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Churches make strides in meeting bishop’s goals

Churches make strides in meeting bishop’s goals

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Churches make strides in meeting bishop’s goals

Jan. 12, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0605}

NOTE: This story relates to “Goals for 2006,” an e-Review commentary by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker at:

An e-Review Feature
By John Michael De Marco** and Tita Parham

Comments from a small sampling of churches across the Florida Conference indicate progress is being made in ministry areas identified as the most crucial by Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker.

In the fall of 2005, Whitaker and Bill Walker, the conference’s lay leader, visited clergy and lay leaders in each of the conference’s nine districts to share three overarching goals Whitaker was encouraging all churches to meet during 2006.

Photo by e-Review FUMNS Staff. Photo #06-506.

Called the Bishop’s Fundamentals, the goals focus on the “fundamentals,” or basics, of ministry and serve as the foundation blocks on which a local congregation can build a healthy, growing church. Whitaker emphasized three areas: evangelism — inviting others to profess their faith in Jesus Christ; worship — offering quality worship that brings people closer to God and motivated to serve their world; and outreach — reaching out in service to others by continuing the ministry of Jesus Christ on earth.

According to Whitaker, the way in which a church becomes a truly transforming congregation is by sharing the message of love and grace in the community through service and by inviting people to experience that love and grace through the church’s community of faith. Whitaker asserts that a transforming congregation is one that practices the fundamentals.

Working with the conference’s district superintendents and leaders who make up the extended cabinet, Whitaker developed two goals for each of the three fundamental areas of ministry. One is measurable and the other is defined by effort.

For evangelism the measurable goal was to have “no barren churches,” with every conference church asked to report new professions of faith or restorations to membership by profession. The effort goal was one evangelism outreach event in every church.
In the area of worship the measurable goal was a 5 percent increase in average worship attendance in every church. The effort goal was that laity and staff would plan quality worship, under the leadership of the pastor, to communicate the gospel and enable participants to experience it. This was further defined as having an active planning team for every worship service in 2006.
Related to outreach in the community the measurable goal was an increase in the number of members involved in ministries of outreach to the community and the world equivalent to 5 percent of the average worship attendance. The effort goal was for each church to identify one need in the community in 2006 and address it.

Why these goals, why now?

In an interview with Whitaker early last year Whitaker said he felt clear goals were needed because of the conference’s decline in membership and number of professions of faith over the last several years.

“The Florida Conference has tremendous potential — fast-growing state, talented clergy, dedicated lay people, state-of-the-art facilities — yet we’re declining in membership, worship attendance and number or professions of faith,” he said. “I found it deeply distressing that a quarter of our churches have no profession of faith.”

Whitaker said the conference has been working on long-term goals and the ongoing process of assuring continued church health through such areas as new church development and congregational transformation. He also noted the Conference Table gatherings have been dealing with many of the cultural changes taking place in the conference. He said short-term objectives “that would give immediate focus” were an element that was “missing in our life together.”

“These goals aren’t the only answer to dealing with our declines, but I felt we needed some focus,” he said. “When we only look at the long-term we can put off doing things today. We need to start making changing, making a difference right now.”

Whitaker said the most important fundamental of the three areas is the one addressing professions of faith. “If a church is really centered around professions of faith then it’s doing other things exceedingly well — meaningful worship, grounded in a biblical understanding of what it means to be a church,” he said. “It’s a key indicator of other things not happening.”

Whitaker said he hoped churches would go well beyond the established goals and acknowledged a number of churches were already working toward exceeding them.

Although churches were asked to achieve the goals in 2006 Whitaker said he and the cabinet and lay leadership will continue to establish and stress outcomes. “It’s an ongoing process,” he said.

The fundamentals experience

The Rev. Clifford T. Patrick, pastor of Bartley Temple United Methodist Church in Gainesville, said he has informed his entire congregation about the fundamentals, but only top leaders are fully aware of what they mean. He said the fundamentals have been preached from the pulpit, discussed in meetings and published in church newsletters.

In an effort to address the goals, Patrick said Bartley Temple this year held a Celebrate Jesus-type community block party, which included the participation of a Baptist congregation and two non-denominational churches. In addition, Bartley’s worship planning team began meeting last October. A membership care team has also been launched.

“The community block party was a great success,” Patrick said. “It was attended by an estimated 700 people. A young man we met while distributing water came about three months later and joined by profession of faith. Since that time he has brought three friends that also made their profession of faith.”

Patrick said his church has met the 5 percent increase in membership goal, but not the goal for worship attendance. He hopes the new membership care team, as well as new leadership in the church’s evangelism and outreach ministries, will enable it to surpass the goal in 2007.

“The church needs to overcome fear and make a commitment to continue to reach out the unchurched,” Patrick added.

Clare Watson, pastor of Orlando’s Broadway United Methodist Church, said most members of her church are at least somewhat aware of the fundamentals. “They have been discussed in several venues. Even those who may not recognize these goals as emanating from the bishop's office have experienced them as guiding principles in our strategic planning.”

Several outreach events have fit the bishop’s parameters, Watson said. At Christmas, the church held a “Service of the Longest Night” for people who “need to hear the good news of Advent in the context of a dark valley in their lives.”

“Some are sick, some are grieving, others simply feel alone in the midst of the Christmas merriment or just need a quiet place of worship to reconnect with God at this time of year,” she said, adding the service was a reverse Tennabrae worship design, moving from darkness to light.
Watson said the outreach and evangelism emphasis has caused her congregation to rewrite its mission statement into a two-fold approach: “Broadway United Methodist Church is to be a place where all people can meet Jesus Christ.”

“Their intent was that the word ‘place’ encompass everywhere the members of this church go —working, entertaining and living — since they are the church. They are committing to carrying both the gospel message and the example of Christian love in service wherever they go. This evolution of attitude is really making a difference in the way new folks are welcomed at the church, as well as the enthusiastic new service projects that have been initiated,” Watson said.

In terms of making her congregation aware of the fundamentals the Rev. Lisa Degrenia, pastor of Allendale United Methodist Church, said it would have been helpful to have a short instructional DVD to show in worship and small groups.

“I could have done a better job of keeping them before the congregation throughout the year, especially providing updates as some were accomplished,” she said. “This first year it was important for the congregation to understand the definition of worship, evangelism and outreach. Many did not understand the difference between evangelism (creating opportunities for Christians and potential Christians to build relationships with one another, inviting persons to follow Jesus) and outreach (face-to-face ministries of compassion, advocacy and justice).”

In the area of outreach, the Allendale church polled the congregation to discover which members were serving in face-to-face ministries of compassion, advocacy and/or justice in the community.

“We had never collected this information before and were amazed at how many people were already serving on a regular basis. Now that we have a base number we will be able to make a comparison next year to see if our efforts have increased the number of persons serving in the community,” Degrenia said.

Allendale’s greatest success was seen in its Easter block party, which resulted in two people joining the congregation, including one by profession of faith.

“For us the most difficult goal is in the area of outreach: identifying and addressing one community issue,” Degrenia said. “Up until now our congregation has taken a ‘buckshot’ approach to outreach, with different small groups addressing different community needs. Some addressed them in face-to-face service, while others addressed the need financially. Some of our groups have been supporting their chosen causes for years.

“It will take a great deal of research and then consensus building to focus the majority of our outreach efforts in one specific area. How is a congregation to discern its specific community calling, thus laying aside some good ministry in order to focus on the best opportunity to impact their community?”

Al McGowen, pastor of Lakeland’s United Methodist Temple, said his church has launched two children’s chapels that have increased worship attendance by 110 persons. A pumpkin patch sale reached 3,500 children with “pumpkin prayers” and news about the children’s ministries, accompanied by a free “Harvest Fest” that reached 500 children and their families. A Christmas tree sale was expected to connect with nearly 1,000 families, as well.

“Our Letter Outreach Team has reached more than 8,000 first-time residents to Lakeland, using Home Data Services, with information about UMT regarding our ministries and mission, no exaggeration, and these ministries are just a few,” McGowen said.

“We practice ‘frangelism’ — our word,” he added. “Most call it the Fran Plan. Our children and youth ministries are great tools for accomplishing the fundamentals. We still need a team to develop multiple worship events, especially in Sanctuary, our most popular, but traditional worship opportunity.” 

Concerning the challenges churches face in meeting the fundamentals, McGowen said more money needs to stay at the local church.

“The bureaucracy needs to shrink, not grow anymore. Raising money for ministry and mission is our greatest challenge to date,” he said.

More information about the fundamentals, including a resource guide is located, on the conference Web site at

This article relates to Mission and Ministry.

*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.