The Words of the Goto Family

Report on Northern Virginia Church

Hiroshi and Kathleen Goto
September 20, 2007

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

Northern Virginia Church is made up of about 60 families that live in Fairfax Co, Arlington Co, Loudon Co. and Prince William Co., Virginia. Starting July 2003, under the former regional director Rev. In Hoi Lee, NOVA Family Church was organized as a local independent church. I (Hiroshi Goto) was appointed and approved as a pastor in October 2003.

Our strategy to develop Hoon Dok Family Church (HDFC)

According to what we studied, for a successful church growth model through small groups (or cell groups), one constant is a larger gathering (worship service) that is relevant and exciting to new small group members (members of the church). Accordingly, we determined to create a guest-friendly service, which can be an outreach service as well as an educational service for our own membership.

We have been working to develop such an effective church service for the last three years. At the same time, we are trying to move from a church with small groups to a Church of Small Groups. This is a church that is made up of small groups (HDFC) that are headed by tribal messiahs. In other words, small groups are the funnel for all activities rather than just one of the activities.

Summary/Results of the last four years

We have had some success in bringing new members with our guest-friendly Sunday Service during the last three years (trials and errors). We had four members (three blessed and one is on the way) who joined in 2006. In 2007, we have an additional ten new members coming to Sunday service regularly. Out of the ten, two applied for the Blessing in August (did not get matched this time). One is a 25-year old young man who considers himself a member. One lady is a regular in one of my small groups (Japanese language group). Two people (husband and wife) were appointed as Ambassadors for Peace. One family (husband, wife and two teenage sons) will be educated and brought to the blessing. In the last case, both husband and wife are former members who decided to return after attending our Easter Service.

I have been using my small group to help new members to become deeply connected and develop strong conviction. Two of our group members are new members who joined in 2002 and 2005. Also, one member -- a longtime UC member -- had not come to church for at least the last 17-18 years. She, her husband and daughter came back last year after attending our Motherís Day service and have been attending church and our small group ever since. Her 16-year old daughter had never been to any Divine Principle workshop until this summer. She attended the Junior STF workshop -- her first-ever DP workshop -- and is now is on fire.

Besides membership development, I am honored to see that members have been maturing as committed members. For example, our offering has almost doubled since we began in 2003. More people are taking responsible positions. We have accomplished all of the providential activities, although we donít focus on promoting them in our Sunday Service.

In May 2007, Northern Virginia Church, working with Ambassadors for Peace (AFP), brought more than 250 guests for Motherís speech event. Our AFP has been developing well. Also, on Easter this year, we had an outreach service with 250 people (50 guests).

Last Sunday we had our first-ever marriage rededication during a celebration for Parents Day. Our Parents of the Year had never had a church wedding and asked us to marry them. We used our Blessing vows from Madison Square Garden Blessing. The lady, the mother of one of our new members, was in tears during the reading of the Blessing vows.

One note: for many years, Rick Warren has been using this as a strategy for bringing new members through offering just such a rededication ceremony to couples.

Our focus during this summer

Beside my two groups, we have five groups that have met regularly since 2005. We had more groups that started but could not sustain meetings. With some progress through our Sunday Service strategy, I believe that we must now move forward with a focus on HDFC development.

In order to move forward with this goal, we need to reorganize and remove some obstructions preventing us from successfully transforming our community to a HDFC community. These challenges and obstructs are as follow:

1. Members do not have a lot of time to prepare for consistently high-quality meetings on a regular basis
2. Members do not have a good study curriculum to educate/lead members as well as guests.
3. Youth and young adults ministries were not aligned with church development plans, even though more couples with children/teenagers started to attend Sunday service regularly

Our actions during this summer to kick off our outreach and next-step implementation of HDFC starting September 2 (Our outreach service -- outdoor)

Challenge 1 and 2

Consistent study materials matching the small group setting that can teach introductory Divine Principle. Several of us brainstormed how we can develop such materials. As a result, we decided to go back in the past experience to move forward to the future.

Around twenty years ago, True Father instructed us to use video-based Divine Principle lectures to educate and witness to people. We carried DP videos and video machines from door to door, since only a few households had video machines (it was a cutting-edge technology). Also, as I learned from the Saddleback Church, Rev. Steve Gladden (pastor of small groups) and Rev. Rick Warren have said their success was based on implementing a video-based small-group education curriculum.

Rev. Randy Francis, Rev. Kevin McCarthy, Kathleen and I decided to make a video-based Divine Principle introduction for small groups. Format for the study booklet is based on a small-group video and study-book series from Saddleback.

First, it incorporates ice-breaking questions based on the topic at hand for group members to share feelings and connect together Then they turn on the video-based DP lecture (introductory in nature), which is a combination of graphics and voice-over.

This is followed by discussion (discussion questions are presented in the booklet). Then, we close the meeting with a "next step" discussion (i.e., homework -- application of what was learned). At the next session, we discuss the results of the homework. We see this material as giving practical life application of the Divine Principle, not just an intellectual study.

The booklet is organized so that if the group leader can follow the outline, the small group meeting will be conducted effectively. In other words, the structure of the study booklet mirrors successful small group patterns used in other small-group curriculums.

We have completed the First Volume (Principle of Creation) and the Second Volume (Human Fall). By the end of August, we will have the third volume (Principle of Restoration -- through Abraham) completed.

The video for the first is almost ready. However, anyone can use the booklets we have now by going to the website and playing the tutorial on the website for the corresponding DP chapter. The videos will pretty much be those tutorials in a DVD format.

Challenge 3 - Youth alignment with church vision and goals

During this summer we have been reorganizing our church to respond to what God has been doing -- to the type of people who have been coming and joining our local church. Many of them have young and/or teenage children. They are concerned about the American moral climate and seeking truths that can be applied to their own situations.

Yet, in our local church, the youth/Sunday school have been operating apart from the pastor and core church structure. Thus, our youth group and Sunday school have been a kind a club for blessed children without proper guidance from the church structure. This is especially a problem when it comes to incorporating children of new members who are not 2nd Generation, which has been very difficult up until now.

We have had AFPs who wanted to join, but their children didnít feel welcomed into the Sunday school atmosphere, so they didnít join our church yet. I am struggling to change and align our youth/college-age people with our church vision and goals.

A part of that, I realize, will be getting them on the bandwagon of small groups as well. We already have a small group of young blessed adults meeting to discuss the challenges of married life. I am very interested in how the Junior STF pipeline might fit into my plans for the younger kids. Right now, there is no preparation amongst the 2nd Generation for them to go to STF or the Blessing.

Finally, this summer, I was able to align the leadership of the young people and youth. We are able to communicate and have an agreement that children of the guests, AFP, and new members will be welcomed and guided by the core leaders of the youth and young adults.

Our youth activities and Sunday service will be tools to bring and educate them. For example, there will be Sunday services (throughout the month of September) where the first and second generation will collaborate and work together to create more a robust outreach/guest-friendly service. Through this, all of our leadership (young and old) will focus on the same goals and objectives.

In conclusion, I believe that NOVA Family Church will be better equipped and positioned to expand our church membership in the coming months. Also, with the new video-based DP small group study materials, we will encourage and empower more members to take responsibility to start/restart small groups.

We have several members expressing their newly found excitement to create small groups and bring friends/neighbors to the group since they have seen the study booklet. As we determine to produce more study materials, I believe these new groups will continue to meet and multiply. We also look forward to collaborating with Naokemi and the new Junior STF pipeline project to retool our youth education.


Pastor Hiroshi Goto,
Northern Virginia Family Church

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