The following observations and recommendations for our church were shared by the North Alabama Conference Antioch Project team. We will vote to accept or decline their recommendations in a church conference on Wednesday, November 15th at 6:15 p.m. in the sanctuary.
The North Alabama Conference Antioch Project team would like to thank Dr. Kevin Thomas and the membership of Forest Lake United Methodist Church for your hospitality and opportunity to partner with you. Our prayer is that God will use this process to focus the potential of your congregation to Discover, Develop and Deploy Spiritual Leaders to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.
This report names some of the key observations. Listed are particular strengths of the church as well as areas where there could be improvement. Finally, this report includes recommendations that we believe will help begin a new life cycle of fruitfulness for the future of FLUMC.
On Sunday morning there were many warm welcomes, interest in our participation and an overall sense of caring. In fact, it was one of the most positive experiences we have had with Sunday morning visitation. Providing a host at the center entrance for directions and coffee was nice. Several members went out of their way to help anyone who looked new or lost (or both) with greetings and information. Also, invitations to visit a Sunday school class were made several times. Interviews and group sessions indicated that hospitality and relationships were important reasons for their returning to FLUMC and eventually making it their faith family of choice.
Missions, giving, and community assistance were mentioned many times as an important part of the DNA of Forest Lake UMC. Over and over again, the Barnabas Team heard about the many wonderful mission and outreach ministries of the church. Without a doubt Forest Lake is strong in its missional support and participation. There was some concern expressed about trending toward more funding than hand’s on missions due to an aging congregation. However, missions are still a primary focus for the church.
3. Clergy and Program Staff:
There have been several positive indicators for the church since the arrival of the senior pastor. These include attendance, giving and strategic decision making in collaborative ways. Interviews regarding clergy and program staff were generally high from laity interviews and staff assessments of one another. The number of negative comments were low and no staff member was rated poorly though, as is always the case, some were stronger than others.
The facilities are generally well maintained though a few rooms showed “clutter creep” in appearance and usage. The large number of rooms provide appropriate Sunday school space and various small group opportunities. Also, the recent update to the Mecredy Center indicates FLUMC’s willingness to provide space and connect with a younger generation. Finding multiple ways to connect with Millennials and Gen Xers will be critically important going forward. FLUMC’s multiple spaces and varied room sizes can enhance opportunities with this needed demographic but time is ticking away.
1. Growing Younger:
One of the repeated expressions was, “we need more young people in our church.” This is the canary in the coal mine. The average age at the traditional service is 62 years. There are a growing number of losses due to participants moving away, becoming homebound and deaths. Couple this with the fact that 46% of all giving is provided by 20 people while 23% comes from the top 3 givers. Though ages are not identified it is highly probable that this group will be significantly challenged in the near future. The service debt toward the mortgage is $12k per month with a total of $700,000 remaining. Your current reality indicates a church that will struggle significantly within the next 3 – 8 years to pay bills, reduce debt and provide ministry. This might be averted if there is a willingness to speak truth in love and work strategically for turnaround.
2. Contemporary Worship:
One recurring theme was the need to elevate the quality of the contemporary worship service, particularly the music. The energy in the service was low and there was little participation by the 50 plus attendees, when visited. The contemporary service should be one of the most strategic port-of-entries for new participants but there will need to be intentional planning and high-level commitment to make this excellent! Early steps are in process to strengthen this service and provide an experience that will encourage larger gatherings and a higher retention rate.
Communication at Forest Lake UMC is generally better and has improved over the last few years. However, this trajectory needs to be ramped up even more. Bulletins, newsletters, first time visitor information, worship technology, website graphics, electronic giving, social media are just some of the areas mentioned during the process. Though better communications and transparency have grown there is still a need to build communications toward the “yet to visit” new member and tech savvy generation. Finding new and creative ways to speak into this opportunity will be strategically important.
4. A Driving Vision:
During the Saturday morning Barnabas session at FLUMC, there were conversations about the importance of alignment and a compelling vision known, supported and guiding the church. Only a couple of people in the leadership group knew the vision and mission of the church. They were staff. The overall study suggests that FLUMC is in need of clarifying identity and purpose in order to strengthen the focus of the church. In short, identity and purpose are the filters for doing and funding ministry. This will also offer greater possibilities for growth, sustainability by attraction and affinity from yet-to-be members and participants. For turnaround, the church will need to unite around a central, driving vision in order to begin a new life cycle of vitality and growth.
1. Level Up by Defining Purpose:
FLUMC needs to discern God’s preferred and unique vision for now and the future. Your Mission (what you do to move toward vision) will be borne out by ministry, decisions and funding that fits within your Vision-Mission-Values. FLUMC’s community has changed due to external factors and demographics show most members pass several churches in order to come to FLUMC. Consideration should be given to becoming a stronger regional church in order to sustain mission and vision. This will also strengthen ability to do ministry in the immediate neighborhood. Strengths for FLUMC are a church that is progressive, missional, and caring. These virtues are very attractive to others when known in wider circles. You have great potential for turnaround but will need clarity, purpose and courage.
A. Define and begin assimilating around a compelling Vision and Mission by March 1, 2018.
B. By June 1, 2018 complete an audit of the relationship between funding for ministries and your Vision and Mission. This includes but is not exhaustive to:
I. Building Usage
II. Discipleship / Christian Education
IV. Day Care program
C. Begin to align ministry strategically after the audit is complete. Primary implementation of aligned ministry and funding should be ready to ramp up fully by January 2019.
2. Level Up Adaptive Decision Making:
FLUMC, like most churches, uses a slow model of decision making that relies on reporting actions by chairpersons and making decisions via Roberts-Rules-of-Order. These meetings can be energy draining and are painfully slow producers. Continuation will make it difficult to move with the speed that time in your current life cycle requires. You have the early beginnings of an Operational team but more emphasis in this method is needed.
A. By early 2018, identify and develop an adaptive leadership team of 10 – 12 members. This will be your Operational team.
I. The Op team will meet monthly to develop and guide the church’s Ministry Action Plan (MAP).
II. The MAP is defined and aligned by Vision-Mission-Values-Context.
III. Communications and transparency are necessary for trust and support.
IV. The team is adaptive, strategic and maintains integrity of Vision.
B. Continue necessary committees but limit meetings and provide written reports as much as possible.
C. Child MAP’s will be developed as subset of the parent MAP as the church grows into this model.
3. Level Up Contemporary Worship:
Church members have dreamed of taking contemporary worship to the next level, and there is an initial effort to move in this direction. Forest Lake UMC has wisely made the contemporary service the later service which fits naturally with the primary demographic you are seeking to attract. It is important the contemporary service be high quality, energetic, participatory and gain critical mass quickly in order to draw and retain visitors.
A. Develop plans to have critical mass of 100 participants minimum by first Sunday in December 2017.
B. Create a high expectancy and promotion for the first Sunday of Advent, December 3.
C. Maintain this minimum number for at least three months to initiate growth.
D. Provide high quality snacks and drinks in a visible, accessible & inviting setting.
E. Start one new Sunday School class in January 2018 and one new small group targeting 30 – 45 age group.
4. Level Up Discipleship & Outreach:
Discipleship is already strong at FLUMC while outreach needs more attention. This could be the core for a new life cycle for the church. The Operational team should develop a church-wide Ministry Action Plan for Discipleship and Outreach (or develop a sub-group to create a called a Child MAP). This would include the following:
i. Develop plans for making new relationships in the community.
ii. Revising and upgrading the current plan for welcoming and following up with guests.
iii. A plan for connecting with preschool, scouting, tutoring families, etc.
iv. Consider using “Fresh Expressions” ministry to connect affinity groups for study and worship.
with differing generate more affinity groups (see 4. – b. – iii)
i. A systematic plan to encourage every church member to join a small group.
ii. A plan for growing and multiplying small groups.
iii. Consider using “Fresh Expressions” ministry to generate more affinity groups (see Bishop Ken Carter’s primer on Fresh Expressions).
I. Create system to encourage every small group to participate in serving the church and community.
II. Create a culture of inviting unchurched people to be in ministry with Forest Lake UMC.
5. Level Up Communication!
We are living in a digital communication age. Words and pictures now literally travel at the speed of light over fiber-optic cables. FLUMC will create and implement a plan to upgrade its communications.
The Operations team should create a child MAP team sometime in 2018 that will evaluate and create a plan for:
A. Audit and determine technology needs in the church.
B. Provide internet connections in the church as widely as you can afford.
C. Create a reporting policy to determine what information is reported to the congregation and how.
D. Consider providing live streaming of your worship services (this is a low-cost item that a person with an iPad or upgraded camera can provide).
E. Create a master plan for advertising ministry opportunities using the website, email, text messages, social media, signs, youtube, vimeo, facebook live, etc.
Immediate Decision Steps
o The congregation will hold two Town Hall Meetings to discuss these recommendations.
o Facilitators for these Town Hall Meetings will be identified by Rev. Kevin Thomas in conjunction with the FLUMC Lay Leader or Board Chair.
o The congregation will vote on this report at an official church conference led by the DS, Rev. Roger Thompson. The conference will take place Wednesday, November 15th at 6:15 p.m. in the sanctuary.
o If approved by a 70% or more vote of the official membership present, the North Alabama Conference will designate a coach and partner with the church to implement these recommendations.
o If the recommendations are rejected, the Antioch Project partnership process will cease.