The other night, I sat down tonight to do something completely unrelated to writing a 2021 Year in Review paper, but all of a sudden, the year sort flashed through my memory and I felt like I should write some of it down. 🙂 We actually had a really good year, despite a lot of uncertainty in terms of where we would meet and how the year would play out.
We finished out 2020 meeting online, since we were not allowed into the school during the second spike of Covid, and in early 2021, we landed at Copper Creek Ridge, a small wedding venue on the West side of Interstate 218. It limited us a little bit on classroom space for KidCity, but God provided that space at just the right time! We were very thankful to be there.
We started the year in the book of 1 Peter, and finished it out at the end of February. The plan was to charge into a series on prayer after Jon Davis, a visiting Network pastor from Springfield IL came in early March. I wasn’t super excited about the prayer series, but it seemed like the right thing to do to “kill” a month before we got to Easter.
But God had bigger plans.
Jon’s sermon that day hit me right between the eyes, and I felt like he was more excited about the prayer series than I was (which wouldn’t be saying a lot at that point). But it was the wake-up call that I needed, and it sparked not only 31 Days of Prayer complete with a prayer guide for 4 weeks, but the spin off has been that we started doing corporate prayer every Sunday as part of our gatherings… and still do. The idea we kept coming back to week after week was that prayer is the means God has decided to use to accomplish what he already knows he’s going to accomplish in the world. Prayer is powerful. It’s ordained by God. He wants us to pray so that he can do what he’s already set out to do. So we continue to pray corporately, even though it’s not the most comfortable thing for people to do.
We went into Easter not knowing exactly what to expect in terms of attendance, so we did two services. And boy were we ever glad we did. Over 230 people attended, with the services pretty evenly split, and it was really exciting to have the opportunity to present the gospel to people who were checking out the church.
The week after Easter, then, we started a new series on the book of Esther which took us through April and May. It was really a lot of fun to teach and it quickly became a favorite series from the people who were attending! It’s one of those stories you think you know pretty well, until you start to dig into it. Then you realize there are a lot of little details that help make broader sense of God’s involvement in the world, even when it seems like he’s absent.
The plan was to stay at Copper Creek until the end of the school year, hoping to be able to meet at the school again once the summer started. But as we talked to the school, it was decided that we would stay put until after summer school ended in mid-August. We excitedly set the date for September to return to Highland Elementary.
The series of Esther talked a lot about the ordinary moments of life, and how God uses them as part of his eternal plan. For example, the pivot point in the book of Esther wasn’t when she bravely walked into the king’s throne room. It wasn’t when Mordecai gave the famous line, “Perhaps you are here for a time such as this.” The turning point of the whole story was the king not being able to sleep. That’s it! That’s not very high on our “what can God use to accomplish his purposes” list. But all the pieces of the story find their pivot in that moment.
So the reality is, if God uses ordinary, everyday moments and decisions as part of his plan, then we would be wise to live those moments and decisions according to his revealed will for them. That’s what led us into Proverbs in June. The goal wasn’t to cover every single verse, but to get the overview of the book and pull out some topical highlights.
Around this same time, we started Biblical Training class again as a group of 8 began meeting on Wednesday evenings at the Kalona Coffee shop, learning tools for studying the Bible.
We participated in TrekFest at the end of June again this summer, helping to monitor the 5K run, as well as setting up the night before. We also participated in the parade, handing out water bottles. The most memorable part of the parade was when the skies opened up at the very beginning, and it absolutely poured down rain the entire time!
In July, we had the privilege of baptizing Kyleigh Dolan, a young lady who had been attending for several months. It was pouring down rain that day, and we all gathered under the outdoor pavilion at Copper Creek to hear her story and celebrate with her. Then a few weeks later, we helped 3 families dedicate their young children to the Lord!
After Summer Sabbath on August 8, we wrapped up Proverbs (and Biblical Training) and moved back to Highland Elementary School in September! It was good to be back “home”, and we realized on day one that it felt like we’d never left.
It was the following week on Vision Sunday that I presented the outline for a four year journey through the books of Luke and Acts, with the expressed goals of a) seeing Jesus more clearly b) watching and learning from his ministry and c) planting a church. We also want to step up our involvement in the city of Riverside, so we announced the Neighborhood 360 Assessment that we are hoping to accomplish, which will survey the city to find out what it’s felt needs are. The survey then moves inward to the church, and assesses the resources God has given us with the goal of connecting the dots in helping our city. A team quickly formed for that, and the process began. As it did, we launched into the book of Luke, getting to the end of chapter 5 before breaking for Advent.
The women started in on another Bible Study from September thru November, studying the book of 1 Peter. There was a lot of excitement around their study, and I think it’s safe to say some great conversations were had around potentially divisive topics.
Some of the fellas attended a Wild at Heart Men’s Retreat in September, played golf together in October, and did some target shooting in November as a way of building community.
On Saturday December 4, we experienced one of the most special nights we’ve had as a church. All of those who serve in some capacity or another at River City were invited to a Christmas Ambassador Appreciation Night, held at the Tin Roost restaurant in North Liberty. It was a beautiful evening with great food, and being reminded of why we serve. The most memorable part of the evening was during my closing prayer when I was interrupted by ACDC’s Back In Black as the Iowa Hawkeyes football game started! The staff was embarrassed, we all laughed, and everyone realized our evening was now over! 😂
Christmas Eve 2021 saw almost 200 people in attendance, and we wrapped up the year crossing the 100 mark with our average attendance at 105, up from 98 the year before.
I think one of the stats I’m most proud of as we bring 2021 to a close is that we have about 80 potential ambassadors across the ministries of the church – whether that’s adults, teenagers or jr high students, and around 65 of those are serving in some capacity! In a lot of churches, staff talks about how 20% of the people in the church do 80% of the work. It’s the 80/20 rule. But instead, we actually have 80% of the people doing 100% of the work! I can’t even tell you how mind-blowing and encouraging that is.
Lastly – probably the most unusual stat of all – is that three years to the date from the moment we started doing public gatherings, including two years of three variants of Covid, we have not had to perform a single funeral. We’ve lost loved ones and we’ve known people who lost loved ones, but to this point God has preserved all of our lives. It’s pretty astounding, really.
Where things are at as we begin 2022:
- The Neighborhood 360 is on hold until nicer weather. The next step is going door to door and conducting interviews, so attempting that in 10 degree weather (or less) didn’t seem to be the best use of our time.🙂
- The Women of River City faithfully meet every Thursday morning at 6:30 to pray for our city, each other, our schools, and River City Church. Their faithfulness it meeting week after week is a testament to God’s faithfulness, and I guarantee that their prayers have provided a covering for us that we wouldn’t have had other wise.
- Unless something drastic happens, this will be the year we begin a youth group at River City!
- Grace Marriage was our new marriage pathway that saw 14 couples meeting every 90 days to work on growing the health of their marriage, and the next round for 2022 is already full! If you missed out on signing up, and you’d like to be in on all new content for series 2, start praying that God inspires someone to lead a second group!
- Community Groups reorganized after taking the summer off, and what was three groups last year became four groups this year, and they are still full with people in waiting!
- Total Attendance for the year saw us average 105 people at our Sunday gatherings, up from 98 in 2020, which was up from 78 in 2019… which means, we actually grew during covid! I believe this is a direct result of River City attenders being hospitable to newcomers, and keeping the gospel at the center of who we are, letting secondary issues be secondary. So a huge heartfelt “thank you!” for being a place where people don’t have to put on a mask of pretending everything is fine (poor choice of words, I know 😂) or feel judged when they walk in.
As we close out the year, I’m reminded again of our theme verse from 2 Corinthians 5:20 – “Therefore, you are ambassadors for Christ, with God making is appeal through you…” We are all ambassadors of the King of glory, who gave up his life to redeem real sinners.
As we make lists of the things we would like to accomplish this year, goal we would like to achieve, or metrics we’d like to hit, let’s not forget that we haven’t only been called to “doing.” We’ve been primarily called to “being.” First Timothy 6:11 invites us to “… pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.” Let’s not forget that we’re invited to pray without ceasing. Let’s not forget that Jesus said eternal life is knowing God, not just working for him. Let’s not forget that enduring through whatever this year brings with our lives firmly anchored in the person and work of Jesus is the best goal you can set for the new year.
Let’s continue to press in to know Christ more this year than we did last year. Let’s not let off the gas pedal of prayer. Let’s not let off the gas pedal of wanting to see others know Jesus. But even in our work, let’s not forget to rest in the finished work of Jesus, through whom all things are possible.
With much love,