Pastor: what is innovation, growth, where is hope?

Date Posted: 1/13/2022

By Lindsay Peyton
 
New Year’s resolutions aren’t only reserved for people who want to get into better shape or start a new hobby. Church leaders often set goals of how they would like to move forward and guide their congregations into a more fruitful future. Churches in the Texas Annual Conference continue to adjust to the challenges of the pandemic and uncertainties resulting from a postponed General Conference. Cross Connection recently reached out to three pastors and ask about their plans for 2022, as well as how they see the Holy Spirit at work.
 
Rev. Collin B. Taylor, Pastor at Pollard Memorial United Methodist Church

  1. What innovative ministry are you putting in place for 2022? 
While there are certainly ambitions I have for the next year, our church, as much of the Conference, has suffered drastic losses. And now omicron is rearing its ugly head. I hope 2022 can be a deep breath in and out, a break from the stress. We want to attend to self-care for the church, and ask, how are our people? We have to determine if it’s safe to reconnect. We’re really trying to stay attuned to the people who are here. We just want to take care of each other right now. We have online worship already, but we want to spend a good deal of our funding in the future on our online church. That has become even more important. We’re trying to find ways to reach out to people. We’ve got to literally bring the church to them.
 
  1. What does growth look like in 2022? 
In the past, I would often think about how I can personally change or what I could do differently to improve church attendance. Now we have to think more about insights on Facebook and views on YouTube. Growth for Pollard MUMC is really about our online presence. We’re going to add a staff person, a director of online ministries. I hope this will develop into a pastoral role over time. The fact is that there will be a congregation that doesn’t come to the sanctuary on Sundays. They’ll be online, and we have to find ways to reach those members. We’re also adding a director of IT. We’re growing our staff so we can grow our outreach in ways we never even imagined before. We have to do things in a different way, but we have to maintain the same quality of our in-person gatherings. We’re still offering this to God – and we have to keep that in mind with everything we do.
 
  1. How has the pandemic changed how you are moving forward?
The pandemic has changed our staffing and our budget. We’re becoming much more intentional about how we are reaching out, whether it’s in-person or online. It’s changed how we invest in our places. We have to rethink the assets we have. For example, we’re increasing our budget for youth ministry and for contemporary worship. All of our infrastructure has to be in place, and it has to be solid so we can move forward. I’ve been at Pollard now for six months. I’m still very much in a listening phase, but the pandemic has caused me to ask probing questions. The pandemic has forced us all right now into a place where we are not as comfortable as we once were. The key is to ask the questions and then have a “what’s next.” I think that’s really critical. When you remove something, I think it’s got to be replaced with new energy, new programs and new outreach.
 
  1. Where are you finding inspiration or hope these days? 
I like asking questions, brainstorming and thinking outside the box. I love all of that stuff. I think with the required emphasis on technology, social media and the Internet to reach out to folks, our flock may not have grown, but our ways to connect with them have multiplied exponentially. For almost every door that closed, a new one popped open. I do find the future hope-filled. I think about 100 years ago, during the Great Influenza, the church was still present. The Gospel was still spreading. They didn’t have the technology we have today. The Gospel is not in danger, and I take great courage in that. In the midst of the pandemic, Pollard has actually been able to increase our budget by 6 or 7 percent. We ended 2020 and 2021 with a surplus. I applaud Pollard for that, and that’s also another thing that gives me hope. This church isn’t giving in. We have an important story to tell in Tyler – and we’re going to make sure we’re around to tell it.
 
Rev. Meredith Mills, Senior Pastor, Westminster United Methodist Church

  1. What innovative ministry are you putting in place for 2022? 
Honestly, I’m kind of tired of innovation right now. We’ve been doing innovation nonstop for two years. I want to enjoy some of the things we used to do -- like sitting at a table together or singing songs on Sunday morning. We’ve started doing normal things again, but everyone is still walking on eggshells. I want to do normal things again without fear and without having to navigate the cultural divides. Now that I read what I wrote, it sounds whiny or impossibly quixotic. But that’s just where I am right now. In truth, we will likely end up doing something innovative. We always do. I just don’t know what it is yet.
 
  1. What does growth look like in 2022? 
Growth is rebuilding . . . getting to whatever the “new normal” is going to look like. Our communities changed irreversibly over the shutdown, and that’s likely not entirely bad. But we need to start getting through the transition and living into whatever the future looks like. Honestly, for Westminster, there are some pretty awesome opportunities in our future that could never have happened without the shutdown. But taking advantage of those opportunities is going to require a lot of work. 
 
  1. How has the pandemic changed how you are moving forward?
Oof. The pandemic changed everything. For both Gastrochurch and Westminster, the pandemic basically burned everything down. That’s not entirely bad . . . we get to start anew. But it means we are emerging from the shutdown as different entities. 
 
  1. Where are you finding inspiration or hope these days? 
I find hope in the people that show up. The past two years have been a masterclass in discouragement. We worked harder than ever and experienced less fruit than ever. People felt disconnected no matter how many hours we put into trying to reconnect with them. Dealing with people’s frustrations after putting into fruitless hours was terrible. But now… now the people who are showing up are pure gold. They love the church, they love Jesus and they are ready to change the world. The energy in worship is actually higher, even with fewer people present. The things we are talking about doing missionally are far beyond what we could have considered pre-shutdown. The numbers are definitely down, but the excitement is not. That is what kindles my faith that God is up to something good. 
 
Rev. Russell Martin, Senior Pastor at Lake Houston United Methodist Church

  1. What innovative ministry are you putting in place for 2022? 
I think the pandemic opened our eyes to the fact that there were many things we did before that were not as effective as we thought they were. The pandemic caused us to rethink our definition of success. We used to think that if we hoped 250 people would go to a worship service, and 300 showed up, then everything was going well. Or if you met your budget, it was all fine. Innovation comes with really evaluating ministry. What did we do because we always did it? Or because someone else did it? And what is actually good for the church? Because of COVID, there were a lot of things we could no longer do 100 percent. We had to rethink our ministries, find a way to do something 70 percent or 50 percent. The point was to find a way to keep moving forward. Innovation is about finding a way to still do it. Innovation is about discernment. You have the opportunity now to start again.
 
  1. What does growth look like in 2022? 
Churches may not see the same numbers come back after the pandemic. Instead, we have to think about how engagement is happening. That’s the key. Instead of just counting people in pews on Sundays, I count messages I received, interactions on social media and interactions on Zoom. We used to think only about worship service and youth group on Wednesday. That doesn’t count all of the interactions in between. We’ve got to look at the ways we engage our members when they’re not even on campus. We also have to think about growth with the people who are streaming our services but do not live nearby. Do we have a discipleship path for those who might not come back fully in person? How are we doing ministry for them? Digital is here to stay. We’re not going to stop broadcasting services. But we need to think beyond that? How are we creating a culture online that is an extension of our physical campus? We might find that churches can cooperate to offer pastoral care. We’re a connectional system. There are all kinds of questions that arise with digital presence. Online is the new parking lot. People might watch for six months before they decide to show up. If you give up on that, you’re taking away your front porch.
 
  1. How has the pandemic changed how you are moving forward?
I actually started last December. This is my first year in my first church. Before that, I was in youth ministry for 30 years, where we are always trying to do new things. There may be an advantage in that. I didn’t have any expectation for things to be done the way they always were before. I didn’t have a previous way of doing things. I think we do a lot of things, because we think we should. But activity does not equal productivity or depth. We need to be intentional. Right now, we are focusing on small groups. We are starting a Bible study. We may have a group that meets for hikes or a group of moms who like to craft. I like the example set by Gastrochurch and others who are creating non-traditional forms of building faith communities.  
 
  1. Where are you finding inspiration or hope these days? 
I’m always interested in ways that we can be different, ways that we can create community and build our family. A lot of people have been hurt by the church in the past and might not want to come into the building. They still need to be loved. Just because they might not step on campus doesn’t mean that they don’t need to know about Jesus. I think we need to change our definition of success. We can look and say, “We’re shut down by a pandemic and can’t do anything.” Or we can say, this is a new opportunity to do something we’ve never done before and reach new people. What are the opportunities that have been made clear? For instance, recently we had a Zoom game night with our college students. About halfway through the night, I thought, we could have been doing this for five years. We had the technology, and we could have been checking in with college students. The pandemic has taught us to take advantage of the tools that we have. We’ve also been building community events and using those as opportunities to welcome our neighbors to our church. My goal is to make as many connections as possible. We’re casting the net wide – and I’m seeing God moving in so many ways.