Last month was one of those months that feels like it lasted all of 24 hours for me. There was so much jam-packed into it that it all blurs together in one day. Needless to say, there is A LOT going on in H2O and in the city of Cincinnati in general right now.
Life Group and D-Group Changes
Over the month of April, our staff team spent a lot of time praying about and discussing H2O Cincinnati's Life Group and D-Group structure and how well the model fit the mission of our church. After a lot of deliberation among ourselves and with our student leaders, we came to the consensus that our models were trying to achieve too many things and weren't doing any of them super well. It was around this time as well that our staff team started becoming convicted of how missional our church was. So, it became our goal to try and combine those two areas to improve the quality of Life Group and try and start a culture-shift within our church to be more missional. What we (and by we I mean the combined effort of staff and the student leaders) came up with blends our old Bible Study format together well with this missional change we desire to see to reach the lost. To those of you whom I shared our old model with during my time support-raising, this may sound somewhat familiar but some of the changes may come off as a bit odd, and that is because as a college church we have to structure ourselves differently than a traditional church because of our targeted demographic and geographic location being in the midst of 27,000 college students.
The graphic to the left details the new Life Group format we chose to go with. Essentially, we changed Life Groups from being the same every week to being on a four-week rotation. The first week is a traditional Bible Study, with the material no longer being over the previous Sunday's sermon but a separate series to help Life Group not feel as monotonous. The second week is a shortened Bible Study and an extended period of prayer as a community. (~30 minutes) as well as recasting the vision for Life Group in general. Week three will no longer be a Bible Study (so scandalous) and instead will be a community hangout time we can invite our friends to in order to allow us to better reach the dorms and grow together as a community. Lastly, during the fourth week, we will go back to having normal Bible Study but with the addition of a pre-Life Group meal together as a community. Our hope with this structure change is to give our Life Groups more freedom to be more missional, create more time of intentional prayer, and bring more depth to our Bible Studies.
Continuing with the rotational method, we chose to restructure what was formally known as D-Groups (renamed Huddles) in the same way, but on a two-week rotation instead. The first week being a Bible Study/equipping time/leadership development/accountability and the second week being a missional week where each Huddle does outreach together. By far the biggest change to Huddles is the fact that we chose to no longer make them leader-exclusive. With our church growing, we think it's increasingly more important for our non-leaders to be in small-groups with those of the same sex. So, to incorporate this within our new Life Group model, we chose to make Huddles be comprised of each Life Group starting out with only the leaders. Then, as the year goes on and more people join, to have that former leader-only Huddle split at around eight people and form two Huddles, both with some leaders and some non-leaders. Then, if necessary, to split once again, essentially following the model Paul gave Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:2.
Baptism Sunday is one of my favorite Sunday's in H2O. For us, this occurs once a semester and is so significant for those who choose to publicly declare and demonstrate the interior life-change that God has already done in them. While this isn't going to be a post over theology, this is a crucial distinction I want to make to preface this section of the post. There is zero saving power in the act of baptism itself. If someone is simply baptized and does not submit their life to Christ they are not saved. Salvation comes through faith and faith alone; baptism is merely the public declaration of that faith. So, with that out of the way, baptism Sunday this spring was incredible. For our students who got baptized, their reasons varied between either accepting Jesus for the first time or being baptized as an infant and now wanting to make the public declaration of baptism their choice. Regardless of their reason, anyone who has ever witnessed someone being baptized before knows the joy it arouses in not only those being baptized but everyone else watching. To celebrate this joy, we always bring in a guitar and (sometimes) a cajon to worship together as a body following the baptisms.
Part of being a Christian and following Christ is taking the Gospel and sharing it with others, this was Jesus' final command to us and crucial to us abiding in him. While outreach is meant to be a lifestyle, there were two planned events in the month of April H2O did as a church.
The first of these, Saturate Cincinnati was a city-wide effort to try and take the Gospel to every house in Cincinnati. As a church, H2O adopted our zip-code, 45219, and set out to take "care-packages" to every house in our zip code, each one of which contained The Jesus Film, an H2O Cincinnati business card, and The Four Spiritual Laws booklet, which is an evangelism tool made by Cru (formally known as Campus Crusades). This was an incredible opportunity and one which led my friend Natalie and I to make some new friends along the way (whom are both pretty awesome in my opinion).
Another event we did was combine our homeless ministry and another ministry started by a student leader called The Resting Place, which is a weekly night of worship and prayer. During a home Reds game, a group of students got together to make bagged dinners for the homeless since they often congregate around the sporting events. We split off into teams of 3-4 and passed out the lunches for an hour and then grouped back together to have a worship night downtown outside the gates of the stadium.
Annual Softball Game & Picnic
I feel like this is the most generic thing seemingly every church does, yet it somehow never gets old. In past years we have advertised this as solely a softball ball and thus have only attracted those who are interested in play softball. This year, however, we chose to make it a church picnic as well and the results were awesome. It was our last major event as a church for the semester that wasn't Sunday Service and was a great way to end the year.
The first of hopefully many of these nights, Encounter was an amazing night of Worship and Prayer H2O hosted. There was a lot of planning that went into this night, especially by our worship team who practiced ten songs. If I learned anything from this night, it is how much Satan despises believers gathering together to worship God. Setup beforehand was an absolute mess and practically nothing went right or according to plan. Our vans battery died the night before making transporting all the equipment more tedious, the speakers were unbalanced and/or not working, we discovered some non-working XLR cables the hard way, and people's patience in general was put to the test. Thankfully, our God is greater than everything and after nearly five stress-filled hours of setup, everything was ready to go for the actual worship night. Unless someone was there, talked to one of us who was, or reads this post, no one would know the chaos leading up to this night.
All that being said, this experience made me more grateful for those whom serve alongside me in H2O. One person out of all those people sticks out to me in this moment, however, and that's not to discredit anyone else and is likely linked to him preparing to move away. One of H2O's main worship leaders over the past several years has been Jared, who stepped into a leadership role as a freshman when a void was left by graduating seniors the previous year. Our sophomore year (my first year at UC), Jared was the first real friend I made at UC and watching him grow in his faith over the past four years has influenced myself along with every member of H2O Church due to his influence on stage. In July, he and his soon to be wife, Grace, (who is also pretty cool) will be moving to Charlotte, North Carolina. While this is an incredible opportunity for the two of them, it's been eye-opening to see how much they were doing for our church behind-the-scenes as they've slowly transitioned out of their leadership roles. I'm honestly not even sure either of them realizes the impact they have on our church, and if either of you are reading this, there's no diminishing the impact you've had. As much as we are going to miss them, though, this is one of the bittersweet things about college ministry. Being a college church inevitably results in a cyclical relationship between H2O and its members. Sometimes, those who graduate choose to stick around and continue investing in our church either directly or via H2O City. But that route is not for everyone, and H2O's ultimate goal is to equip those who comes through our church and engage the world. And for some, that means moving away and taking the gifts God has given them to a new part of the country or the world. Personally, this is the most beautiful part of ministry: to watch those whom the Gospel has transformed from the inside out, embrace it with all their heart, soul, and mind, pick up their cross, and carry it wherever God calls them to go.
Once again, I want to thank all of you who are supporting me either financially or via prayer through all of this as you are making it possible for me and the rest of H2O Cincinnati's staff team to reach the students at the University of Cincinnati. If you are not a part of my financial support team, I ask that you prayerfully consider joining me and my mission with H2O Cincinnati at a monthly amount by clicking on the "give" button on the top of your screen.