By Carl Stagner
The Phoenix Collective was born out of a desire between Arizona Church of God congregations McDowell Mountain, Arcadia City, and Desert City—each with similar missional DNA and past working relationships—to be stronger together. While no legal binding exists, the three churches have formed an LLC to strategically share administrative services, payroll services, and health insurance. Beyond the practical nuts and bolts, there was a desire to be more creative in each church’s discipleship strategy. What if they united to produce a tool that would boost the effectiveness of discipleship among their three congregations? And what if other churches wanted to get involved? Last year, these what-ifs became reality as the first Journal was released. Since then, the results have been perhaps beyond anyone’s expectations.
The first Journal (September–December 2017) saw up to eight churches participate. Word about the resource quickly spread across the Church of God movement, and by the next issue, there were sixteen churches from six states participating (January–Easter 2018). Churches of all sizes have taken advantage of this resource, from South River Park Church of God in Fairhope, Alabama, to Salem Church of God near Dayton, Ohio. The journals are printed professionally at a cost of five dollars apiece, and are distributed to participating churches at-cost. “We’ve seen churches in many contexts and of various sizes find the journal to be helpful in the discipleship journey,” explains Matt Anderson, lead pastor at Scottsdale, Arizona’s McDowell Mountain Church.
Of course, there are countless resources available to the local church these days. But what was lacking were discipleship resources specifically contextualized for the teaching series the three Arizona churches were conducting. Matt explains, “As we wrote them, we decided to include a page for Sunday sermon notes, daily Bible study/devotional pages, and small group questions. We saw this as a way to help our people take a passage of Scripture or theme, and digest it/study it/apply it further. We’ve also included some other resources that offer practices and experiences for individuals and families to participate in.”
Matt further explains the distribution of the journals at the local church level. Members of the congregation are asked to contribute five dollars to offset the cost of printing, but first-time guests are given a complimentary copy. “We believe the Journal could be a good resource in their spiritual development, whether or not they return to our churches.”
Engagement has been so high, in fact, at McDowell Mountain, that they’ve received complaints that there wasn’t an issue published this summer. Needless to say, the highly anticipated fall issues are expected to be the most far-reaching and widely used yet.
“Recently a study was conducted on church-goers in the Phoenix area,” Matt explains. “It found that close to 50 percent of regular church-goers read the Bible less than four times a year outside of Sunday worship. That’s eye-opening on how we’re doing in helping our people engage with Scripture. Since launching these journals, we’ve heard incredible stories of people who have never read the Bible now leaning into the Journal exercises and read the Bible regularly for the first time in their lives. We’ve heard stories from a church which has experienced a new level of engagement in small groups as people want to be involved in asking questions, discussing, and learning more about the Sunday scripture. And we’ve heard stories of individuals in our church who have been convicted through the “ChairTime” study, and find themselves being transformed by God’s Spirit in the process.”
The “ChairTime” study is just one regular feature in each issue of the Journal, which invites people to read a passage of Scripture, think of ways to apply it to daily life, and then pray through it. “TableConversations”—small group and family discussion starters—are yet another valuable tool contained within the pages of this new resource.
Would your church like to jump in? Matt Anderson says up to twenty churches are committed to the next Journal. Due to printing deadlines, he asks that interested parties contact him by July 2. “We print logos and church names in the Journal so that it reflects the entire group of churches, not just a small few. We have a shared Dropbox that we use to collaborate on sermon outlines, resources, etc., as well. If a church were interested in jumping in, just e-mail me at email@example.com.”
Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.