.

We’ve always had tons of turnover at Riverside. We are a unique place that God has used in many different ways over our 22 year history. First of all just living in Alaska with all the people who move in and out of the state makes church work unique. But beyond that revolving door of people coming to and leaving the state, God often brings people to Riverside who need the unique way that we do church “different” and then when they’ve gotten what they need God will often move them along to the next place where they need to be or where He needs them to be. It took some getting used to but after all these years I’m no longer mystified by the migrations of people/families at Riverside- I believe it’s part of Jesus’ plan for all of us and sometimes He moves His people around like a general moves his/her troops around to best defend/defeat the forces of darkness in this world.

After 2 plus years of pandemic as folks venture back out of their homes and back into church it has been a real joy to see faces I haven’t seen in 2 years but I know that there are many who still aren’t prepared to be in a room with lots of people for a variety of reasons. I get it and that’s ok. We’ve got the livestream and none of us at Riverside want to lay any kind of guilt trips or use manipulation to get folks on our time schedule. We’ll see you when you’re ready to come home and while we miss you all we know that everyone has their own comfort levels and that’s ok.

I also know that there are plenty of folks who called Riverside home in 2019 that have found other church homes over the last 2 years for a variety of reasons. For the most part I’m thinking it was just time for God to move them on to the next place He had in mind for them and they would’ve moved on even without the pandemic. But there were also some folks who didn’t appreciate the way Riverside handled the mandates (this is true on both ends of the spectrum- some thought we did too much following the mandates and some thought we didn’t go far enough) and so they were drawn to other churches that were more in line with their particular/preferred flavor of politics especially where it pertains to masks, vaccines, gatherings, etc.

That’s ok too. The apostle Paul said he had found a way to “become all things to all people” but I’m not sure he would’ve succeeded in 21st century America with the pandemic. There are no hard feelings here for folks who feel more comfortable in another church that matches your political stance more closely than Riverside does. I pray God blesses you and your new church beyond anything we could hope for or imagine.

For those who are coming back the question is, how is Riverside doing? Where are we financially? Where are we attendance wise? Will things continue the way they have for the last 22 years?

Ok let’s start with attendance. In 2022 we are averaging about 50% on a typical weekend compared to what we saw in 2019. The pandemic has changed the way people do everything and church is a part of that subset of “everything”. I’m part of lots of ministry/church groups on FB and most pastors are trying to figure out how to get their people back in the pews (or in our case chairs). Pastors are sharing ways to give their congregations a little kick in the behind so things can go back to “the way they were”.

At Riverside we’ve never been about guilting people to come to church gatherings. I grew up with that. I hated it. I won’t be part of a church that does that. What we want at Riverside is for people to be disappointed when they can’t come rather than super excited when they find a legitimate reason to skip.

So this is where we are. Right now the 10 AM service on Sunday is by far the most attended service (averaging around 90 people). Next is the 11:30 AM service (averaging around 50) and then Saturday night bringing up the rear. If you don’t like the idea of being around a lot of people Saturday night is gonna be your jam. In 2022 we’re averaging around 20 people on Saturday nights which is WAY down from 2019. We have never been about numbers for numbers sake at Riverside and we aren’t going to start now. As time goes on we will find our new “normal” but for now our services are in good shape.

As far as finances go- we’re not in dire straights by any means. We are doing ok. But over the last 2 years we have watched as the money in the bank has slowly but steadily dwindled. I don’t want to complain because I know the same could be said for many of the folks that call Riverside home. It can also be said for most churches around the world in 2022.

I’m not going to ask all of you to give-more or dig-deep or give-til it hurts, nor am I going to suggest things in your daily life you could forego so you can give more $$ to Riverside. However, if you are someone who purposed to participate in the ministry of Riverside and help us continue to do church “different” in Eagle River then this is your gentle reminder to donate whatever you have purposed to donate (which is between you and God). We never keep track of how much people do or don’t give to Riverside. Sure we have to keep track of your donations so we can get you a donation receipt at the end of the year but none of us looks at those. We don’t want to see dollar signs when we look at the faces of the people of Riverside.

I know a lot of people who’ve set up online donations and gotten a new credit card number often forget to update the info for your contributions and since we don’t send out notices it can go undetected for many months (or even years) so this is your friendly reminder to check and see if your card is still being charged. And for those of you who donate by check but haven’t really been back to church and only watch online I know it’s hard to remember to send checks by mail (which many of you have done over the last two years for which we are profoundly grateful).  

But most of all I'd appreciate it if you could be praying for the health of Riverside Community Church- spiritual, social, physical and financial. We do our best to not bring finances up too often but it’s probably the number one question I get about how things are going right now so I wanted to let everyone know where we are.

Ok, financial update is done and now I want to finish by talking about volunteers. Staffing our ministries on the weekend has always been tough- we draw a very non traditional kind of Christian and so things that most churches do to “encourage” volunteerism doesn’t work with our crowd (or we’re unwilling to do). A lot of the people at Riverside have been burned out by church work at other churches and the only way they could get out of their commitment was by flaming out and leaving. These folks are gun shy and don’t want to have the same thing happen at Riverside and so we don’t push them to pitch in waiting until they’re healed up and ready to get hurt again (KIDDING!!!!! ONLY KIDDING!!!!). Most of the rest of our membership have never had a traditional relationship with a church and so they aren’t in the habit of volunteering any more than they’re in the habit of giving back to God part of what they’ve been blessed with. We get it and don’t blame anyone for being who/what they are and having the struggles they are dealing with. It’s just part of doing church in an unconventional way.

But we do need help on the weekends and with the kids/teen programs. The kids’ classes are our biggest issue. Most of our teachers have been serving in the kids’ classes for over a decade (some for more than 2 decades which is mind boggling) and while they love doing it and they love our kids they could use some help- especially for the 4-6 graders out in the Shack. That class takes a unique sort of individual who can keep the kids contained without crushing their spirits (something we’re absolutely committed to). If you’re interested/willing/able to help out in one or more of our weekend services please contact Aniela- you don’t even have to do it every week.

We also need help with the worship/tech team. In case you didn’t know our worship leader Nate cut his strumming hand a few weeks back and won’t be able to play guitar for months. We’re also losing two of the 3 people who know how to run sound and manage the LiveStream video feeds in June so we’ll need more help there.

All that to say that things are going much better than they could be and they are going much better than they are for many churches around the world. I hope this state-of-the-church-address didn’t come off as complaining. If you had told me when this pandemic began that after two years of varying degrees of pandemic related mandates and spikes of the virus that we’d still be going strong (and make no mistake we are still going strong- we’re just a bit tired) I would have gladly accepted that. I know a lot of you are tired as well- that’s another epidemic and I’m praying for all of us that we are able to get caught up real soon with our beauty rest (Lord knows I need it ;0).

This “address” is simply to let you all know where we are and what the current needs are. If you have any questions please let me know and please be praying that Riverside continues to be the force in our community that Jesus desires us to be. We are such a non traditional kind of church that it’s often tough for people to see what kind of impact our little church has had on this community but let me tell you- Riverside is a light in the darkness for many of the people of Eagle River. We are a city on a hill that draws people to Jesus- people that many of the more traditional churches in our city don’t. I’m so glad those non traditional seekers are able to meet Jesus at our church even if most of them remain “non traditional”. It’s not a ministry/church for everyone but for the people that Riverside is “for” this place is a freaking miracle.

Praying for all of you.

Jesus is awesome!

Pastor Ed

ps: have had several people ask about my health. I had that mystery illness back in October of 2021 and they never figured out what it was. They ruled out the truly scary possibilities and what they’re figuring now is it was possibly long covid. It has moved mostly to the background but flares up when I wear myself out or catch another bug. But I pretty much have my energy back and until it goes away on its own or they figure out something to get rid of it completely I can definitely live with this. I know lots of people have it much worse. Thanks for your concern.