Vibrant Church Initiative Success Stories: FUMC Pasadena


There’s an infectious smile on Rev. John Stephenson’s face that won’t go away.
“It’s hard to believe that it has been over a year since the Vibrant Church Consultation Team visited our church,” says the pastor who was appointed in 2012 to First UMC, Pasadena, a church that had previously been in a steady decline of attendees.

While the time seems like a blur to the many involved, new successes are now visible – and very encouraging, as evident in this video


“Last February,” he adds, “our church became the very first pilot congregation in the Texas Annual Conference Vibrant Church Initiative and in October, the first to host a VCI Consultation Weekend. The group conducted interviews with our church staff, members and lay leaders and gave us a report that named five strengths, five concerns, and five prescriptions they believed would positively impact our church. One month later, we voted nearly unanimously to accept the prescriptions. Since that time, a VCI coach has been helping us work through those prescriptions. It is my joy to report that God’s hand is visibly at work as we implement the recommended prescriptions.”
Recapping the key milestones, John lists these events:

  • Last November, Dr. Jim Bankston led us in a powerful Service of Prayer and Repentance. It was a wonderful day and it was like a fresh start for the church.
  •  In January, we had a Day of Visioning during which approximately 70 people committed to praying for our mission field, asking God to reveal what His dreams for our church might include. After the prayer work was completed, a Visioning Team drafted a vision statement that was then shared with the congregation. That vision has been a guide for much of what has happened since.
  • One of the prescriptions was to move the contemporary worship service at 9:45 a.m. from the Christian Life Center to the Sanctuary. There was a lot of work that went into implementing this prescription. On September 7th, that work was completed and the worship service was successfully moved and now includes an array of new faces and a new level of age and ethnic diversity.
  •  Another prescription involved connecting more intentionally with people who use our building during the week. We put a team together to address this and after some excellent work, recommendations were made. One recommendation included the re-writing of one staff member’s job description to include making intentional connections with outside groups. It also included the relocation of our volunteer receptionist to the front door so that every person entering the building during the week is warmly welcomed. This has already been accomplished with encouraging results.
  •  Another of the prescriptions recommended shifting a complex system of committees to a simplified accountable leadership board structure. This Governing Board began its work on January 15th, following the Church Council’s vote to approve the list of nominees. The Governing Board combines the Trustees, Finance, SPR, Nominations, and Church Council into one group which has streamlined meetings considerably and freed us to put more focus on mission field matters.
  • Since the spring of 2014, two additional teams have been working to develop a Discipleship Pathway and strategies for improving our Sunday Morning Hospitality.
The View from the Trenches
Several of First UMC Pasadena’s lay and staff members heading up VCI teams are eager to share how they see God at work through this ongoing process:
Emily Everett, Associate Pastor of Outreach
“As a result of VCI, we have formed a Community Connection Team, and our role is to find ways to become more invested in the community and bridge our connections back to the church. We are going to have interviews with the city leaders to find out more about the needs in our own backyard, and we will be working with consultant Rev. Dr. Rueben Saenz to help us open our doors wider to the Latino community in our mission field. We have been able to build 1-1 relationships with students from a nearby middle school and we are in discussions with the principle about additional ways to build on that.
We have been able to pray for women and staff at The Bridge domestic violence shelter right across the street. That’s led to creating a group of chaplains that will be present there on a regular basis -- so we can be about the transformation of the world in our corner of Pasadena, TX.”
Greg Caramanna, Board member/Worship Prescription team member
“Before VCI, I was the chair of trustees and member of church council and our focus was much more inward than outward. Now instead of meeting four nights a week for long meetings on multiple committees, I have one meeting that’s usually less than two hours, which gives us more time to get out in the community. Through VCI work, we decided our calling is be known as the church that cares about kids and the neighborhood kids are starting to come play basketball and come to Wednesday night and worship-- and bring their moms and dads with them. From my seat in the choir I can see a new mix of visitors every week in the congregation and I can hardly wait to get out of my robe and welcome them after church.” 
Averill Buchanan, VCI Lay Leader Development Team, Board Member, Connections Team, Annual Conference Delegate
“Before VCI, we were known in the community, but now we are intentionally talking to the groups that are meeting in our building, letting them know FUMC Pasadena is interested in being a church family for them and partnering with them to meet needs they may be addressing. VCI training is helping us do a better job of finding inroads to new areas where we can serve. Our new Connections Team also recently conducted a survey of our preschool families and gained valuable insight on how to serve young children better and how to use a survey effectively. Our new Governing Board structure of 15 voting members allows us a much more timely response to the needs of our ministries and gives them more freedom since the process to get answers is much more streamlined.”
Kelly Sullivan, Associate Pastor, Discipleship Pathway team
“My first impression of the VCI process was – what a gift to pastors! As FUMC Pasadena moved through the process, the church began to turn around, have new hope and tools to go on this journey together – to lay bear and move ahead at a careful and methodical pace of transition under Rev. John Stephenson. My work on the Discipleship Pathway team has been a challenge but an exciting one to find entry points for every person that comes to church, based on where they are spiritually so that they can move forward in their relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Debbie Sussman, Board member, Vision team
“VCI helps a church take a long honest look inward that leads to transformation once you make yourself open to being all God wants you to be. One of our biggest burdens was not being able to pay all of our apportionments; when our pastor suggested we step out in faith and give our first fruits this year, that seemed to be the beginning of a new day for our church. We paid 100% for the first time in about a decade. Our VCI visioning process was one of the first changes to roll out and that involved a lot of praying, conversations, and discovery of what it wasn’t. We considered our values, strong history, and developed several sentences about who we are – and those carefully chosen words are now guiding everything we do.”
Adds John, “The VCI process has significantly helped us 1) reclaim our mission and redefine our vision and 2) define a clearer Discipleship Pathway with 12 measurements in four categories that will spiritually shape who we are individually and collectively. Our church vibrancy is not so much about numbers anymore, but now measured by a person’s depth of engagement with scripture, sacrificial giving of time and money and evidence of the fruits of the spirit.”