Asking why drives purpose of one church
By Lindsay Peyton - En Español
Change was already in the air when the Rev. Jeremy Wester was appointed to FUMC Rosenberg in February 2020. His role became walking alongside the congregation as they discerned where to head next. The pandemic actually accelerated the conversation -- and led the church in new directions. Today the congregation is poised for new possibilities, following God into the future.
Food, family and faith – those were the recurring themes at FUMC Rosenberg when Wester first arrived. He scheduled a series of potluck dinners to get to know his congregation, to learn more and to discover members’ priorities.
“They loved their dinners together,” he said. “And they loved feeding their neighbors. So much revolved around gathering for meals, that feeling of family, and it all centered on faith. The framework was apparent, and it became our mantra.”
Food, family and faith were concepts that shaped the church’s identity. “It was a tangible sense of our purpose,” Wester added. “We knew we could start there.”
The pastor could tell that the congregation had a heart for mission. Members had developed thriving ministries, including a food pantry and Agape shop to provide free donations to neighbors. A nonprofit, Lunches of Love, also sprouted out of the church.
At the same time, their new pastor sensed that the congregation was ready to develop a broader vision. “There was a sense that we needed to do something else, but there wasn’t a pathway yet,” he said. “We were in need of an overall sense of direction, so we could all work together and then celebrate our successes.”
Then COVID struck. The potlucks were canceled, and all energy went toward moving worship online and meeting virtually. While that time was full of challenges, a silver lining became apparent.
“In a sense, that was a blessing,” Wester said. “It forced us to think outside the box. There was no other option.”
Single board model
Everything was included in the rethinking process, including decision-making. The usual committee meetings could not take place, and a temporary ad hoc single board model was created called “Hope Team” to provide a more streamlined approach.
The church also launched the Ezra Team, a group of lay leaders interested in paving a sustainable path forward for the church. “We’re trying to see where the church has been and how to move into the future,” Wester said.
Clarify the why
The Ezra Team meant to help the church “clarify our why,” the pastor explained, which is “essential for being able to prioritize, strategize and make good decisions as a church.” That included solidifying a mission statement and pinpointing how the church is uniquely called.
The group was asked to identify concrete steps forward to facilitate growth. Developing an organization chart, identifying community needs and evaluating policies are all part of their work, including finding ways to empower and equip leaders and volunteers.
At Rosenberg FUMC, 2021 became a year of discernment. Rethinking facilities and finances were an integral part of the process.
Finances and facilities
Before long, a simple equation emerged at Rosenberg FUMC. The congregation had something that other area organizations needed. “One thing we realized -- and that crystallized -- was that we have a lot of space,” Wester said.
At the same time, he found, “there are a lot of organizations in the community who are doing amazing things.” And some needed room to fulfill their missions. “They really were in need of a roof over their heads,” the pastor added.
That was a need that Rosenberg FUMC was able to meet. For instance, Wester was contacted by the Christian organization Two Lives Changed, which focuses on faith to help young parents build stronger families. “They were looking for a place to have a support group,” the pastor recalled.
FUMC Rosenberg offered a room for a weekly meeting, as well as special events like diaper drives and baby showers. The church was also available when local nonprofit Fort Bend Hope temporarily needed a place to expand one of its programs.
Supporting both organizations has allowed FUMC Rosenberg to expand its outreach, without developing new ministries. “It was clear that we could multiply what we were able to accomplish,” Wester said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And we don’t have $10,000 to invest in a new ministry. What we do have is space. What we have is a heart to make a difference in the community.”
The church also discovered that the extra space could help offset costs. A nondenominational congregation in the community had been gathering in its pastor’s home and was ready to expand. “They were really in need of worship space,” Wester said.
The two congregations signed a building use agreement. “They’ve been a great tenant,” Wester said. “They’ve helped replace our stage lighting and fix up our playground. They’re willing to invest in the space in ways were weren’t able to. At the end of the day, I think we found a really good partner who cares about our future.”
Being innovative when it comes to finances is critical, especially as churches face rising costs, the pastor added. Even basic building maintenance can exceed giving, he said. “You can either cut every corner and figure out how to keep the lights on,” he explained. “Or you can think outside the box.”
Letting go, and letting God
The pandemic has brought its own set of challenges, Wester explained. But even before COVID-19, the church faced difficulties. “We are in an era now where there are problems and challenges,” Wester said.
And that has made having difficult conversations and asking probing questions worthwhile. “What is it that makes a church unique?” Wester asks. “Just coasting on what has been done winds up leaving you with not knowing what you’re trying to do.”
The pandemic may have made looking ahead at the next 10 years impossible, he explained. Still, churches can move forward. “Do the next right thing,” Wester said. “You take the first step, then you do another right thing and you figure out where to go from there.”
He imagines new ministries forming in the future at FUMC Rosenberg. In the meantime, the top priority is continuously evaluating existing programs – and thinking strategically and sustainably. “We’re new to this, “he said. “We’re still trying to figure it out. But if you don’t know where you’re trying to go, how will you figure out if you’re getting there?”
The Ezra Team will present its recommendations to members in 2022 for their official approvals and vote. Wester is also working on implementing formal ways to get feedback and keep the conversation rolling.
The goal is to build on the legacy of FUMC Rosenberg and to create space for more ministry to flourish in the future. Recently, Wester led a two-part sermon series about planting and sowing seeds. To symbolize the message, the church is starting its own garden.
Wester thinks of Psalms, “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.”
“It’s such a powerful image,” he said. “Even the most challenging experience can lead us to such beautiful things – if we have faith in where God is leading us.”
Giving up control, trusting God is key and moving in the right direction is key, Wester added. “When we’re willing to do so, the fruit is so much better than you could have imagined,” he said.