When the Rev. Dan Vigilante came to Grace-Trinity Community Church here, it was on the verge of closing. After years of declining membership and resources, the church compared itself to a grand old ocean liner coming home to port.
Grace-Trinity decided to partner with another local, thriving congregation, Westminster Presbyterian Church, for a two-year experiment. For the first few months of the partnership, Grace-Trinity experienced rapid change, renovating its building and creating a web presence.
There was a sense of urgency, Vigilante said.
“If we don’t grow, we die,” he said, speaking at the NEXT Church gathering March 31.
NEXT Church is a network of leaders across the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) who believe that the church can be a faithful, fruitful, diverse and engaged church that shares the good news in a changing world. Through national and regional gatherings, an online presence, denominational conversations and local mission projects, NEXT aims to foster congregations, develop leaders and nourish strategies for a new vision of church.
But the renewed space and social media campaign didn’t bring new members to Grace-Trinity, Vigilante said.
“Maybe it is that people can see through our vain attempts,” he said.
Preaching on Jeremiah 29: 5-14, in which the prophet tells the exiled people to “seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,” Vigilante said that while the church might not know true exile, it can relate to the feelings of confusion, longing for the past and being left behind.
Grace-Trinity houses a nursery school with 126 students, meaning that 126 families come into the church every week. The church decided to offer a night of free babysitting so that parents could have a night off, moving from asking how to grow to asking how it could serve the Lord, Vigilante said.
And while Grace-Trinity still hasn’t stopped wanting or needing to grow, “what we’re trying to do is bless, to seek the welfare of our city and neighborhood,” Vigilante said.