VCI Spotlight: Fair Haven UMC
The recent “Rodeo Roundup” event at Fair Haven UMC in Houston was much more than an activity. The assortment of languages, music styles, ethnic recipes and costumes demonstrated a colorful and contagious unity that has been a direct result of the congregation’s participation in the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI). Rev. Paul Thomasson says, “Before we entered the VCI process, it seems Fair Haven had quite a few people always mentioning ‘those people’ that like loud music in worship, or who don’t speak my language – or any number of other descriptions that fostered divisiveness, but we have since come together in unity to focus on how our differences make us stronger.” He adds, “When we have two languages, two main cultures, and people of all ages and stages in the same place having fun, dancing, singing, eating, competing in a Chili Cook-off (which my wife Dyane won) we know we are become more and more unified.”
In fact, The VCI Consultation Team named Vision and Unity as Prescription 1, he says. The new vision description of Believe-Love-Serve was approved by the church leaders last year and the congregation has since been very intentional to blend services, combine for church-wide activities and ministries and celebrate the diversity in age, culture, and worship preference.
Prescription 2: Simplified Administrative Structure
In response to VCI-inspired goals, on February 8 the church's Administrative Council began implementing a streamlined Governing Board structure that combines all previous task forces: SPRC, Finance, Trustees, Day School, Endowments, Memorials, Administrative Council, etc. into one committee. Ministry task forces for Education, Outreach and Worship are still in place. The Governing Board has 13 voting members and 2 non-voting members (Pastor Paul and Associate Pastor Bob Luton). “Instead of having several meetings with several groups over a usual period of several months to accomplish projects related to buildings, finance, or personnel,” adds Paul, “this group will help create a more focused deliberation and decision-making process which, we believe, will enable us to spend more time on ministry and less time on administration.”
Prescription 3: Intentional Discipleship Pathway
Danny Hernaez, the VCI coach working alongside Fair Haven during this time of implementation, gets excited when he talks about “Unity Sunday,” a time where he was able to preach to the entire congregation about breaking down walls and stretching out hands to become true disciples that work together. To reinforce the concept of discipleship, Fair Haven will implement the Alpha Course this fall in all adult and youth Sunday School Classes in both languages. Additionally all three services will amplify the lessons in sermons and liturgy. Further defining the discipleship Pathway and outlining a plan for Lay Leadership Development are ongoing projects and priorities for the remainder of 2015 for two Fair Haven task forces.
Prescription 4: Bridge Building
Fair Haven members are being more intentional about building relationships with the individuals they interact with via the Food Pantry, Day School, Scouts, Kids clubs, the Hispanic ministry and ESL classes.
Prescription 5: Communication
According to Communication task force chair Josh Reno, the VCI process has revealed that Fair Haven was lacking a consistent visual and vision-centered brand, clear signage, a website with current information and resources for visitors and diverse audiences alike. “Our group has made great headway on developing a new website in English in time for Easter, which will then be cloned for a Spanish version with shared links,” Bob explains. To help visitors navigate the property, the team is creating a color-coded map for the visitor tab on the website and printouts. Another hitch was not having the bandwidth and wireless internet access throughout the facility to handle the demands of video streaming in classrooms and to serve the needs of new joiners who expect connectivity.
The VCI research has now led the church to a vendor providing internet – which actually came with a bonus: better church-wide phone service at a savings of over $2000 per year from the prior slow bandwidth vendor. The team is also spearheading a new email newsletter and text messaging system, and is seeing success and interactions on the revamped Facebook page. Adds Bob, “We will launch our new professionally created logo as the centerpiece of our website all new communication vehicles. And we are having logo shirts available and wrist bracelets to hand out at our Easter Egg Hunt and future community events (with the web address on them), and message pens created to highlight our basic contact information, vision, and tag line.”
Coach Danny acknowledges that change of this magnitude is not always easy – or fast. “Situations can look bleak in the midst of change, but just as was the case with the summer forest fires to our far west, within two weeks there were signs of new growth. We are very encouraged to see many blessed ‘by-products’ of these changes here at Fair Haven.”
In 2013, Fair Haven paid only 70% of apportionments. Last year: 100%! “One of the major reasons was because we are more unified in our total emphasis and outlook,” notes Paul. “Each one of these prescriptions is making Fair Haven UMC a better, and more Christ-like church.”