Believing is more than seeing – “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

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March 28, 2011 - 12:00 AM

A person’s connection with God may come in different ways for different folks, the Rev. Jim Rausch claims.
“It’s not something we can control,” he said. “It’s God’s timing. It’s God’s gift.”
But for those who find that relationship — “Where the light bulb goes on for them,” Rausch said — it’s “something you want to share with everybody.”

STABILITY and consistency are benchmarks at First Presbyterian Church.
Rausch credits his congregation and its connection with Christ and His message.
“I’m biased,” he admitted.  “We don’t want to over-emphasize numbers, and you always want to do better. I always want to see more, but we have good diversity” with older and younger worshippers alike.
Of the church’s congregation of 190, roughly half attend weekly church services, Rausch said.
Summer programming has helped maintain strong crowds in months when attendance usually dips. In addition, a children’s choir directed by Jan Knewtson has brought energy to the congregation.
“That’s been exciting,” Rausch said. “To see that group of youngsters unafraid to be upfront about their faith.”
But youngsters don’t have a monopoly on energy.
Rausch recounted offering a 32-week Bible study course.
“It required a huge commitment,” he said, noting the classes ran about 2 1/2 hours, with an extra half hour dedicated to study. “I figured maybe a couple of people would sign up.”
Fifteen did.
Rausch calls such instances “building the fellowship of the church. They formed a small group bond. That as much as anything has been an energizer.”
Rausch is quick to heap credit for energy within First Presbyterian to the church’s local group of elders who help provide a vision and establish programs, such as the former Angel Food Ministries outreach program.
“It’s a mutual process,” Rausch said.
Rausch also senses energy among congregations from other churches in the Iola area, of which he is pleased.
“Whenever one church thrives, we all benefit,” he sad. “And over the last few years, congregations have really come alive.”

THEOLOGIANS AND scholars have looked at religion through history and the shifting ways in which people worship, Rausch said, from today’s contemporary generations, who for better or worse, have come to expect more than just a simple sermon as part of their worship service.
With that in mind, First Presbyterian accentuates its services with music and videos, courtesy of a sound system and large-screen televisions.
“If it’s well done, it can really enhance worship,” said Rausch, himself a former news director for an Illinois television station. “It’s more than just somebody up here speaking.”
The videos, for example, may show clips from a mission project, “to show where the congregation’s offerings went,” Rausch said. Gospel may be accompanied by music, “to give it a music video feel.”
Ideas to enhance the services come from Rausch and the church’s elders. “It’s our brainstorming group,” he said. “How can we better reach this millennial generation.”
Regardless of what scholars have said throughout history  — that Christianity is nearing an end — “there continue to be great awakenings around the world,” Rausch said. “The spirit blooms where it will.”

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