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by Melinda Johnstone

Candia Church in New Hampshire, USA, has a long history of bearing witness to the reliable love of God. For over 250 years, God has sustained His people there. From the early settlers to the modern day New Englanders, the baton of faith has been passed down so that there has always been a gathering of God’s people in that area from 1771 to today.

Tradition has served as a point of anchorage, keeping those of Candia tethered to what they hold most dear. But how does one keep a love for learning, a healthy engagement with the changing world, and foster a fresh love for one another when one is surrounded by the memories, structures, and traditions that were formed before your great, great, great grandparents were even born? How does a congregation keep all the living things in its care full of vitality from one generation to the next?

This has been the wrestle that the people of Candia have been facing. It is clear that God has been faithful to this community—just by them remaining to this day as a presence in New Hampshire is proof enough. The question Pastor Steven Baker has been imploring his people to ask is, “Have we been faithful to God in return?”

Entering into a process that takes a snapshot of how well you, as the current generation holding the faith baton, are faring, is a courageous step. The Natural Church Development Survey process is a unique examination, giving a clear and detailed picture as to whether or not you are “in the faith” or you are fooling yourselves. Candia took that courageous step. In doing so, they turned the spotlight on themselves during a season of time when the temptation was to focus on anything but their own church health. Distractions were rife, as their first survey was taken during a contentious Presidential election; there was Covid related sicknesses, fears and apprehensions; and there was an open relational wound from a leadership change made to an agency they had long supported; not to mention, there was no precedent for such vigorous examination in the entire 250+ years they had been gathering on that soil. Rather than engage in excuses, they trusted their relatively new Pastor and their church coaches, to engage them in a journey that would be like no other that they, nor their ancestors, had ever been on.

What the congregation of Candia discovered is that…

When you examine yourselves, you find something to CELEBRATE

There is always a “maximum factor” of any church—something the congregation does better than other things. So, there is always going to be good news. But for Candia, the first survey round felt more sobering than celebratory. It took engaging in the next survey round, two years later, to feel a sense of real rejoicing. The good they were already experiencing had now been given language in which it could be expressed. Here is what they can celebrate:

  • Their time spent together in small groups feels like it meets their real needs, gives space for them to talk about personal issues that matter to them, and provides an opportunity for others to pray with them, giving strength to them as they face whatever challenges come their way.

  • They feel they can meaningfully contribute to one another’s spiritual growth.

  • They can meaningfully contribute to the life of the church by performing tasks that make use of their giftedness. 

While there are anecdotes of both the good and the bad influence from generations past, there is no similar data for comparing things as they were, to how they are now. But, what we can see is that at such a time as this, this generation is making changes, good changes, which give great hope for the current and future generations in New Hampshire. As of their last survey, the congregation in Candia experienced a 17- point increase in health, representing a wonderful paradigm shift in thinking and in action!

God has been faithful, yes, and, the people of Candia have been faithful in response to Him in these areas. This is where their partnership has flourished. This is something valuable to be passed on.

What they also discovered is that…

When you examine yourselves, you find something higher to PURSUE

Just as there is a maximum factor where your partnership with God is stronger, so there is also a minimum factor where your partnership with God is more tenuous. Quite apart from the songs they sing in their worship services, whether they should be wearing a mask while singing them, how good the potluck dinner is, or which side of the political divide they stand on, the issue really on the heart of God for them is how they can partner better together to become a people marked by inspiration. They are familiar with growing deep relationships with one another in small clusters and serving one another using their giftedness. But what is less familiar to them are the everyday dynamics that breathe life into others so that when they enter the Church Hall together, there is a greater sense of inspiration than if they were alone.

Inspiration is the breathing in and breathing out of the life of God so that when you enter a room, those there in the the room find themselves more inspired than they were before you arrived. It is now a well-known fact that the Covid virus is a respiratory virus which impedes the very ability to breathe. What the people of Candia needed to address spiritually was simultaneously being paralleled worldwide in the physical realm. And, just like at the outset of the pandemic where much of the virus's quirks were an enigma and there was confusion over how to carefully handle its effects, the way to tackle the barriers impeding the breath of God within the congregation in Candia was not immediately clear. How DO you remove barriers so that people are healthier when gathered as a congregation?

Tackling their minimum factor head-on during a pandemic was thought to be potentially unwise as it may have raised issues unique to Covid that would only serve to distract. If the reasons for a poorer atmosphere of inspiration could be pinned on masks, keeping safe distances between bodies, or the impact of the national mood, it would muddy the way forward and not help them grow. So, Pastor Steven started where things were clearer. He started asking questions related to the area of Passion, another area that could use some attention. By addressing things at an individual heart level, Pastor Steven was hoping it would serve to influence the atmosphere of inspiration when they were all together. He began asking, "How is your passion for Jesus?"

He asked this question so consistently that he said it is likely his congregation experienced him as a broken record, repeating over and over the same exhortation to examine their love for Jesus - “the more you have love for Jesus, the more passionate and engaged you are going to be when you sing, when you pray, when you serve, when you love your spouse, your kids, and your friends. If you’re a Republican, it will affect the way you love the Democrats. If you're a Democrat, the way you love your Republican neighbour, and as Jesus said, the way you love your enemies.”  Ultimately, if the breath of God could inspire them to act as Jesus would every time He enters a room, it would release new life into the gathered worship services.

The aim was to focus on increasing the passion for the One who is of greatest worth so that any habit of going through the motions would be replaced over time with a genuine enjoyment of His presence. That then, would overflow into their corporate experience. Whatever golden calves had unwittingly been forged and idolised over time, would be seen for what they are and replaced with a deep, passionate, love for Jesus.

“If people are passionate about their love for Jesus, authentically in love with Jesus, that’s going to naturally affect the way they worship on a Sunday.”

The people of the New England area are generally passionate and highly attentive to matters of political import. There is a widespread acceptance and ease with which the general populous can be discipled by the media with their CNN, Fox News, and Facebook evangelists. But, Candia are becoming more and more convinced that keeping faith with the Way of True Life is the only way to keep their church on solid ground and is something worth being passionate about. They are discovering that there is a knowledge deeper than can be found in an Ivy League school and an experience higher than gaining a PHD - there is the simple knowing that you are loved and you can change the tone of a whole congregation and community by breathing out love and life to others. The same Spirit that put fire in the bellies of their ancestors to establish a church they could call home, is the same Spirit now leading them into all truth, longing to refresh them with new mercies every morning, putting a new fire in their bellies to face whatever would rob their spiritual home of being an inspiring and passionate place to be.

1771 it all began and, 250 years later, God is not getting weary. He’s not distracted or bored. He’s not asleep or unaware. He is not constrained to how He partnered with generations past. He is every bit as focused and energized to bring life to this generation as He was with every previous one. 

If it is true that not only does the steadfast love of the Lord never cease but also that his mercies are new every morning, then Candia, we look forward to hearing more of how your growing partnership with God releases new mercies in you and through you.

As one of the local pastors from New Hampshire has said,

"Take time to celebrate the past, live in the present, so God can shape the future.”

May you celebrate the Lord's steadfast love for you and may you look forward to how his mercies will be revealed, fresh and new every morning—for you, and flowing through you.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Thank you also to Coach John Kimball and to all those who have walked alongside Candia Church from 1771 to now.

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