Grace Chapel’s vision centers around one thing: changing the spiritual landscape of Greater Boston. From thousands of worshipers gathering together in Lowell for One Church Sunday, to the personal stories of the faithful Christ-followers we’ve been sharing in our current teaching series Strong to the Finish, we’re blessed to see God at work in many ways through our church.
Over 2100 people participated in one of our 158 Life Communities, and over 1,000 people attended at least one of our discipleship courses. Over 500 youth and teens participated in Student Ministry, and over 1700 kids checked into Kidstown at one of our campuses. Hundreds of volunteers serve on Sundays and midweek, sustaining vibrant, life-changing ministry activity that touches the lives of thousands of people.
But numbers don’t come close to telling the whole story.
"Church isn’t a building, it’s people.” That’s always been true, but in recent years, with new campuses, renovations in Lexington, and receiving the Foxboro Bible Church property as a gift, it’s easy to get caught up in how good a great building can feel. We’re blessed with inspiring worship venues, and functional spaces for ministry activity and welcoming new people. Many of the things we do week in and week out would be harder or impossible without the spaces we have.
But a space is just a means to an end. So it’s a good time to remind ourselves of why we’re doing what we’re doing: God’s call to reach people with the surprising message of God’s grace. Is there anything more wonderful than seeing a worship venue packed with people worshiping God on a Sunday? Our Kidstown spaces in Lexington, Wilmington, and Watertown bursting at the seams with kids having fun and learning about Jesus? Almost every square inch of a building filled with life-changing ministry on a weeknight?
More than anything, we celebrate the stories of people. Here’s just one example of how the spaces we create to connect with God are making a real difference in people’s lives:
Pastor of Next Generation Ministries Ruthie Seiders has helped us to understand and begin implementing the idea of church as a faith family, and all adults as faith parents, to the youth and kids at Grace Chapel. Her leadership is reshaping our approach to reaching and raising the next generation of Christ followers among our kids and teens – including special needs, where the addition of Elena Hogan as a part-time staff member to lead SHINE!, our special needs ministry, strengthens our team.
We’re investing in young people’s leadership development through our college internship program. College students work here at Grace Chapel, in ministry as well as operational areas like finance, communications, and campus operations.
In Lexington, WinterBlast has helped us reach out to our community and create awareness of what we offer kids and families here at Grace Chapel. Our School of Rock events in Wilmington give young people a chance to explore their gifts and talents for leading in music and worship. In Watertown, we’re connecting with our neighborhood through events like our family Harvest Fest, movie nights in the park, and partnering with Cru to reach and serve local high school students.
In addition to our Next Generation ministry work, we’re also developing Next Stage (some call it “Encore”) ministry. We’ll seek to energize and mobilize a generation of boomers, early retirees, and empty-nesters to live lives of significant love, wise influence, and generous involvement for the sake of the Kingdom of God and others. We’ll have more on the development of this missional community in the fall.
Spring Serve, now in its fourth year, has become a highlight on our calendar. Over 800 volunteers reaching out to our neighbors and community to lend a helping hand, doing service projects ranging from cleanup and painting to making cards for prisoners, to serving the local Watertown community by joining the Watertown Helps Out town service day.
Social justice is a growing movement here at Grace. Pastor Dana Baker has moved into a new role, leading racial reconciliation and church partnerships. We hosted Q Commons at our Watertown campus, an opportunity to hear from both national and local leading voices on the church’s role in social justice. We’ve strengthened our Trotter School partnership, and welcomed a new partner organization: Greater Boston Refugee Ministry.
A critical part of supporting this level of ministry activity, in addition to leaders and volunteers, is our support staff. Modern ministry makes extensive use of digital media to both draw people in, and deliver an engaging experience. Our communications and technology staff have been stretched thin as we’ve added campuses and ministry activity over the last few years, so investments in infrastructure and communications platforms and additional support staff have helped extend our ability to reach and connect with more people, both inside and outside of our church.
This year, we launched our Sunday morning worship services live stream via our web site and YouTube channel. Potential visitors are able to check out our services before they visit, and regular attenders who are forced to miss church on a Sunday stay on track with our current teaching series by viewing our live stream from their living rooms, local coffee shops, airports, hotel rooms, and hospitals.
Early in this ministry year, we recognized the need for a stronger, more usable web site to serve as “information central” for everything happening around Grace Chapel. A more attractive design is helping us engage new visitors, and making it easier for regular attendees to easily find information. We simplified our navigation, refreshed the look of the site to better reflect our brand identity, and most important of all, made the entire site mobile-friendly.
This year we also launched our mobile app, Grace Chapel Connect. Over 2100 people now have Grace Chapel in their pocket! Our app is intuitive and informative: it contains all the latest news and events, links to worship services info and our live stream, and for new people, helpful links to worship services, ways to get connected, and our online connection card. Anyone can give with a text message, check out some great devotional resources, or listen to our contemporary service worship music via Spotify, too! We’re adding new content and features all the time, so if you haven’t downloaded it yet, check it out.
Grace Chapel partners with missionaries and organizations here in Greater Boston and all around the world. Their Kingdom work takes many forms, from theological training and translation to kids programs to relief and economic development. They share one common goal: to share and spread the gospel by being the hands, feet, and heart of Jesus in hard places. We support them financially year-round, giving up to 20% of our budget directly to fund their work. And at certain times of year, in response to significant need, we go above and beyond with a special offering.
This year, at our Christmas Eve services, we took a special offering to support the work being done to help refugees in and from Syria, raising over $180,000, all of which went directly to the cause. A recent blog post provides a progress update from our partner World Relief that goes into great detail on the relief and rebuilding that our contributions have directly supported.
God has blessed Grace Chapel with a strong teaching ministry, and it’s our desire to share that strength with other churches. By leveraging technology to capture and share our teaching and creative content, we’re able to offer support to under-resourced churches in a reliable, cost-effective way. This year, we launched our first Strategic Partner relationship with Christ’s Church of Amherst, in Amherst, New Hampshire.
And we celebrate the gift of the property of Foxboro Bible Church. Having been entrusted with stewardship of this property by the Christ followers of that faithful community, we’re still discerning how we can be a part of God’s plan for that space. While we don’t yet know God’s plans for the future of that facility, we look forward to the ways people can meet God there.
We asked Joelinda Coichy, one of our younger staff members, to take a few moments and come up with some questions that she would love to ask our Elders. Then we asked Victor Gerdes, the chair of our Board of Elders, to answer Joelinda's questions. We liked their exchange so much, we decided to publish it here in our Annual Report.
J.C.: What makes Grace Chapel worth checking out if I’m curious about church?
V.G.: Are you looking to meet God - to experience Him? Are you looking for hope, healing, peace, purpose, answers, worship, prayer or Christian community? Paraphrasing C.S. Lewis, “Friendship ... is born at the moment when one person says to another, 'What! You too? I thought I was the only one. . .'” Whether you are curious about Christianity and want to know more, are finding your way back to a Church, or are new to the area and looking for a new Church home, you’ll find others just like you are Grace. You won’t be the only one, and you won’t be disappointed.
An easy way to start is by going to www.grace.org/live/ and joining in one of our services live online on a Sunday – or the recording other times!
What if I’m not religious?
“Religious” is sort of a funny word! Someone who asks that may very likely be worried they won’t fit in – or worse, will stick out! Grace Chapel is a pretty diverse place - culturally, ethnically, politically, age – and even diverse in knowledge and practice of faith. What unites Grace is a desire to love the Lord Jesus, to look for His appearance, to grow in our faith, and to serve Him.
What am I jumping on board with if I start attending Grace Chapel – what do you do there?
What do we do at Grace? Most people attend Grace Chapel by going to a Sunday service (typically singing/worship, prayer and a sermon) at any of four campuses – Lexington, Wilmington, East Lexington, or Watertown – or online as I already mentioned. Some start at Grace by attending unique groups – Alpha for those with questions, Celebrate Recovery for those struggling with hurts, habits or hang-ups, mothers via Mom to Mom, college/20s/30s in Grace Chapel's Fire ministry, Sunday Discipleship classes and others. A lot of people also participate in Life Communities - small groups of people experiencing life together - meeting regularly in homes or here at Grace, where they strive to care for one another, grow deeper in faith, and make a positive impact on the world around us. If you come to Grace – we’d be happy to help you find what’s right for you.
So you’re an elder… how old do you have to be to be an elder?
You know – Grace Chapel’s bylaws list 20 qualifications for an elder – for better or worse age isn’t one of them! I haven’t done the calculation and it’s probably not too “appropriate” but I think the average age of the elder board has been trending down in recent years. We value having a board that reflects the congregation: men and women in different stages of life, from different backgrounds... and yes, we’re anticipating a new elder this year who will bring the age average down even further!
So what do elders do?
What do Elders Do? Most of what we do is either behind the scenes or in one-to-one ministry. Simply, the Elders have one high, holy, profound and humbling mission: to ensure the spiritual health, care, growth, and vitality of every attender - or potential attender - of Grace Chapel. This is best expressed in three goals:
To accomplish those goals, we meet biweekly, attend a weekly prayer call, and serve in a number of other ways around church: we're available to pray with people after a worship service, we serve on committees as needed, and we assist with communion and membership classes.
How do you determine what the needs of the church are?
Great question! The short answer is a fanatical commitment to asking questions and listening – to the Senior and Executive Pastor, the staff, the congregation, and to God. We regularly receive reports regarding recurring needs and whether they are being met like staffing, finances, and facilities. Needs that change or are slowly and consistently failing to be met come to light through formal and informal feedback from the congregation, the staff, church leadership and members of the board. Surveys are also tremendously insightful and we’ve found great insights every time we’ve conducted them. We’re exploring how to conduct surveys more frequently to enable more voices to be heard more often!
Lastly – in my four years on the board – it’s been amazing how frequently – given the 12+ elders, along with the senior and executive pastor – that when a new need comes to light – that the issue or burden or insight very often arises simultaneously from several people at the same time.
What would you say to someone who’s been to Grace Chapel before, but hasn’t decided to make church part of their regular spiritual practice yet? What should they think about or do next?
If worshiping, serving, or participating at church isn’t a regular thing for you, start by asking yourself: do you wish it was? There are bunch of people at Grace Chapel that are missing out on what you, uniquely and individually have been gifted with to offer others!
And I’d share Hebrews 10:23-25:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.