VCI: Taking Churches "From Good to Great"
Learn why the pastors of First UMC Pasadena and Greggton UMC in Longview signed on to be in the pilot group of TAC’s new Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI). Unlike a program, this “process” is ongoing, it is customized to each congregation, and it is revitalizing churches across the nation.
“When we were invited to be part of the pilot project of VCI, Greggton UMC said yes, because we wanted to take every opportunity to be the very best church that we could be,” admits Rev. Ricky Ricks. “Greggton is particularly excited about VCI because it is a long-term process of taking a look at who we are, identifying the concerns that we need to face, and mapping the steps for us to move forward – complete with a coach to help us with implementation along the way.”
A Path to Vibrancy
In 2012, the Texas Annual Conference began to create a ‘buzz’ about a process that would launch congregations into a new and more missional way of doing church. Momentum builds as church leaders hear about the three components of VCI: 1) Continuous Learning/Leadership Development, 2) Coaching and 3) Consultation -- with the goal of strengthening pastoral effectiveness and developing strategies for laity passionate about congregational revitalization and reaching new people for Christ. There are slightly different approaches for mid-to-large churches and small churches.
“As we began explaining this exciting process initially, nine churches signed on to be in the 2013 pilot group,” says Dr. Don Waddleton, Center Director for Congregational Excellence, “and the first two churches – First UMC Pasadena and Greggton UMC have just completed the eight months of leadership development as well as their weekend session with a team of trained consultants.”
Rev. Ricks felt the transformational side of the VCI process begin almost immediately as Greggton’s staff and lay leaders began to share insight from the recommended reading list. “As we were moving through the initial readings, the people involved in the process recognized new potential for the church and were ready to start doing something,” he shares.
The Next Step: Consultation Weekend
Since this method is customized to each participant, churches in the VCI process can opt for one, several or all of the phases, and the church votes to continue, each step of the way. Churches that have had leadership involved in continuous learning can vote to have a team of trained consultants work with their church to identify strengths and concerns and provide prescriptions to address those areas of concern. These consultations involve elements of community study, analysis of key demographics, interviews with leaders, focus groups, congregational training, mystery guest worshiper visits and more.
Immediately after weekend worship, the pastor reads the consultation team’s report detailing five prescriptions for change, and invites members to several town hall meetings to discuss the content further. Within weeks, the church holds a Church Conference and votes by ballot to adopt the recommendations, postpone or end the process. If the strategies are adopted in totality, the church is matched with a directive coach to work through the prescriptions over the next 18 months.
“We just finished our Consultation Weekend,” adds Ricky, “and we now know there is a lot of work in front of us. While we can’t help but wonder how we can get it all done if we vote 'yes' to continue the process, there is now a lot of excitement about the direction that VCI is bringing to our church family.”
The First UMC Pasadena Story
Rev. John Stephenson, who is leading by example as the first church to step into the VCI experience, shares his story having reached the mid point of this three-year process. “Though there is much more to be expected of the process, the results so far have been quite remarkable. During the first 18 months of learning and discernment, there has been a renewal of hope in the congregation as well as a burgeoning passion for reaching the least, last, and lost of Pasadena. VCI has also served as an effective tool for developing our leaders who are increasingly clear about the church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Two weeks ago, the church held its Consultation Weekend, led by Consultant Rev. Bob Farr of the Missouri Annual Conference. The weekend included a day of interviews, a day of teaching, and on Sunday Rev. Farr preached an inspiring message about how God calls people to be willing to take a risk for the sake of the gospel. Following the worship services, I read the team’s report, written in consideration of the interviews and a thorough studying of the congregation and its mission field, to the congregation. The report contains five strengths, five concerns, and five prescriptions designed to help the church become a vibrant congregation. Our church is now in a period of prayerful discussion about whether or not to accept the report and its prescriptions. If the church decides to move forward with the prescriptions, a coach will be assigned and will guide the church in implementing the prescriptions over the next 18 months. Vibrant Church Initiative is a “process” rather than a one-size-fits all program. No two churches strengths/concerns/prescriptions are exactly alike because no two churches are exactly alike. The leadership of First UMC Pasadena is thanking God in advance for the many blessings that will come as a result of VCI.”
Success to Date
Several other UM conferences have proven track records with this transformational process designed to launch churches into a new life cycle. First UMC Pasadena Consultant Bob Farr, author of Get Their Name, a book outlining the transformative power of relationship building, stopped in Houston in October to train TAC teams to help VCI churches move from a membership focus to a missional focus. According to Bob, 20% of the churches in VCI so far are healthier and still working on their prescriptions and 30% are growing in baptisms, professions of faith and generosity.
Lay leaders curious about the details of VCI should contact their pastors, and pastors that want to investigate this process for growing fruitful congregations begin by contacting their District Superintendent. “VCI participants are organized in the spring and fall, with the bulk of expenses absorbed by the Conference,” adds Don. “Ideally, we want to bring congregations together for a shared experience, and hold costs down by creating clusters of churches going through the process at the same time.”
See Indiana Conference video: inumc.org/pages/detail/386 or testimonials from engaged congregations via: www.healthychurchinitiative.org/Media.html