Tour de Force
Over the last four years, certain churches in the TAC have been mysteriously growing because of the Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI). The TAC Center for Congregational Excellence has worked with 60+ churches of all sizes by providing “prescriptions” related to areas from vision and discipleship to communications and leadership.
This initiative succeeds by building on each congregation’s unique strengths via members’ input and coaching from proven clergy. “In recent months, we’ve been excited to have some larger congregations take the plunge into VCI,” shares Rev. Mike Tyson, VCI Director. Churches with over 350 members now in the process include Holy Covenant Katy, First UMC Katy, St. Mark’s in Baytown, FUMC Dickinson and Atascocita UMC in Humble. “These churches have the budgets, staff and lay leadership to get really good traction through the process,” he adds, “resulting in both spiritual structure and numerical growth.”
Motivation To Pursue VCI
Most churches would be ecstatic with three services and an average attendance of 450 each week, but Atascocita UMC (AUMC) had plateaued there for a decade when leaders considered VCI. AUMC Rev. Deborah Proctor shares, “Our immediate community has been growing 30 percent, yet our membership has not grown.”
Stagnant growth was also the motivation for First UMC Katy to participate. “We are a 114-year-old congregation in one of the nation’s fastest growing zip codes,” says Dr. Dick White, adding, “so our church council understood the need for outside consultants and coaches to help us do ministry in a changing mission field.”
- Following successful hospitality and communication workshops, Atascocita UMC has added a staffed ‘Guest Central’ booth, clarified the vision statement and is currently defining the path of discipleship. Notes Deborah, “We have also made great improvements in live streaming, made our website and campus more guest friendly, and have obtained financial consultation to streamline reporting and creative funding of ministries.” Next steps include initiatives with small groups and foundational classes.
- After the VCI consultation weekend, First UMC Katy leaders launched a new focus, saying, “It’s not about us, it’s about them.” One team is moving forward to clarify the vision of the church while another team works on a third worship service geared to people not currently attending a church.
- St. Mark’s Baytown has task forces focused on creating more consistent, accurate and engaging information. St. Mark’s also leveraged the TAC’s Birkman assessment tool to help staff members identify their leadership style. The team has already witnessed more cohesive support among staff and leadership. Peter shares, “VCI gives us the direction, momentum and energy as we move together toward the common goal of making disciples of Jesus Christ.”
- Holy Covenant is simultaneously working on all five VCI prescriptions. Rev. Fred Willis says, “We started by having thorough, overarching discussions about what we do well and not so well, and what we value. We are also addressing leadership gaps, by pairing longtime leaders with new volunteers.”
- “The VCI self study helped us see ourselves more accurately,” shares Rev. Jack Matkin, FUMC Dickinson, “and the consultation weekend provided multiple opportunities for a large segment of our congregation to be heard. The recommended prescriptions confirmed what we knew we needed to do, but for one reason or another had not yet addressed.” Jack says the new vision statement resonates with the members and community: Real People, Real Purpose, Real God – Life under the Cross, providing more focus now and drawing more members to get involved.”
Pastors agree that one of the main benefits of VCI is meeting regularly with a trained coach. “This has been key in helping me stay on track and keeping us accountable,” shares Deborah. St. Mark’s leaders are thankful for the coaching of Dr. Chuck Simmons. Shares Peter, “He is respected by our leadership and has consistently emphasized the importance and centrality of God’s presence. His leadership style has inspired us to think outside the box, look at our future and grow deeper.” Holy Covenant has experienced another benefit of having a coach. “Our coach helps clarify the wording in the consultation report on occasion,” explains Fred. “Rev. Steve Wende has been a very positive champion who is walking with us and bringing outside experience and thoughts. As a certified coach myself, I know this would cost $150-200 per hour under normal circumstances, yet it is part of the VCI package.”
One common result these congregations have all experienced thus far is an energized leadership base and more unified staff. Fred sees excitement in the leadership ranks at Holy Covenant, as evidenced by consistently high attendance at task force meetings. AUMC strategically placed one staff member on each of the VCI prescription teams to improve consistency in future planning. Adds Deborah, “We’ve also noticed that our giving is higher than last year which I attribute to the more confident atmosphere.” Dick White says there is a notably positive “buzz” in the church and a strong increase in the numbers of visitors attending the five summer camps for children. Adds Dick, “This renewed focus on our vision is also motivating more volunteers to help. Most see change as being a good thing and they are ready to pitch in.” These, and other pastors feel it has been a good investment of time and money and they are surprised more churches are not involved. “When someone asked me how much it would cost the church to do VCI, my response was, ‘What’s it going to cost if we don’t do VCI?’ There is going to be a cost either way,” notes Dick.
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