VCI Success Story: Lindale UMC is Setting Records


Every vital sign has improved at Lindale UMC following the implementation of the Vibrant Church Initiative process.
Worship attendance has jumped from 250 to 350. Giving has increased approximately 9%. At least a half-dozen first time guests visit weekly and there have been more professions of faith than in recent years at Lindale UMC since the spring of 2014 when the congregation entered the Vibrant Church Initiative. While church is not all about the numbers, the numbers do often indicate vibrancy. “Lindale UMC is a testimony to the effectiveness of VCI,” says Rev. George Fisk, the VCI coach that has been working alongside the church leadership team for over a year. “The church believed in the VCI process, took a look at itself, and improved several key areas, and the results have been exciting to experience.”
When Tom Koehler, Lay Leader and VCI team leader thinks back over the last 18+ months he remembers being “hopeful” about the potential of VCI. “Our church was searching for direction. We were in a place of readiness for this. Among other things, we realized we needed help developing a spiritual pathway that would inspire and accommodate people who have been raised in the church as well as those nominally churched.” Adds Tom, “The VCI-inspired successes now continue to build on each other. However, we must guard against ever feeling we have figured it out, because true Jesus followers are constantly changing.”

“While I love to brag on my church,” adds Kim Johnson, who heads Family Ministries on the Lindale UMC staff, “we have undeniably worked hard to get to this point and I have to admit it was a little painful at times.” Kim and others were in the beginning stages of developing a welcoming/hospitality system when the VCI “mystery worshippers” provided their candid critique from the guest’s point of view. “In some ways we had gotten complacent about relationships inside and outside the church. Hearing our guest’s impressions was a true wake up call that helped us see our systems with new eyes. The mystery worshippers’ comments got more of the congregation on board to be a more welcoming congregation that is externally focused and on the lookout for visitors,” she adds.
Recent results, however, tell a new story. Adds Kim, “Since we began VCI, from July 2013 - September 2015, we gained 88 new members which is a 25% increase from previous years. Each week we average four new visitors per service, and those are just the ones that sign in.”  
VCI Improvements include:
  • Streamlining the sign-in process via a connection card that everyone fills out and including an area for prayer requests (see sample)
  • Hiring a part-time communications professional that helped guide a branding campaign around a new vision
  • Forming a Hospitality task force and attending training which led to upgrades in signage, placement of greeters, a newcomer brochure and gift bag for first-timers
  • Collecting contact information from guests attending community events on campus and adding them to the database for follow up.
Lindale UMC teams have implemented new ways to bridge to the community, develop a leadership strategy for staff and volunteers, clarify the mission and vision, revamped the hospitality and outreach system and create a road map for faith development.
“We have even added QR codes on some of our printed material for the younger audiences to scan on their devices to access scripture short cuts and other resources,” explains Kim. “I think our biggest successes have followed the creation of a consistent follow up system with guests. We call or send a letter within a matter of hours and try to find them ministry opportunities that are a good fit.”
From the Pastor’s Perspective
Initially, Rev. Rick Ivey expected a run-of-the-mill kind of experience from VCI, but he has been pleasantly surprised. “The big difference with VCI,” he shares, “is that there is coaching and continuous support from the conference office within this well-thought-out process that really provides customized feedback, tools and direction to the church.”
He also shares several other secrets to success. “We focused on over-communicating by describing what VCI was and what it wasn’t. We welcomed open debate and talked about it frequently as well as providing regular updates.” The church also participates in a program that provides leaders with the addresses of all who move into the neighborhood. Sending mailers to the new residents is a strategy that has yielded a number of visitors and new members.
“The most exciting part has been the increase in professions of faith, and welcoming newcomers who have never been a part of a church,” he says. “Another valuable piece for me,” he says, “has been the coaching aspect. Having that monthly accountability conversation has helped me, our staff and teams stay on track, get second opinions and even helps troubleshoot if we get stuck. Our coach had over 40 years of ministry experience in a large congregation and came to the table with a lot of insight and passion.”
Adds Rick, “I highly recommend other churches consider participating in VCI, particularly if they are struggling in some way. It provides a catalyst for visioning, direction and momentum.” 
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