Consultant’s recommendations break through the clutter



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Consultant’s recommendations break through the clutter

Oct. 30, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011 
tparham@flumc.org  Orlando {0757}

NOTE: Headshots of the Revs. Kirk Dreiser and Craig Hammond are available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco**

A prophet continues to find honor outside his hometown. Just ask Bill Easum.
 

Bill Easum. Photo courtesy of Easum, Bandy & Associates. Photo #07-0692.
Easum is vice president of Easum, Bandy & Associates. With 35 years of pastoral ministry experience in four churches and two denominations, he specializes in consulting with local churches, conducting seminars, small group work, church planting and mentoring leaders.

During the past two years the well-known church consultant and author spent quality time with four churches from the Florida Conference’s South Central District, helping their pastors and leadership teams clarify a vision for the community.

Much of Easum’s advice was not very different from what the pastors themselves had been suggesting, but the voice of a third-party outsider served as a breakthrough.
 
“It’s made a tremendous difference in a sense of momentum,” said the Rev. Jerry Johnson, pastor of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church in the Tampa area. “This thing has streamlined us, to where everybody knows what it is we want to do ultimately — and wants to be a part of it. I don’t have teams bickering with each other, in conflict with each other.”
 
Johnson’s church and the three other congregations — Limona Village Chapel, Wellspring and Lake Magdalene United Methodist churches — participated in a two-year coaching process. The district raised half of Easum’s fee; the churches provided the other half.

Participating congregations were required to submit an essay declaring why they, among the 89 churches located throughout the district’s Hillsborough and Polk counties, should be selected for the coaching.

In 2005 Easum spent the year visiting the churches on a regular basis. During 2006 he was available via e-mail. The churches have spent this past year implementing some or all of the recommendations Easum customized for each congregation.
 
The Rev. Bert Blomquist, the district’s superintendent, said the district’s leadership council initiated the coaching endeavor several years ago when the Natural Church Development (NCD) congregational transformation process was introduced in the Florida Conference.

“We wanted to offer some other alternatives,” Blomquist said. “People were aware of Easum’s books. We were hoping the year they spent with Bill Easum would kick-start these particular churches. All of them gained a lot of new insights.

“As usual, when you bring in the ‘expert,’ people listen.”
 
Learning what the church is now

Johnson, who arrived at Temple Terrace in 2000, said the church had begun a process 10 years ago to think through what it needed to do in order to grow. Like many long-established congregations, the church had become institutionalized and more inward- than outward-focused — unable to change to meet the evolving nature of its surrounding neighborhoods.

One eventual fruit of such discussions was the launching of a contemporary service. Another was a new vision statement, one that Johnson noticed was almost identical to that of mega church Willow Creek near Chicago, but not specific enough to Temple Terrace’s needs.

“We wanted to find out who we are,” Johnson recalled. “What is our DNA as a community of faith now? We hoped Bill could help us determine those things.”

During worship services, Temple Terrace United Methodist Church strives to “deliver Christ's message in a unique way” by presenting regular short dramas that accompany the sermon. Photo courtesy of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church. Photo #07-0693.

Johnson said Easum performed an “audit” that examined the church culture from numerous angles — leadership, personalities, finances, gender, surrounding demographics, ministries — and then made recommendations on where Temple Terrace needed to go. Flowing from that process, 35 of the church’s leaders gathered, prayed and brainstormed a new vision statement: “Building a Christ-centered community, risking whatever it takes to connect people to the love of Jesus.”

“Bill said, ‘This is one of the most bold mission statements I’ve ever heard. This is really great if you mean it; it’s going to destroy you if you don’t,’” Johnson recalled.

The church rolled out the vision in the fall of 2005, branding it as its “legacy” and conducting a six-week series on it.

“It certainly gave clarity to who we are and what we are trying to accomplish,” Johnson said. “One of the hardest things was trying to determine who we are trying to attract. The gospel is for everyone, but there are certain characteristics we have that would attract some people and not others. We realized we were really focusing on couples between the ages of 25 and 55.”

Easum typically visited quarterly throughout 2005, spending about three hours with Johnson and three hours with his leadership team. He produced a final report of recommendations totaling more than 60 pages, which Johnson said was “like a gold mine.”

“We spent a lot of time talking abut the biblical model of the church, what the church was really about and supposed to be doing — and how it has gotten off track over the years,” Johnson noted. “After he left, we would carry those discussions on.”

Finding its way

Rev. Kirk Dreiser

Limona Village Chapel chartered 91 years ago, and the Rev. Kirk Dreiser is serving his fifth year as the church’s senior pastor.

Located in the heart of old Brandon, the church’s surrounding historical neighborhood is going through a transitional period, with longtime residents “moving on in one way or another,” Dreiser said. “We’re getting some younger people moving in, but lower on the socio-economic scale because the houses are older.”

Regarding Easum’s coaching services with his congregation, the pastor added: “My experience is that when we have done what he (Easum) has told us we could do, the things we have done have helped us. They haven’t always helped in the way some of the folks would have liked. But from a pastoral point of view, they have helped.”

Dreiser said Easum recommended Limona move its contemporary service from 8:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. This involved investing in new equipment and refurbishing the fellowship hall to some extent. The average attendance of about 35 people didn’t change initially, but during this past summer attendance moved consistently into the upper 50s and lower 60s.

“We’re praying we’ve reached the tipping point. … (in late September) people came out of the woodwork all of a sudden; we ended up with about 98 people in that service,” Dreiser said. “That would not have happened at 8:30 without a major miracle from God.”

Limona also recently debuted a new nursery. Dreiser said the previous arrangements caused the church to lose some younger families.

Although the church has implemented many of Easum’s recommendations, Dreiser acknowledged it also chose to do the opposite of one — changing the time of the 10:30 a.m. traditional service. The church pushed the service back to 10:45 a.m. and in one month’s time saw attendance drop from about 110 people to 85 or 90.

Telling it like it is

Located in a high-growth area north of Tampa, Wellspring United Methodist Church launched in 1994 and constructed its first building in 1997. After the congregation hit a plateau of about 200 people, the Rev. Craig Hammond was appointed to the church in June 2002 to get things rolling again.

Rev. Craig Hammond

Hammond intentionally hired an ethnically diverse staff, including an African-American worship leader who helped the worship style take on a more urban feel. Attendance has roughly doubled in size since then, with 100 youth also becoming active in the church. External support groups meet at the church as well, with about 100 participants.

Hammond described his church’s experience with Easum as very positive and said Easum did not mince words.

“He (Easum) identified a lot of things after doing some assessments, talking to people in the congregation and getting to know the community,” Hammond said. “We have a building that does not look like the community and tends to attract people looking for the church of their childhood memory. He was very frank … very blunt. It was good having him say those things, which wouldn’t have been as well received if I had said them.”

This year Wellspring has been methodically revisiting Easum’s recommendations, Hammond said, and an active building team is putting together a comprehensive master plan. The church hopes to break ground within a year on a new facility.

“We’ve kept in touch (with Easum), and have even considered bringing him back in to do some further work,” Hammond added.

It’s not ‘all about us’

Blomquist said the district as a whole is talking about doing some further coaching. In the meantime, eight churches have started working with the ReFocus program, which helps churches rediscover their vision before beginning the NCD process. A few others are being served by NCD coaches.

“It’s hard to implement change, whether it’s starting a contemporary worship service or changing the hour of worship. People resist change,” Blomquist said. “It’s good to have an outsider come in to confirm things, share a larger perspective of what they’ve seen in other churches.

“It’s leadership development as much as anything; that comes in many different shapes and forms. We have some real experienced pastors who are interventionists and can bring about change and take the heat, and we have a lot who are inexperienced in dealing with that.”

Many of the district’s churches are located in areas where the residents of the neighborhoods are much younger than the members of the congregations, according to Blomquist.

“An outsider (Easum) is telling them: ‘You’re well-located. You’ve got an opportunity here.’ I think that was one of the benefits,” he added.

Part of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church’s vision to build a Christ-centered community involves focusing on helping youth “meet Christ and connect with His love,” according to the youth group’s Web site. “We believe in youth. We believe that anyone can begin a relationship with Christ at any age.” Photo courtesy of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church. Photo #07-0694.

The four churches that received Easum’s coaching have yet to formally compare notes. Johnson said there remains a tremendous opportunity for them to get together and share ideas about what does and doesn’t work.

“I think that’s something we’ve been missing out on,” he admitted. “There’s resistance for whatever reason: ‘I’m too busy, I’ve got this going on.’ It’s not as easy as it sounds.”

“If there was one overarching thing I could say about the whole process, it really opened the eyes of the leadership,” Johnson added. “They then begin to open the eyes of the congregation, that the church is about going out and making disciples. It is not about taking care of you and providing you with comfort, a place to come and feel good. We have a call. Our call is to go out and share the good news of Jesus Christ, teach people to become disciples.”

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This article relates to Congregational Transformation.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a commissioned minister of the Florida Conference and a freelance writer, speaker and consultant.




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