By Lindsay Peyton
When the current sanctuary at FUMC Pittsburg was constructed in 1905, the congregation had already been established for nearly five decades. Now, the structure with its gabled roof and towers has become a landmark in the town, and the church celebrates 165 years of history. As time passed, a number of buildings were added to campus. Some might be expected, like a fellowship hall and parsonage. Others are a little more unusual – a doctor’s office, grocery store and gas station. Moving into the future, the church is reassessing its facilities and working on a gameplan to make the best use of each space.
Rev. Jeff Dungan, now completing his second year as Pastor at FUMC Pittsburg, explained that in the 1950s, the fellowship hall and parsonage were built. “And that was the campus for a long time,” he said.
Then in the 1990s and 2000s, a doctor’s office across the street was added, retrofitted into an adult discipleship building, and a next door gas station was also acquired, which became a youth building. Around 2008, the grocery store that shared a parking lot with the church went up for sale.
“It all just kind of evolved,” Dungan said. “These were buildings contiguous to campus that became available.”
Everything made sense at the time. “Fast-forward 20 years,” the pastor said. “There have been a lot of things that happened in the life of the church. Ministry is changing.”
Not all of the buildings seem to fit their functions – and some seem too tied to their original design. The grocery store, for instance, can feel too large except for hosting big events.
Dungan thinks of the updates made to chicken houses common in the area. The town is home to Pilgrim’s, a poultry business. “What if they didn’t modernize? We have to update to be relevant like industry has,” he said.
He began to ask the congregation, “If we were going to start from scratch, what would it look like? How would we use what we have and how would we envision something new?”
“We could come up with a vision or dream to aspire to,” Dungan said.
This past February, the pastor was sharing that conversation on the phone with Rev. Robert Besser, Associate Director of Church Leadership in the Center for Leadership Formation.
Besser told Dungan about the newly launched Ministry Specialist Initiative (MSI) in the Texas Annual Conference. The program, which started in January, pairs clergy and congregational leaders with Ministry Specialists who are prepared to help.
There are currently 64 categories of coaches. Dungan was paired with Wesley Duncan, Lead Pastor at Alvin UMC, who serves as Architecture and Facilities Management Specialist.
Duncan had been a registered architect before becoming a pastor and even worked for an architectural firm specializing in churches for two years. Becoming a Specialist allows him to again utilize this skill set.
Duncan is passionate about architecture. He looked forward to heading to Pittsburg, even though it was more than a five-hour drive from Alvin. “I absolutely love doing this,” he said.
In March, Duncan spent two days touring the campus, taking measurements, talking with Dungan and members of the congregation and imagining the possibilities. “We tackled into the wee hours of the night,” Duncan said.
Now, the Ministry Specialist is drawing up the campus – and preparing suggestions to present to the congregation. “I want to help them reimagine what the church can do,” Duncan said.
His questions include:
– What facilities are in great shape that we don’t want to touch?
– What’s in disrepair?
– What is absent?
– What aren’t we using?
– What could we use for something else?
Duncan said that the Ministry Specialist Initiative speaks to the connectional system of the United Methodist church. “A lot of churches can work together to accomplish things that they couldn’t before,” he said. “That’s the thing I love the most – our connection.”
Dungan said this is the first phase of the project – and the second will be in early June. “We can start dreaming big and set a vision,” he said. “This helps us start the process of what’s possible. It lets us dream.”
He is also leading the congregation in a visioning process with TMS Global, a nonprofit that started as The Mission Society for United Methodists in 1984.
Dungan explained that the process is critical. He said, “A lot of churches have been on cruise control for a long time and have not stepped back and thought, why are we in ministry? What is the purpose of it? How are we making disciples for the transformation of the world?”
He added that a pastor’s job is to journey with the congregation as it asks those questions and then to help follow where God wants them to go.
“There is no cookie cutter that fits everyone,” he said. “These things take planning, visioning, listening, talking and getting everyone on board. And you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Dungan said that the MSI provides a starting point. “Having specialists, you can call is just a tremendous resource,” he added.
FUMC Pittsburg is asking important questions – and spending time in discernment – to step into the future and continue serving its community.