COVID-19 and coffee cup evangelism

COVID-19 was a blessing in disguise for Rock Point Church in Queen Creek, Arizona.

In 2019, Rock Point had maxed out its building with five services, so it partnered with the Converge Cornerstone Fund to triple its campus space. Construction was completed the week the Arizona governor shut down the state under quarantine. As a result, on its first Sunday in its new building, Rock Point was only able to record the service for online streaming.

Rock Point tried to do a grand opening in June, but COVID-19 spiked again — worse than before. They had to go back online. But God used their new facility to catalyze community connections despite the shutdown.

The highlight of Rock Point’s new campus became its major connection to the community: its open-air coffeehouse. With tables and sitting areas across a large covered patio, the coffeehouse operates all week, welcoming the community. Because it is outside, it remains one of the few places to connect for coffee while safely socially distancing.

Li Qiang, a man from China, randomly chose to visit the coffee shop one day. He had Googled “open coffee shops,” and Rock Point turned up.

The coffee shop manager befriended the Chinese visitor over coffee. Li Qiang confided to the manager he had arrived in the U.S. only two weeks earlier and was lonely. He also shared that, being Chinese, he had experienced harassment because of the virus. Li Qiang was surprised to discover the coffee shop is also a church and wanted to know more. While in China, he had never attended a church.

The manager invited Li Qiang to watch Rock Point’s online service the following Sunday. Curious, he did so and left a positive comment on the chat bar. When the church resumed live services in the fall, he began visiting Rock Point in person.

Li Qiang is just one of many people from Queen Creek who learned of Rock Point through the coffee shop. They came for coffee during the shutdown period, only to take steps later to connect with Rock Point spiritually in some way.

One of Rock Point’s keys has been online community. During the period of online-only church, 700 new people connected with them. Some made a new spiritual commitment. Others joined an online class or small group. Rock Point has more people in classes now than ever before.

Live services resumed in September, and in the first two weeks, 250 people who first met Rock Point online during COVID actually showed up at church for the first time.

Lead pastor Bill Bush says that, even during an epidemic, “We have grown.” Over 80 people have signed up for the church’s upcoming baptism. Most churches are running under 40% of their previous size in their reopened services. But Rock Point attendance is 86% of pre-pandemic levels.

Reflecting on Rock Point’s Cornerstone Fund construction loan and the Converge investors who made the coffee shop and other expansions possible, Bush says, “Cornerstone investors have a part in every changed life we see. I cannot thank them enough because we could not be doing the ministry we are without them.”

Today, based on their safe distancing plan, space in Rock Point’s new sanctuary is already nearly maxed out. Bush says he is having to tell his people, “If you love Jesus, you need to go to Saturdays!”

Incredibly, though COVID-19 threatened to stunt Rock Point’s growth, God used it as a blessing in disguise to help more people meet, know and follow Jesus.

Hard decisions in a pandemic

What happens if you’re Renovation Church in Blaine, Minnesota, about to begin constructing your first permanent facility and the COVID-19 pandemic hits? That was one of the many faith tests the church experienced this year.

According to lead pastor David Sorn, Renovation’s mission is “to be a people changed by God to change the world.” The church is fitly named because it has been doing this one life at a time since its beginning in 2010. They believe God is in the life renovation business. And they envision their first church building as a tool to amplify what God is already doing — blessing the church with steady growth.

Renovation’s vision for its own building began in 2014, when they were on their way to outgrowing the elementary school gym where they meet. They began raising money to buy land. And God provided. Three years later, in 2017, they began collecting additional funds for a down payment on a building mortgage with the Converge Cornerstone Fund.

People continued to give for the building. But as it turned out, Renovation needed more land for the second phase of parking. They also needed to increase their equity to qualify for a loan.

“We weren’t sure we had enough for the mortgage down payment,” Sorn recalls. Not to mention needing funds for more land.

An empty lot owned by a non-church member adjoined Renovation’s land. But the church was tapped out on money and could not afford to purchase it.

“We took a risk,” Sorn confides. The church fasted and prayed. Together they simply asked God for what they needed. Sorn then met with the landowner, told him of the church’s need and asked him to donate the lot to the church.

The owner agreed if its appraisal came in high enough. The final appraisal valued the land at $400,000. As a result, Renovation got the land free, providing the needed equity for the loan and giving them the additional parking space.

Originally, they had planned to start construction in April 2020 and be in the building in December. Then the virus hit in March. How do you build a church building in the middle of a pandemic when people cannot even meet in a church? When will things be back to normal? Will people even come back to church?

Sorn recalls, “We went back and forth. Do we keep going? Do we stop? What do we do? But we trusted in the Lord’s timing and that he is going to use Renovation. In the six-year process to begin to build, God moved and showed himself faithful so many times. We are not going to doubt him now.”

Renovation broke ground for its church building April 11, 2020 — three weeks into the coronavirus shutdown. In all the uncertainty and chaos of the crisis, they decided they would trust God.

“Many times along the way it looked as if we were at a dead end,” Sorn says. “And yet, you got to just keep walking in faith. And the Lord provided. Building a building in the middle of a pandemic feels like another dead end. But we are just walking forward, trusting the Lord to bring us through. He has done this over and over again.”

Renovation plans to be in its new building by December 2020. Reflecting on its partnership with the Cornerstone Fund to make all this happen, pastor Sorn says, “We are so immensely grateful to the Cornerstone Fund for helping us fund this facility. We know God is going to do absolutely amazing things there once it is finished!”

Westbrook: people building people

WHEN THE people of Westbrook Community Church in Chaska, Minnesota, think of church, they don’t see a building. They see the faces of all the people their church touches.

As a matter of fact, they haven’t had a building since the church began nine years ago. As a “setup church,” Westbrook meets in Chaska High School. In order to reach more people, though, they decided they needed a building. They already had raised money and purchased property. Now it was time to build their first permanent campus.

Westbrook dreamed of a building that would give them a ministry platform to continue to grow their vision. They envisioned creating a caring community where “all can belong, become like Christ and be a blessing to the world.”

Believing God could do even bigger things than he had already done at Westbrook, their leadership came before God, asking for his guidance and provision. At the church’s executive retreat last January, they prayerfully developed a plan to build a church facility with the partnership of the Converge Cornerstone Fund.

They planned to get congregational approval, raise $200,000 for the mortgage down payment by early 2020 and begin building in May. The plan was realistic and doable. But as Westbrook’s pastor Kevin Sharpe explained, “One thing we didn’t plan for was the coronavirus.”

He continued, “Sunday, March 15, was the day we were going to ask for additional pledges. And that was the exact day churches were shut down and prevented from meeting live.” He remembered painfully, “That, of course, stopped all our plans in their tracks.”

How do you trust God for a $2,424,000 church building project when a global pandemic hits?

Sharpe confessed, “At this point, raising the money we needed or even thinking we would have our own building looked pretty bleak to us.”

But God answered. “Although it looked bad from our perspective, God was working. And he has been so faithful to continue to do his work amid a worldwide pandemic.”

But the church is not a building; it’s people. And God can move his people with his vision, no matter what the circumstances.

The people of God at Westbrook responded to God’s vision.

“Much to my surprise,” Sharpe recounted, “during the quarantine, we raised more than the $200,000 we needed.”

Site update

This Spring, Converge Cornerstone Fund & Converge Retirement Plan will update the myconvere.org online account portal. Initially, the changes will mimic the current site. Moving forward, we will be adding more features to enhance the user’s experience.

The updated site will provide more accurate information and give more autonomy to the account holder.

If there are any questions or concerns about your information, please reach out to the following personnel.

  • If you have any questions about your investments, please contact Sharon Crouter 847.879.3258.
  • For questions about current loans, please contact Matthew LoGalbo at 847.879.3237.
  • Any questions for the Converge Retirement Plan can be directed to Barb Wright at 847.879.3240.

 

Thank you for your patience as we enhance our systems.

How investing leads to more churches and evangelism

 

 

Five years. 312 new churches. 62,000 lives impacted.

Have you ever stood before a challenge wondering if it can be accomplished, and what your role in it all might be?

I was in the room the moment the 5-year Converge Church Planting Goal was announced at the Unleash Conference in January. The excitement in the room was contagious. Everyone, it seemed, had caught a glimpse of what could be. Our shouts of praise rang louder as the band continued to lead us in worship. It was as close to a “take hell with a garden hose” moment as I have seen in a long time.

Despite the excitement, anytime I find myself in such experiences, I am often left skeptical…Is it really possible? Can such a massive goal really be reached? Then comes the more pressing personal exam: What’s my part in this? What role can I play? I long to see churches planted and lives impacted as much as anyone, but I am no church planter. I am just a guy with a wife, three young kids, trying to get by without messing it all up. How can I help? What can I do?

We are not the first people to stand before a big challenge and wonder if it can be done, or what our specific role may be in it all. For years, the people of Jerusalem had faced the daunting challenge of rebuilding the city wall following its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. A city without a wall of protection is hardly a city at all. The gates had been burned and the walls had crumbled to the ground leaving the city vulnerable and its people in fear. There was no question what needed to be done. But how… how could such a massive challenge be accomplished? And who would do the exhausting and dangerous work?

[Enter Nehemiah stage right]. You have to love the guy, capable of getting the deadest soul awakened and on a mission. Wondering what had led to the complacency, surveying the wall to determine the next steps, he proclaims: “The time is now! Rise up and build! What do you mean how are we going to do it? What do you mean who? Each person will focus on the portion of the wall nearest their home. When we are finished, each section will be joined together, it’s strength and quality unmatched. Together, we will rebuild this wall.”

Brilliant! If ever one was to care for the quality of a wall, it was indeed the portion closest to the place they and their family lay their heads at night. One by one, piece by piece, layer by layer, the challenge was met. The wall was rebuilt. Have you ever read the names of the laborers in Nehemiah 3? It is fascinating! Eliashib, the high priest. The sons of Hassenah and the daughters of Shallum (I wonder if they were teenagers, because that in and of itself would be a miracle!). Joiada and Meshullam. Hanun and Malchijah. While far from an exhaustive list of laborers, the picture is clear: young and old, male and female, rich and poor, known and unknown- everyone had their place on the wall. Everyone contributed to the challenge.

What I love is that the vision of Converge goes well beyond 312 new churches, and 62,000 lives impacted. That’s only a part of our greater mission, starting and strengthening churches worldwide. How we do it is defined so simply- together. Who will make this happen? Us. You and I. We are better together. Together, we are an unstoppable force of good in this world, capable of unlimited impact for the Kingdom of God. We each have a role. We each have a part to play.

As Associate Director of Church Lending with the Converge Cornerstone Fund, I have a privileged seat in the theater of Better Together. I get to see, firsthand, the pooling of resources near and far to accomplish the unimaginable. From the launch of new churches, to the purchase of a first permanent ministry space; from the building of a new worship facility, to the revitalization of a church that once seemed on the verge of shutting its doors.

Like Grace River Church, a Converge MidAmerica church-plant located in St. Peters, MO, just west of St. Louis who recently had their grand-opening in their new facility. “We were in rented facilities as a mobile church for four years,” says Lead Pastor, Chris Highfill. “The time came to purchase our first facility. We knew there would be challenges and obstacles. It was great to have the Converge Cornerstone Fund as a ministry partner to walk us through the process. Since moving into our new space, we’ve seen God move in amazing ways. Our growth has just exploded, and we know that for all that we have seen so far, we haven’t seen anything compared to what God wants to continue doing in our community. The best is yet to come!”

Or like Overland Hills Church of Papillion, NE, a suburb of Omaha who is in the midst of an expansion project to meet the growing needs of their community. ” We were a growing church in an expanding neighborhood,” says Elder Bob Atkins. “We have always had a strong desire to be able to minister to our community. However, we had a building that was over 50 years old, in need of repair, and not meeting the needs of our growing congregation. We spent time in prayer and preparation to determine what we should do, determining it was the Lord’s will for us to expand. The team at the Converge Cornerstone Fund were very accommodating and made the process of obtaining a loan fairly simple and reasonable. As a result, we are nearly done with the project and its already having a renewed growth in the surrounding neighborhood. We are praising God for all He has done.”

What makes all of this possible?

We do! You and I. Together.

The funds for these expansion projects are made available through the offering of competitive investment opportunities for the constituency of Converge, and through the investments of churches and individuals just like you. People eager to play their part and fulfill their role in the mission before us, all while strengthening their own financial stability through competitive rates.

When recently asked why Cornerstone Fund, President, Steve Schultz, responded, “without our investors the ministry doesn’t happen at all. The vision God gives them to partner with us, along with how He is using each of us to advance His Kingdom moves [our investors] to join us. These investments give us the resources needed to make loans for church expansion possible. It all begins with them!”

In addition to the hundreds of expansion projects the Converge Cornerstone Fund has partnered in through our 65+ years of experience, we have also invested millions of dollars back into Converge to further start and strengthen churches globally. These funds help provide unmatched ministry resources and training for those in the trenches. Why do we do it? Because we have caught a glimpse of better together.

Investing financially in the Converge Cornerstone Fund is only one of many ways God may be calling you in this season. When I asked Lee Stephenson, Executive Director of Church Planting, what the biggest hurdles facing church planters today are, he answered clear and concise: “Finances. Team Development. Culture Development.” While financial support is vital, it is only one piece. The work is plentiful. The tasks are limitless. Your place in all of this is out there. Pray. Pray that God would give you clear insight into your specific area of contribution. Plan. Plan with the future in mind and keep your impact in sight. And participate. Participate where you are and how you can.

Together, with each of us doing our part, we will continue starting and strengthening churches

Better Together,

Kirk Tate

Kirk Tate
Associate Director of Church Lending

The Impact of COVID-19 and Ministry Lending

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watch a 1-hour webinar as our Converge Cornerstone Fund specialists discuss the effects the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic downturn could have on ministry lending.

If you wish, you can also download the presentation slides.

The webinar addresses topics such as:
· Partnering with churches through the Coronavirus crisis
· The impact on current and future loans
· The impact of payroll protection Plan loans have on lending