Pastors create redevelopment model for struggling churches



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Pastors create redevelopment model for struggling churches

By Jenna De Marco | March 31, 2010 {1158}

NOTE: Headshots of the Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard and Rev. Dan Campbell are available at http://www.flumc.info/photo_gallery2.shtml.

A conference staff member who works with congregations to help them increase their ministry effectiveness and a pastor whose church closed its doors to launch as a new ministry have teamed up to share their insights with the Florida Conference.

Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard

The two partners are the Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard, director of the Florida Conference Center for Congregational Excellence, and the Rev. Dan Campbell, chief executive officer of Joining Hands Community Mission in Holiday. Together, they are co-writing a customized guide for leading congregations toward effective ministry in their communities. “Ministry Redevelopment for Changing Demographics” is the working title.

“The big picture here is how do we develop a process that allows struggling congregations … a way of redefining ministry in the communities that they serve?” Maynard said.

The goal is to address a complex problem not unique to United Methodist churches: how to have relevant ministry in the midst of economically challenged areas, increasingly diverse and evolving communities, shrinking membership rolls, declining financial resources, and rising maintenance and insurance costs, Maynard said.

Rev. Dan Campbell

Maynard and Campbell have developed the partnership over the last two years as the former Community United Methodist Church in Holiday, where Campbell served as pastor, transitioned from a self-sufficient, functioning church to Joining Hands Community Mission (JHCM). The mission opened in 2009 as a faith-based social services agency for homeless and at-risk families. It is part of the Southwest Pasco United Methodist Church Cooperative Parish, which also includes First United Methodist and Asbury United Methodist churches in New Port Richey.

The cooperative parish and JHCM launches were the culmination of a two-year visioning process by the Community United Methodist Church congregation in partnership with Maynard and the other two churches. The progression essentially has functioned as a test program for the ministry redevelopment guide, Maynard and Campbell said. Many of the lessons they say they have learned from the experience will be incorporated into the blueprint they are developing.

“We want to try to share this with other churches that are kind of struggling to find new life,” Campbell said.

Guide replaces old models

Several categories of churches are potential candidates for the redevelopment process, Maynard said, including congregations that are among other communities of faith serving the same demographic within a defined and limited geographic area. Other candidates are churches located in areas that have experienced a significant demographic change or are so economically depressed the community can’t support the typical ministry structure.

Some of these situations are rooted in church development that took place a half-century ago, Maynard said.

“In the 1950s, one of the ideas was that every neighborhood needed to have a church, and now the neighborhoods have changed dramatically,” he said.
 

The big picture here is how do we develop a process that allows struggling congregations … a way of redefining ministry in the communities that they serve?”

Rev. Dr. Phil Maynard


People are also using different methods to choose the church they plan to attend, basing their decision less on location and more on “where they feel connected with God,” Maynard said.

These collective changes have resulted in many neighborhood churches no longer serving their neighborhoods, in addition to being located too closely together, Maynard added.

Within the problem, however, there is an opportunity, Maynard says. Congregations have the chance to explore their community’s needs and the church’s mission.

“It really has to be their decision,” Maynard said. “The congregation has to decide that there are better ways to do ministry than what they’re doing now.”

District superintendents or pastors themselves might identify potential candidates for the process, Maynard said. The church cluster system, which connects pastors with their peers, may be another way to facilitate this kind of awareness among clergy, he said.

Redevelopment includes defining mission, vision
 
While the ministry redevelopment blueprint is far from a one-size-fits-all concept, there are some common starting points for most churches, Maynard said. One key principle is for a struggling church or group of closely located churches to begin examining how they could ideally serve their unique communities. Exploring what ministries best fit a community’s needs “is one of the strong points” of the process, Maynard said.

When the Southwest Pasco churches examined their communities and mission, Maynard said, there was common ground even before they began working together. Each congregation independently concluded it was “called to minister to the needs of the people in the community — not just physical needs, but help people live out their calling and … inviting them to respond to God’s grace,” Maynard said.

At this stage, congregations must also focus on building strong relationships among themselves and with members of their community, Maynard said. Although the Southwest Pasco congregations have had to backtrack somewhat to enhance relationships with each another, they are “having some great success at that,” Maynard said.

Mayor Richard Rober (center) of New Port Richey helps distribute food at Joining Hands Community Mission. Photo courtesy of Joining Hands Community Mission. Photo #10-1422.

Another critical step is church members and leaders determining a “real sense of their own personal calling of ministry — who they are and how God can use them,” Maynard said.

Other steps include gathering a solid understanding of the community and regional demographics, needs and trends and defining the tools and skills needed to make the ministry vision a reality.

After those steps have been completed, the congregations will participate in an “appreciative discernment” process, which “tends to build on the best of what the congregation brings to the table” Maynard said. Rather than a problem-solving process, appreciative discernment highlights each congregation’s strengths and ministry hopes and redefines ways of cooperatively accomplishing goals.

Mission shows fruits of success

Although the visioning process at the Southwest Pasco churches took longer than 12 months, the investment is paying dividends by meeting community needs.

“We had a lot of people come and tour from other (United) Methodist churches, and the number one comment I get is, ‘Now this is what I thought the church is supposed to be like,’ ” Campbell said of the mission.

One measure of success is the variety and number of people who have been served, Campbell said.

In addition to its ongoing resource center, the mission’s Holiday Center outreach gave 277 Thanksgiving meals to needy families in November, according to mission director Nancy Dougherty. In December, 643 families received Christmas groceries, as well as gifts for 1,238 children. And every week, about 100 boxes of emergency food are given away. Since its opening July 1, 2009, the mission has provided 2,714 client services.

“Those services mostly consist of crisis food distribution, but also include providing clothing, shoes, diapers, ACCESS services, summer feeding, Kids Camp, hygiene package provisions, mail handling services, and case-working referrals for rent (and) utility assistance and shelter help,” Dougherty said. “It’s been a phenomenally busy and exciting six months.”

Families shop in the mission’s food pantry. Photo courtesy of Joining Hands Community Mission. Photo #10-1423.

The mission is partnering with Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa and several other community organizations and business, Campbell said. Changes that build on other partnerships are possible, too. One example is the potential receipt of a grant from the state that would kick off the construction of a certified hurricane shelter for 300 people on the mission property, Campbell said. The building would be available for daily use by the mission when not needed as a shelter. Relationships with other organizations are the key to developing these kinds of opportunities, Campbell added.

“The future, I’m convinced, is that you don’t do this kind of thing without a partnership,” he said. “The churches, government and local businesses have to work together.”

Model set to launch soon

A recent $20,000 “Emerging Ministries” grant from the Florida Conference Leadership Connection is enabling Campbell and Maynard to share their knowledge and experience with other United Methodist churches.

Although fund availability is limited, emerging ministry grants provide periodic financial assistance to start-up or prototype ministries that can be replicated across the conference, said the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of Florida Conference Connectional Ministries, which provides staff support and guidance for the Leadership Connection.

The goal is to launch the program sometime this spring, Maynard said. A one-day training event for pastors will explain how the guide was developed. That will be followed by a pilot program for several groups of churches, with two to three churches in each group. Maynard and Campbell will facilitate the program’s launch. Churches that participate in the process can expect it to last about 12 months.

“Our experience is that churches in that kind of crisis mode tend to feel like they don’t have much more (time) than that,” Maynard said.

More information about Joining Hands Community Mission is available at http://www.joininghandsmission.org. More information about the redevelopment model is available by contacting Maynard at Phil.Maynard@flumc.org or 321-217-6007.

Related Story

Closed church reopens as mission to help families, end homelessness

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




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