Case Study: The “Why” Behind VCI

Date Posted: 7/23/2015

The reasons vary from church to church as to why 29 congregations in the Texas Annual Conference have said “yes” to enrolling in the Vibrant Church Initiative process over the last three years and even more are considering saying yes as well. Yet, all seem to relate in some way to the desire to thrive instead of just survive.

VCI is just getting underway at Crockett FUMC. Rev. Patrick Evans describes his reason for enrolling this way, “The Christian life is about transformation.  The church needs to transform, as well. Our hope is that VCI will aid us in Christian growth. “VCI is a faith response to the glut of articles and posts declaring the Church as obsolete or irrelevant,” adds Rev. Alan Van Hooser, Cheatham Memorial UMC. “Doing the hard work is where renewal comes from and our Cheatham Memorial family is committed to this. Anyone or any church diligently involved in the process will thrive."
Other motivations
“We knew we had some symptoms such as declining membership, we just didn’t know the cause,” admits Keith Feille, treasurer and membership chair of Marshall FUMC in the north district. Marshall FUMC Pastor Rodger Garbs clarifies, saying, “We have great leaders with great hearts, they just needed to share the same vision and know how to get there.” In west Houston’s southwest district, David Booth, Asbury UMC says, “We live in a vibrant city and vibrant community and we know we need to be a vibrant church in that context.” Adds another Asbury member, “We want to do everything with intentionality to the glory of God.”
According to VCI Director Mike Tyson, the TAC introduced Vibrant Church Initiative in 2012 to provide a multi-year support system of resources, facilitation and strategies to church leaders who opt to participate. “Churches have since been discovering this to be an ongoing process that strengthens congregations and helps them to become the unique church that God is calling them to be,” he says. “Each congregation strives to meet the needs that are specific to their mission field that fall within areas that play to the church’s strengths. We are excited that between now and the end of this year, we will be conducting 10 consultation weekends. Congregational Excellence hopes to start off 2016 with the same strong demand and interest.”
One of the latest churches to start VCI is Ashford UMC in Houston. Leaders share some of their thoughts about the process here via video:


Marshall FUMC’s Success Story
Marshall FUMC members have been witnessing and experiencing a metamorphosis since they started ithe VCI process several years ago. While participating is no guarantee of growth, VCI chairman Keith Feille believes the energy --resulting on the focus of being more Christ-like -- is contagious. “Through this process we discovered we are quite good at taking care of ourselves, but the church as a whole was not externally focused,” he shares. “Now we are focused on others and have activated a series of ministries that allow us to do much more than handout a free hotdog. We are building relationships by going out into the community to host picnics, sing at nursing homes and build wheelchair ramps. In fact, we have built close to 30 ramps in the last 18 months – so many that we’ve become the local representative in the tri-county area for the Texas Wheelchair Ramp Project.”
According to Keith, several books have made a distinct impact on Marshall FUMC. “After we read Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations we changed our terminology from committees to teams in the ministerial areas, such as Radical Hospitality Team, Passionate Worship Team, and Intentional Faith Development Team. The reasoning was that team connotes action, or a coordinated activity, not just talking or planning,” he shares. Following the VCI Consultation Weekend, leaders formed into teams to address each prescription, such as the Discipleship Pathway Team, the Connection Team, and the Facility Assessment Team.
In addition, after leaders read the popular book, “Simple Church,” together as a group, they began streamlining over 30+ ministries down to the ones that are externally focused.
Rev. Fred Willis, Marshall’s VCI Coach, observes that the entire VCI process has “visibly empowered the laity to do the work of the church and allow the pastor to be the spiritual leader.” Adds Fred, “This congregation has also taken a huge step forward in creating and defining a personal pathway to discipleship, something they will continue to shape as they move forward, but it is becoming part of who they are as a church.”
A revitalized sense of outreach, including a community-focused article in the local newspaper, has raised awareness of Marshall FUMC and boosted attendance. Youth have cleaned up yards, members have served in the local food pantry, and the church has had a vivid presence at Marshall’s annual Fall Fest. The church has hosted picnics in multiple city parks, even in areas where children were fearful to come outside due to increasing crime. “We claimed it for the day and for the Lord and watched children come out and play soccer, kickball, have a sing-along and have a wonderful time.” Internal growth has followed this external focus. Adds Rodger, “By contrast, five summers ago the church took two youth and two adults to UMARMY but this summer that number has jumped to 31. Over the last nine months, we’ve seen a major increase in young families coming back to church – to the point that we are running short on room and beginning to discuss next steps.”
“VCI has helped our members catch the same vision at the same time,” adds Keith, “and it has united the church. We’ve focused on discipleship, outreach and our facilities so far, but we will never say we have arrived or finished. We want to keep moving in a transformational direction.” Notes Rodger, “Our church looks more like our city now. I applaud the church and this process and our desire to keep this crown over our church and live into it from now on.”