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Take a 'Deep Dive' in 2019 to explore best practices

Take a 'Deep Dive' in 2019 to explore best practices

Church Vitality

The Florida United Methodist Conference Office of Congregational Vitality is set to expand its Deep Dive initiative in early 2019 with the aim of rolling out workshops in the north, south and mid-conference regions.

Deep Dive is the brainchild of Janet Earls, who heads congregational vitality for the Conference. It is designed to be a refreshing alternative to the typical stand-and-present church meetings.

“It’s more conversational, more interactive, and it’s more focused,” Earls said. “The host church is really the teacher. I’m kind of the wrangler.”

Deep Dive churches discuss best practices for systems and property at New Covenant UMC in The Villages.

Under the Deep Dive model, host congregations share expertise and best practices in one of six areas—finance, systems and properties, discipleship, leadership, worship or staff—with five to seven guest churches during a two-day session. Participants include three to five people (clergy, staff and laity) from each guest church, keeping total attendance easy to manage. 

The host church provides lunch on the first day, and guest churches are responsible for their own lodging and dinner. The next day’s session wraps before lunch.

“I’ve tried to keep it pretty doable, pretty affordable,” Earls said.

Earlier this year Deep Dive sessions on finance, systems and properties and discipleship were successfully beta tested at FUMC Lakeland, FUMC Winter Park, North Naples UMC and New Covenant UMC in The Villages.

“The surveys in response have been overwhelmingly positive,” Earls said. “(The guest churches) are so thankful.”

The Deep Dive model gives a host church the opportunity to serve as a subject matter expert while allowing a guest church to ask questions and receive answers.

“One simple example is the small or medium-size church that is going to allow Alcoholics Anonymous to use one of their rooms,” Earls said. “… Well, they really need some type of agreement for ministry protection.”

At a Deep Dive on systems and properties, the host church shares all its forms and documents that pertain to building use agreements with the guest churches.

“They’re literally saying, ‘Here, take our logo off and put your logo on. You are welcome to use it,’ ” Earls added. “And that is what is great! They’re not having to reinvent the wheel. They are leaving (the Deep Dive) with actual tools.”

‘The model Jesus used’

Earls sees the UMC as especially suited to Deep Dive because of its connectional structure and hopes to forge even more connections between congregations of different sizes.

“I’m looking forward to planning more of these,” said Earls, who also hopes to offer some 30-minute online Deep Dives in the new year. “I feel like I’m making a difference.”

Rev. Jeff Smith, lead pastor at FUMC Clewiston, agrees.

Rev. David McEntire leading a Deep Dive discussion on finance at First UMC, Lakeland.

He attended a Deep Dive on finance at FUMC Lakeland because he felt he needed a refresher course. The various topics were facilitated primarily by lay people and included planned giving, capital campaigns, audits and reserves.

“It was great!” Smith said. “I brought back ideas, and we are already looking into areas that we discussed at the seminar and how best to implement them in our setting. Not every church is alike, but good ideas are well, good ideas!”

He liked being able to freely ask questions during the presentations and being able to reach out to the host church after the event was over.

“I especially appreciated the talk given by the facilities manager about how to monitor the utilities and general maintenance of your campus, thus making you a better steward and being able to spend more dollars in the areas of ministry,” Smith said. “All of those efforts help support the mission we are trying to live out.”

Deep Dive has proven just as beneficial to host churches.

North Naples UMC hosted a Deep Dive on systems and properties in May and one on discipleship in October and found it helpful to look back on its own evolution. 

“It was really good for us, as a staff, to remember where we started and how we got to where we are,” North Naples Executive Director AmySue Benker said. “Sharing ideas with other churches helps all of us.”

The Deep Dive on systems included topics such as building use, scheduling large events and budgeting for maintenance and future improvements. The Deep Dive on discipleship touched on new member integration, youth and adult ministries, safety and community outreach. At each event, guests were offered a tour of the North Naples campus.

“We have a huge property and lots of moving parts and logistics,” Benker said. “I had quite a bit of follow-up, and now we have relationships with those churches and people, and we’ve been able to encourage each other!”

For Rev. David McEntire, senior pastor at FUMC Lakeland, the Deep Dive concept of sharing best practices between churches simply makes sense for the body of Christ.

“That’s the model Jesus used with his disciples,” McEntire said. “They learned by being with him. He came to serve, not to be served. … If we can do that for another congregation, why wouldn’t we?”

For more information on Deep Dives near you, go to

--Kari C. Barlow is a freelance writer located in Pensacola.

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