LCC - The early years
Lutheran Church of the Cross was formed as part of a program by the then American Lutheran Church-ALC (the ALC later became a founding partner of the Evangelical Lutheran church in America -ELCA) to establish 50 new churches in 1984. During the summer and fall of 1984, the organizing Mission Task Force began to build LCC one person/family at a time. The process included much prayer and door to door canvassing in the Altoona area. By early fall 1984 the numbers had grown enough that it was decided to begin worship services on the first Sunday in advent, December 3, 1984. A temporary location was rented, and the first service was attended by 38 people. God was faithful and LCC was provided with chairs, an altar, organ, pulpit and several other pieces of equipment from an ALC church that was merging with another congregation.
In December 1984 a steering committee was formed along with sub-committees to begin addressing administrative and spiritual issues of running a church. By January, LCC was holding Sunday school classes for 14 children as well as an adult Sunday school. God presented LCC with an opportunity to obtain a home and property at the corner of 17th St and 8th Ave SW, which could be converted to use as a worship center and administrative space. The ALC assisted with a mortgage for the property, but it was necessary to build an addition to the house in order to have adequate space to worship. Construction was begun with much work being done by members of LCC, but the cost for the project was a daunting $25,000.00 and it was not clear where that was to come from. An ALC church in Monona, Iowa, was celebrating its 100th anniversary and, without knowing what LCC needed, decided to give LCC $25,000.00 - which took care of the cost of the new addition. Gifts from other churches were used to purchase hymnals, office equipment and to help pay pastor's salary and utilities for our "new church". More than a dozen churches throughout Iowa and Minnesota responded with gifts to assist the young congregation. The first worship service in the new facility was held February 3rd, 1985. By March 1985, 30 families had joined LCC; and when LCC officially became organized in May 1985, there were 43 charter households.
LCC's organizing pastor wrote:
"My prayer for Lutheran Church of the Cross is that it will never cease being a mission church. It is an open and accepting, friendly and welcoming community. It, in its attitudes and spirit, is a congregation that reveals the Gospel (the good news of God's saving love) in how it reaches out to people. May it always be a living and forgiving community of believers--a vital part of the body of Christ.
"Lutheran Church of the Cross has a dangerous name. In translation it means, 'a church that is willing to die for others.' Just as Jesus Christ took up his cross and surrendered His life in self-giving that we might live --so we who believe in Him are called upon to 'take up our crosses and follow Him' which means that we are called to be willing to be self-giving in the manner in which He was."
By the end of 1985, LCC had 55 households (153 baptized and 104 confirmed members). Average attendance was approximately 70, and two worship services were needed by September 1985. Vacation Bible School was begun in June, and the first youth were confirmed in October 1985.
By early 1986 it was clear that LCC needed to expand its facilities to continue to minister to the growing congregation, and by the fall of 1987 a new multi-purpose facility was added to the west of "the house". It included four classrooms and an area that could accommodate up to 200 for worship. By early 1988 LCC began mission support with its first effort aimed at helping resettle Polish refugees in our area. Also in 1987 the church purchased an additional 1.4 acres of land to the west to provide for future expansion.
1988 saw a change in LCC with the loss of 19 families and disagreements between leadership that led to division within the church council and between members. Finances suffered, and by 1989 a total of 33 households had left LCC. Worship services were cut to one each Sunday in early 1989, and the church council began the process of changing pastors. This process also included evaluating where the church was and what needed to be done to revive its declining membership and continue to fulfill its mission. During this period it was important to maintain perspective and trust that God would provide guidance.
The 1990 evangelism chair stated: "The first part of the year (1990) was a test of endurance and stability as our congregation struggled to 'maintain' and retain its members in the absence of a full-time pastor."
For LCC, this was certainly a time of great faith, awareness of the presence of God, and reliance on His grace.
By early 1990 the congregation had gone through an ELCA Synod evaluation and LCC's leadership felt it was ready to begin the process of calling a new full time senior pastor.
199's --A New Era
A full time senior pastor is called and his ministry began in June of 1990. It became a time of growth, assessment, outreach and commitment.
Growth was not just in the increase in membership of the congregation and need to expand the building structure. This was a time of examinations of who we are, what was God's mission plan and where was God's mission field. In 1990 the mission statement was developed. "To challenge all people to find a loving relationship with God through Jesus Christ and to actively support growth in their faith." In 1991 we were able to move from "Mission Partner" support to a self-supporting mission congregation relying only on our own offering to financially sustain us.
As the congregation renewed their commitment to outreach, we grew rapidly in numbers, and the need for expansion of the worship center and a learning center, as well as the parking lot became apparent. This became a time of prayer and planning with focus on our financial responsibilities and our commitment that each member pursue a personal loving, living relationship with God. As we reflected on the expansion of the building facilities, we were affirmed of God's commitment to His people as needs were met both financially and spiritually.
Also, because of rapid growth we evaluated staffing needs and determined we would call a second full-time pastor and a director for Youth and Family Ministry.
In order to carry out the mission that God had set before Lutheran Church of the Cross, this became a time of evaluation of our strengths and weaknesses. It was determined that the intensity (deepness) of our spiritual growth would need to be commensurate with our growth in attendance in order to have the ability to continue to further God's kingdom. It was determined that strong spiritual leaders would need to emerge along with less reliance on the staff. It became apparent that we would need to value the importance of God's mission before us and to be ready to step out in faith as well as for each individual to listen to God's call on his/her life.
During the 90's this congregation felt a renewed call to outreach. Just as we were a mission congregation built on the contributions of other established congregations, an opportunity became available for us to have a part in expanding God's kingdom in a new mission congregation. We pledged a two-year monthly and quarterly financial contribution, as well as donating chairs, to support the ministry of Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines, Iowa. We learned we could depend on God's unfailing protection both spiritually and financially when we stepped out in faith to do what He had called us to do.
Lutheran Church of the Cross music ministry became an outreach tool both in worship and our community. Different singing and instrumental groups were established each providing a unique ministry to praise and glorify God. Besides being an active part of our worship services with bands, vocalists, and instrumentalists, cantatas and youth programs with choirs, we were able to perform at fairs, other churches, and community activities. "Jammin' for Jesus" (an outdoor celebration of music, food, fun, and fellowship) was established to celebrate the end of a capital fund campaign. We quickly saw how God would use this event for outreach to the community around us. Everyone who attended only needed to bring a lawn chair to sit back and enjoy the music, the celebration and praise His name! For the next 15 years it became an annual celebration of God's grace and goodness to us, and our chance to share in Christian fellowship with our community.
We had the opportunity to be a "church on the move" on several occasions. During construction, we met for weekend worship at Willowbrook Elementary School. To accommodate visitors for Easter, services were held at Adventureland, the 4-H building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds and Hy-Vee Hall. In these different places of worship we received the knowledge that wherever God's people gather, we are assured of His presence and His abounding love.
This became a time for evaluation of our congregation's commitment to prayer, spiritual growth, and their call to the priesthood of all believers. People began to meet routinely to pray for the congregation and the mission before us. A program was established to maintain personal contact with members of the congregation through visits where they would be encouraged in their relationship with Jesus Christ and a renewed commitment to pray for each household member.
A New Decade -- A New Century
A new building site
Due to increased worship attendance, we had a need for more space for worship and parking. This started a process of much prayer and seeking the Lord's guidance to consider moving to a new location and building a larger facility. The site chosen became a focus for concentrated congregational involvement when we drove in convoy one evening and gathered together over the land to ask the Lord's blessing on it. We then gathered as a group around a bon-fire and sang and prayed. This activity brought us to a place of community and dependence on the Lord's guiding, and we thought at the time this move would be blessed by Him. He did guide us... to change our plans and ultimately acquire land next door to our current building.
This was a lesson to us in listening to His guidance, responding to His leading, and allowing Him to choose our path. When this episode in our history is referred to as "only being concerned with bricks and mortar and physical plant growth", that is done with no understanding of the actual process we went through as a congregation. The real growth that occurred in this phase of our congregation was spiritual; in the individuals who participated as well as in LCC as a body of believers. We felt joined together in the Lord's work and were humbled by His involvement with us.
Changing our affiliation -- restructuring
The beginning affiliation of LCC with the "Word Alone" movement within Lutheran congregations soon led to involvement in a more structured association called Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC). The basis for the organization was to take a stronger stand for the authority of God's Word, understand that the congregation was the front line of ministry and that the principles of the Reformation were still valued today. The informational meetings regarding this new association, and the counsel of our pastors, led us to see that we needed to know what the Bible said and to believe that it was truly God's Word. We were confident that any philosophy that led us in a different direction had to be challenged. There was much prayer and in-depth Bible study going on at this time within LCC, and more and more of us felt led by the Holy Spirit to speak up against apostasy in the church.
LCC was made aware of the approach that the ELCA was taking in regard to the basic teaching documents from the Bible. Especially troubling was their stand to allow homosexual clergy, support abortion policy in clergy insurance packages and their approach to the nature and structure of ministry. In the words of our Senior Pastor, it was felt that these practices were "dangerously close to abandoning the teaching of Scripture and leaving us subject to the direction of the most recent and prevailing winds." There were many explanatory communications, congregational informational meetings and attempts on the part of both of our pastors to address issues with the authorities of ELCA with the hope of reform. These activities ultimately led to an invitation for our ELCA Bishop to come and address the congregation. His visit made clear that the ELCA was not interested in reform or change. The congregation ultimately voted to leave the synod.
This decision was not made lightly by most and much prayer for guidance from the Lord was lifted up. Those who saw this as the only way to proceed did not second guess the reasons. There was agreement that we had been led by the Holy Spirit, and the congregation moved forward with no regret in our decision. We then moved on with a new Constitution, Bylaws and organizational structure.
Mission Development in LCC
Prior to leaving the ELCA, there was almost no visible mission activity at LCC. Part of our church tithe that was sent to the Synod was supposed to be used to support mission work. This made the work of missions far removed from individual church members as there was no personal involvement with the people that were served. When asked what mission work was done through our church, most would not have been able to cite one single thing. A check in the mail to the ELCA was truly a poor substitute for the command Jesus left us to "go" and tell the world about Him!
Vietnamese Ministries -- Led by a Vietnamese pastor in the Des Moines area, LCC partnered with 14 congregations (with more than 1,000 members) to identify ten key lay leaders and pastors to support our Vietnamese ministry. Three mission trips to Vietnam were made by LCC members between 2003-2009. This ministry continues to this day with support financially and prayerfully for our brothers and sisters in that country.
Appalachia Service Project -- In 2002, thirty-two high school youth went on a mission trip to the Appalachia Mountains in Kentucky and spent a week repairing homes for needy families. The following year 40 youth and 15 adults returned to serve eight families in need. These projects showed the LCC youth how Jesus wants us to serve each other, and it gave them a new perspective on how they can "be Chris" to others.
Mission Mexico -- Beginning in November 2002, there have been yearly mission teams going to Monterrey, Mexico, serving alongside our partner pastors there. Our primary goal was to tell others of the Good News of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and place copies of the Scriptures in their hands. We also provided cursory medical care with an emphasis on assessment of vision and fitting eye-glasses for children and adults in that city. As with most mission trips, what we found was the tremendous spiritual growth that occurred in the individuals who were involved in those mission trips. These folks would, to a person, tell that they were profoundly affected by how the Lord worked in their own lives while they served others. The groups also came together as a team and felt the power of the Lord to enable them to do the work He set out for them to do. There is a constant dependence on prayer and leading of the Holy Spirit. Most would tell you that they went not feeling adequate or even qualified, but by God's grace and faithful leading, they were able to do much more than they ever imagined.
Mission Continues -- Along with supporting several missionaries, including one of our own members who was sent out as a full-time missionary to serve in South Africa, our mission teams and mission work continue to this day. Mission work is supported financially and through prayer with continued opportunities for full and part-time involvement. In addition to the spiritual growth of the individuals physically involved in missions, LCC has grown as a congregation to see that it's our responsibility to go beyond our walls and property and proclaim Jesus to the world. As our signs placed at the exits of the parking lot say: "You are now entering the Mission Field."
We stayed on our property and added onto our current building, bought the adjacent property and expanded our campus, and started an Antioch School.
The property adjacent to us had been for sale in the past but was priced too high for us to consider. The Lord was at work, and as always His timing is perfect. Previous discussion with the owners of an adjacent residential property had resulted in an asking price that was too high. When it was clear that we would not be purchasing a new property, this adjacent property went on the market at a reduced price. We purchased the property, used the house for offices and small groups, built a Learning Center addition for classrooms, and added the Worship Center where we worship today.
Our Worship Services:
Our worship services have always been central to the life of LCC. With the construction of the Worship Center, this was the first time we would have worship space that was designed especially for worship, instead of adapting a previous space so that worship services could happen! Our weekly worship attendance was continuing to grow, and this space was built to accommodate up to 900 people comfortably, with an emphasis on every person being able to see and hear all that was going on during worship. As always, taking into consideration the needs of our inter-generational church family was a focus. Many of our volunteers in the worship and music ministries programs donated a tremendous amount of their time and gifts to complete this project. These gifts covered a wide spectrum of their God-given talents including woodworking, quilting, engineering, construction, organization, and stewardship to name a few. It was a time of great cohesion and focused energy in our church family. Along with the new worship space, a small Book and Bible store was opened in the church building which was in operation for 2 years. We have historically opened our building to the community for public use whenever possible including organizations such as WIC clinic, AL-ANON, Alcoholics Anonymous, Central Place, Boy Scouts, Sheltered Reality, Southeast Polk School System, etc. Our goal is that this House of God be a warm and welcoming place for all who enter.
This was followed by another time of building - one that involved more "brick and mortar" and two that did not.
We tore down the house on the newly acquired property to build the current Cross Creek building where you will find the Church of the Cross Preschool, youth program, offices, and meeting spaces/classrooms.
We initiated a North Polk Area church plant ministry. Our congregation quickly rallied around the church plant for financial support, but after 2 years it was determined that the church plant ministry was not viable and that effort was discontinued. We learned a great deal through this process of attempting a church plant. Even though the results were not what we had hoped, the greater failure would have been to never have tried.
Our passion for church planting continues through the adoption of BILD (Biblical Institute for Leadership Development) and development of the Antioch School. BILD, based out of Ames, IA., is a program that exists to train and equip leaders at all levels of leadership with an emphasis on planting churches. The Antioch School was developed in conjunction with BILD and is a process of education/training that uses the local church as the classroom. LCC has been approved as a certified site for the Antioch School where individuals have the option to receive a Bachelors or Masters of Ministry. Several LCC members have been enrolled in these courses, and a portion of them are working on a degree and have started a "home church."
Our Children and Youth Ministries:
Our children's ministry has traditionally included pre-school through 6th grade including Christian Education, VBS, camps and family centered events to strengthen that parent-child relationship. The Youth Programs include Christian Education for Junior High and Senior High students, confirmation, small group studies, and mission trips. Due to the large numbers of children and youth that we have been blessed with, it requires a dedicated group of both staff and volunteers to make these programs run effectively. In the past few years there have been a series of traumatic life and death experiences for the youth in our community. The young people and their families have often turned to LCC for comfort, support and direction.
Church-wide Small Group Learning:
Over the course of 3-4 years we launched church-wide bible studies and learning experiences. In addition to small-group studies that have been in existence since LCC began, church-wide learning was incorporated in recognition that learning and community/relationship go hand-in-hand. Examples of church-wide studies include the Discovery series, Purpose Driven Life, First Principles and sermon-based bible studies. This renewed emphasis on small-group learning continues today.
New Reorganization, Church-Wide Studies and a Vision!
With the organization of two new governing boards in 2001 (Board of Spiritual Oversight (BSO) and Board of Administration (BOA)), we began to seek training to build leaders in our congregation. In conjunction with the church-wide studies, we were on a journey of praying and listening for God's leading. In 2007, the Lord spoke to this church through His Word through Revelation 3: 1-6 "... I know all the things you do, and that you have a reputation for being alive -- but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God..."
As a result, the BSO presented what they believed was God's direction for LCC -- "To be people who will train and equip believers for the work of ministry, sending out missionaries and planting churches; inviting every person to be a part of what God is doing by finding their place in fulfilling the Great Commission so that all would know Jesus is Lord and none would be lost." This became the next leg of our journey --to be a place that could, and would, equip all members to serve to the maximum of their God-given potential, regardless of where (or what) that may be.
LCC Today .... And Tomorrow!!!
We recognized that over the past few years we had been very successful at planning and building the "buildings" of the church. With the completion of Cross Creek, we realized there was no need for another building project in the near future. At that point we shifted our focus to building "the Church" at LCC .... the people and the ministries. We needed a new vision.
LCC had been a quickly growing church, and as she increased in size we found that we had lost a sense of connectedness among us. People were often invested in individual ministry areas and events, but we lacked an overall sense of community in our church at large.
To help us begin to move toward a more unified identity, we started a vision process that the congregation was invited to join. We met for prayer every Saturday morning and also had meetings to dialogue about our future. It was difficult at times because we had such diverse ideas and expectations about what kind of church we thought God was calling us to be. This is when we heard God speak to us through Revelation 3.
To help us better understand what God might be saying to us, we hired a consultant (ChurchTec) in 2008 to do an assessment of our congregation and our structure and make recommendations to us. Again in 2010 we conducted the REVEAL survey put out by Willow Creek. The REVEAL study was more focused on the spiritual condition of the congregation while the ChurchTec study had a broader focus. The results of these studies are much too lengthy to summarize here, but the recommendations confirmed what we already knew. We needed a compelling vision to unite us, greater emphasis on community and outreach, better communication between staff, boards and congregation, and more effective discipleship.
Change for any congregation can be difficult. As we began to talk about instituting the recommendations, it became evident that this would require a great deal of planning and would involve pain and a sense of loss. We began to address the recommendations in both reports, and then our Senior Pastor was called to a position with Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ (LCMC).
As a result of this unexpected change, we hired an Intentional Interim Pastor (Metanoia Ministries) to help us navigate our course while we prepare for what God has planned for our future. His report also confirmed the findings of the two previous surveys and has helped us begin the process of change. As a result we have begun to take a closer look at who we are as a congregation to discover our God-given identity. Change has come in many ways, and as we recognized before, it has involved a sense of loss, pain and sometimes conflict.
However, we accept the admonition we received from the Lord in Revelation 3 and continue to be committed to be obedient to God, to pursue stronger bonds of fellowship, grow deeper in our walk with Jesus, to depend on His Lordship more and love each other more deeply.
We believe the best is yet to come. God disciplines those he loves. "No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." (Hebrews 12:11)
We submit ourselves to the plans of the Lord and to seek to Glorify Him in all things.