A Courageous Choice: First Methodist Conroe
By: Sherri Gragg
Rockets and Boomerangs
When Dr. Jeff Olive was 21-years-old, he walked into the doors of First Methodist Conroe for the first time. The church was instrumental in laying the foundations of his faith and launching him into a life of ministry. After more than a decade in church planting, both in planting his own church in Tyler and in his role as Conference Director of New Church Development, Olive returned to First Methodist Conroe as senior pastor in January of 2017.
On his first Sunday at the helm of his home church, he told the audience that as a young man he thought he was a “rocket” that they were sending off into the world of ministry, but that his return to FMC had shown him that wasn’t true. Instead, he was a boomerang.
“You have two choices with a boomerang,” he said, “You can catch it, or you can duck. Thanks for catching me.”
Church Planting Strategies Repurposed
The years leading up to Olive’s boomerang moment had taught him a lot about what it took to begin a church. He learned it was often a costly, even risky endeavor. He also observed a juxtaposition at play between the dynamics of a new church and the established churches in the communities where church plants were seeking to take root.
“The established congregations that had facilities, resources, and a base of people were often stagnant or in decline. The brand-new start-ups who were worshipping in a rented space with little funding and a mostly volunteer staff would soon have hundreds in worship,” Olive said.
What if, he thought, the established churches applied proven church-planting strategies in their ministries? Would they experience the same fresh growth as the new churches?
When Olive boomeranged back FMC, he had a chance to find out.
A Vision and a Plan
Over the past year, Olive has led FMC on a journey of growth in which he has “relaunched” FMC by marrying the strategies he learned as a church planter with those essential to church revitalization. He began with a clear vision of FMC’s future, and then followed with a concrete plan on how to get there.
Step one was to clearly define FMC’s mission field and set a reasonable goal to reach it. After assessing FMC’s mission field, Olive looked at hard historical data and came to the conclusion that FMC could safely set a goal of an increase of 1.25 percent in attendance over the next three years.
Next, he took stock of the church’s resources. He found that FMC had a wonderful facility, a solid foundation laid by past leaders, and an incredible staff that was ready to try fresh strategies. He also took time to honestly assess the cost of relaunching the church. In the end, he determined that FMC would need to undertake a capital campaign to reach their goals.
Once all of the background work was in place, Olive called the church together for a “Family Meeting” to present his findings. In the end, the congregation courageously plotted a course for the future. In the first year, they would halt their decline. Year two would be the year they began to make progress. In year three, FMC would build on the past years’ success for increased future growth. “We committed to do something not every church is brave enough to do,” Olive said. “We determined to change our course.” The most recent data indicates the relaunch is taking root. During the first year, FMC not only met its goal of halting decline, but began to enjoy new growth as well.
A boomerang rests on a shelf in Olive’s office at the church, a gift from a congregant after that first sermon when Olive came home to lead them. It is a reminder that the beautiful and good is not limited to the rockets that touch the stars, but is also found in rebirth. New life, it turns out, is sometimes born on the wings of the very things that carry us home.