A Path to Vibrance: Goodbye Programs, Hello Process

Date Posted: 1/24/2013

There have been many times that Rev. Kelly Sullivan (now Associate Pastor at First UMC Pasadena) felt like a ‘lone ranger’ in the ministry. “In this day and time, it is easy to get discouraged by the challenging nature of church work and feel wounded and isolated,” she says, “so much so that I even took an 18-month leave of absence to regroup and rediscover the meaning behind my calling from God.”


Adds Kelly, “Those of us who are no longer satisfied with doing church in a survival or maintenance mode are discovering a path to be the church in mission to our world. I am so thankful to be a part of one of the Texas Annual Conference VCI pilot groups in the Houston area for clergy and lay leaders because I am experiencing a renewed sense of hope, support, connection and new discipleship strategies.”


Pastors and Laity Discussing “What Could Be”

“The Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) has inspired our team in ways you can't imagine! The finance committee is fired up, and our stewardship campaign may be a record breaker this year,” says Kathy Renick-Bell. “After just one VCI meeting, many of our leaders realize how vital this new process is to the survival and continuation of the mission of Pollard UMC. We are already seeing so many positive ways this will create growth at Pollard – what an impact Vibrant Church Initiative has already made in just two days!”

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“What I appreciate about VCI is that it provides a forum for wrestling with what it means to be church and provides tools for facilitating adaptive change,” adds Pastor John Stephenson, First UMC Pasadena. “It seems this process offers the potential for Methodism to restore our roots as a movement.”

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“We're happy to see the conference teaching churches a new process that will really make a difference. Over the last year, our committee has learned from the books, the VCI coaches and the other participants. The time has been a gift we appreciate to spend filtering out new systems and ideas that might work for our church. None of us know yet exactly where this process will take Bear Creek UMC, but we're glad to be doing something!” says Becky French, VCI committee member. 


Process vs. Program

The mission statement for The Texas Annual Conference is outwardly focused. “God has called us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but our system for doing church has been designed to produce members rather than disciples – so we must tweak the system," notes Dr. Jerry Pennington, Director of Vibrant Congregations for TAC. “Since conference leaders have voted to encourage all churches to regularly discern and give an account for the steps they are taking toward making disciples, TAC is now teaching a proven process for making disciples – and being the church more effectively.”


The TAC’s Vibrant Church Initiative is designed to provide a multi-year support system of resources, facilitation and strategies to church leaders. Notes Jerry, “Churches that have been in these first VCI groups are discovering this is not a flavor-of-the-month program but more of an ongoing process that strengthens pastoral effectiveness, improves clergy morale, deepens our connection and enhances skills for ministry.” This proven system of intentional discipleship, that is having dramatic results in churches of all denominations nationwide, is already taking root in the Texas Annual Conference.


During the initial launch of VCI in August 2012, Dr. Jerry Pennington and Dr. Phyllis Riney have served as the facilitators with churches across the conference. Dr. Riney is a retired elder of the TAC and recently received official endorsement by the United Methodist Church as a coach. “The most exciting part of coaching VCI groups so far,” notes Phyllis, “is seeing the laity get excited about being the church instead of doing church. They are reading books and discussing them together and seeing how things can be different when we change the way we think about church.”


Three components of VCI: Leadership Development, Coaching and Consultation, and Working through Next Steps


Phase OneLeadership Development:

The centerpiece of VCI is leadership development, which dovetails with one of the top three areas of the Four-Year Focus for TAC: Developing clergy and lay leaders. The Leadership Development portion of the process involves a small group experience built around in-depth reading, discussions and mutual support that leads to discernment of God’s vision for their church.


Phase Two – Coaching and Consultation

Congregations that step beyond Phase One of leadership development will engage in a weekend consultation led by a team of coaches and consultants who will suggest five “Next Steps” to bring the church to greater health or vibrancy.


Phase Three –Working out Next Steps

In this phase, congregations work through strategic Next Step goals by way of an 18-month action plan under the guidance of a directive coach.


Getting started: There is a Path

Churches that are interested in participating in VCI should contact their District Superintendent. The bulk of the expense per congregation is absorbed by the Conference, but participating churches are expected to invest a very reasonable amount. The process is divided into phases that allow churches to vote along the way whether to continue. The process follows a strategic path and teaches church leaders to do the same.


The focus of the Vibrant Church Initiative is to provide resources, facilitation and strategies to church pastors, staff and laity to better reach new people for Christ and become the church God calls them to be in their unique community. Leaders are guided through the process and encouraged to customize the strategies to fit to their particular gifts and calling. By participating in VCI, congregations have the opportunity to engage in all three goals of the TAC’s Four-Year Focus:  Invest in the Young, Develop Lay and Clergy Leadership and Grow Fruitful Churches


“The driving force behind teaching this VCI process,” adds Jerry, “is to protect, equip, and encourage pastors and leaders so that we can experience true connection and stand up and move out to the Promise Land together. Just like the Promise Land had giants, ministry has challenges and the Texas Annual Conference wants to help leaders thrive instead of just hanging on for dear life.”


Bishop Huie Sees TAC Churches Becoming Vibrant + Viable + Sustainable

Over and over the people of the Texas Annual Conference have expressed a desire for their churches to become vibrant, growing congregations making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” says Bishop Janice Huie. “A key challenge is learning how to do that effectively for each congregation’s unique mission field. Over the past two years, clergy and lay leaders have researched other annual conferences and other denominations to learn which strategies are the most effective in increasing a congregation’s effectiveness in making disciples. The Vibrant Church Initiative is now being used in more than 25 annual conferences and dioceses across the US and I’m excited that the Center for Congregational Excellence is launching VCI for our congregations. I encourage you to learn more about it and discern whether it is the right tool for your congregation.”