VCI Success Story: Passions and Numbers are Up at Ashford UMC

Date Posted: 12/10/2015

In just four short months, the Vibrant Church Initiative has energized the congregation of Ashford UMC in multiple and measurable ways.
Ashford UMC, Houston voted unanimously to adopt the recommendations (Prescriptions) from the Vibrant Church Initiative consultation weekend process on August 9, 2015 and Rev. Hazel Jackson describes that experience as “the beginning of our rocket launch.” The congregation quickly formed task forces to take their church from good to great in the areas mentioned, which Hazel likens to hitting the runway at a fast pace. “Now we are soaring to a new height,” she shares, with excitement in her voice.
Before and After
In August, Ashford’s average attendance was 144 and by the end of November the average attendance had jumped to 164. “Some of our increase is due to the return of previous parishioners who are hearing about the new sense of vitality in our congregation,” she shares. Additionally, “There has been an average increase of 2% in our monthly contributions, and we are averaging seven visitors per Sunday.” Congregational vibrancy is also being enhanced with the construction of a Welcome Center near the Sanctuary. This will also boost membership, which has expanded by 15 members in less than a dozen weeks’ time.
First Steps
Ashford UMC began by generating seven diverse task forces with a mix according to parishioners’ age, gender, race and expertise. “Ashford UMC was on the way to vibrancy, however VCI gave us that extra surge of energy that we needed to take our hopes and dreams to another level,” she explains. “We tapped on many a shoulder and everyone accepted, rolled up their sleeves and put on their creative caps to begin implementing plans to make Ashford a more vibrant church,” adds Hazel. A special Prayer Team, comprised of one member from each Task Force, prays continuously for the church to discover it’s unique purpose in Southwest Houston
Task Force 1 is aptly named Hospitality because the main focus is to make the church more welcoming through interior and exterior signage, an updated website, and an improved sanctuary entrance. According to Hazel, within a few weeks’ time, new exterior signs went up and a revamped website was launched to serve as a more accurate depiction of the congregation. “A capital campaign, by means of a cottage meeting, was scheduled to raise funds for the construction of a narthex, which has been renamed ‘Welcome Center’ for our sanctuary,” reports Hazel. Plans were drawn up, and a rendering was approved by the congregation in December. Meanwhile, room dividers are in use in the sanctuary to create a temporary solution.” She excitedly reports that a quick capital campaign generated two-thirds of the cost of the new Welcome Center. “And, the Texas Conference is supporting us in this goal with a monetary gift as well.”

The Visioning Task Force began its work with a prayer walk in a one-mile radius and a drive-by survey including interviews with business owners, police, and firemen in the neighboring community. The preliminary feedback has been compiled and task force leaders are designing a plan to implement the recommendations. Adds Hazel, “This Task Force has also revised our Vision Statement.”
The Ministry Audit Task Force is at work helping to evaluate each ministry that is currently active to determine if it is aligning with Ashford’s updated mission and vision.
The Leadership Development Task Force is developing a plan to equip current leaders, equip future leaders, and establish a simplified Leadership Structure for 2017. “New leadership initiatives will begin in January at our annual Ashford Leadership Training,” notes Hazel.
Task forces focused on Discipleship and Community are responsible for attracting young people as well as exploring better methods for utilization of the facilities, grounds, staffing, and finances. These groups are discussing and pondering next steps to make Ashford a more missional church within its one-mile radius.
The group focusing on Worship Design conducted a survey of the congregation, polling topics such as preferred worship styles. Volunteers have visited several churches and compiled the findings and suggestions for tweaking the church’s current services.
“VCI made sense to us at Ashford,” adds Hazel, “because we knew that we needed to do something and VCI gave us the nudge we needed. For example, decreasing membership, and a failure to pay apportionments in full for several years, had us down, but a new spark of energy entered our lives in July 2013 when we first heard about VCI.”
Bright Future
“There is energy, positive thinking, a can-do attitude and the evidence of the promises of God,” shares Hazel. For the past two years Ashford has paid apportionments in full and the church is on schedule to pay them in full in 2015 as well.  With 35 new members this year, Ashford is gearing up to receive young people and families with children again. “We are working in partnership with the Houston Police Department’s PACA (Police and Clergy Alliance) organization to build a relationship with apartment complexes in our mission field for our outreach. We are striving to pray as our first resource, plan well and move forward to get to know our neighbors, then love them unconditionally as we transform our community together.” Adds Hazel, “We celebrate the opportunity for Vibrant Church Initiative to come into our lives to help us be obedient to God’s command to go forth and make disciples for the transformation of the world.”