VCI Success Story: Exciting Anecdotes from Cheatham Memorial UMC

Date Posted: 2/25/2016

Inspired by their Vibrant Church Initiative involvement since 2014, members are still witnessing the impact of having an intentional focus on “visioneering” and disciple making from the inside out.

Heartwarming stories of divine ministry connections abound these days at Cheatham Memorial UMC in Edgewood. Members are excited to share the one about the impromptu auction benefit for a young student with brain cancer that they literally launched with less than 48 hours’ notice to raise $1,600. Someone is likely to share about the day about 60 members of the congregation traded traditional worship in favor of a multiple-hour day of service, complete with the preparation of food boxes and wrapped gifts for families in the Angel Tree ministry. Another might share the story about raising more than enough money to sponsor member Pat Brown on a trip to participate in the ZOE ministry in Kenya, a life-altering experience that led her to a job helping dispatch others with a heart for global missions.

“The Vibrant Church Initiative (VCI) process does not happen in a vacuum nor does it give simple answers to the complex questions of how to revitalize our congregations,” admits Rev. Alan Van Hooser. “In our experience, this is visioneering on the fly. There is no magic checklist to fix anything, however, it is a little boost that can go a long way.”

In recent months, giving has increased, attendance is up over 20% and he estimates 85% of the church is involved in a hands-on ministry activity.
VCI team member Judi Yarbrough, who chairs the Community Connections Team, sees it this way. “Cheatham was a church on the cusp of stepping out to be the church God wanted it to be: one that looked outward, loved beyond its walls, and served the Lord tirelessly.  The VCI process helped to unite the congregation and refocus it into a church that serves more effectively as God's love in action.” Adds Judi, “It is so much easier to be in service when we first stop to pray and ask ourselves if what we are doing will truly bring Jesus to the community.  Over the last 18 months or so, we have collectively learned how to become disciples making disciples. VCI has been the catalyst – and for this and I am thankful.”

Another dramatic demonstration of the dynamics of this process, adds Pastor Alan, began with a simple visit from an apartment manager, making an obligatory stop at the church to educate community neighbors about her 24-unit senior care center. “It was obvious she was a dedicated Christian and faithful employee and this visit was a part of her job on behalf of people she genuinely cares for,” explains Alan, who filed the flyer and business card into his VCI notebook under “Resources.”

Ironically, the Cheatham VCI Team was reading and discussing, The Externally Focused Church, by Rusaw and Swanson, he adds.  While Cheatham Memorial has a long history of being involved in the community, he recalls the team identifying with the message of this book in ways that would almost immediately bring life-changing impact.  “Team members took the VCI community questionnaire to various civic leaders to determine their thoughts about the most fragile people group in our community,” he shares, “but most mentioned the lonely and disconnected elderly people.” 
Simultaneously, another team was revisiting the church’s vision statement which led to adopting one with three areas of focus: “Welcome Home: Cheatham Memorial United Methodist Church is Christ’s Love in Action: Following (Christ), Serving (people) and Unifying (the body of Christ).” 
Alan admits that a full year passed before he reluctantly began tidying up his overstuffed VCI notebook and rediscovered the flyer and business card again. “I felt compelled to call her and check in, and ask what our church could do for her or her residents,” he shares. She was quiet for a moment, admitting no church had ever asked.” Christmas was approaching and she suggested Cheatham provide special music for her residents’ party that she was personally funding, as a result of cutbacks to the budget and her paid hours.

“What happened next was the direct fruit of our visioning activities and newfound awareness of how to build better bridges to our neighbors than we had done in in the past,” he adds. “Some of the residents greeted us and we enjoyed an informal time of socializing around the table before we led music and made new friends that day.” As a result, several of the residents visited the CUMC Wildwood service and again on Christmas Eve.  
"Doing this with and for our neighbors makes me feel closer to God,” says member Linda Gressley, “and gives me the chance to share what I have in Jesus with people  I didn't even know. This project has started small but is impacting lives."

The CUMC mission committee has since led prayer for this facility and measured it against the vision, asking:  Is there a ministry need here?  If we join them, are we following Christ? serving our community? unifying our church family?  Key mission minded leaders then met with the complex manager, and planned another social gathering. “We asked the residents what they would prefer,” notes Alan, “and they asked to join our folks in planning a Bible study and a game day – which we will do next month followed by additional activities in subsequent months.”

The Fruit of Revitalization
Cheatham Memorial is now among the list of medium size churches benefitting from this process of discerning God’s unique role for them in their community. Many members have actively considered ways to improve communication, as well, and made significant modifications to the website, “The process of revisiting or crafting a vision statement provides a marvelous instrument to rally around,” notes Alan. “The VCI Communications workshop has impacted our bulletin, website, Facebook presence and even our meetings are more creative and enjoyable.”
Beverly Chadwick, vision team member and coordinator of the Ministry Audit Team adds, “VCI opened my eyes to what we are already doing AND what we could be doing.” Adds Alan, “There is a new energy around here as God leads new people to visit and get involved, a new sense of consistency as we become more intentional about our presence in the community and learn to listen to how we can empower others to be what Jesus intended them to be.”