The Healthy Church Initiative process is a system that looks at several operational areas of the church, but some components of the process may not work as well for small churches. The Missouri Conference has more than 600 churches in the “Small Church” category. To better address their needs, Bob Farr and the Center for Congregational Excellence developed the Small Church Initiative.
The pilot project of the Small Church Initiative in 2010 was completed by 24 churches with 140 people participating. To date there has been 77 churches and 400 people participate in the initiative.
The SCI is designed for churches that have fewer than 80 in average worship attendance. The goal of the SCI is to provide training, support and consulting to help small United Methodist Churches in the state grow into more fruitful, vital congregations.
To participate, a church must have:
• A desire by the congregation and the pastor to grow their church
• A sense of urgency
• The pastor and approximately 10 percent of the congregation must be willing to participate in the training
Pacific UMC did not seek out the Small Church Initiative because the church was in decline.
“The church had been growing, and they wanted to maintain their momentum,” said Rev. Dee Pennington, pastor of Pacific UMC.
Pennington had ideas and a vision, but was looking for some affirmation and confirmation. She said the process of the Small Church Initiative helped everyone get on board.
“By gathering folks together and talking about issues, it helped people understand that this was something we all needed to be concerned about,” Pennington said.
Pennington was familiar with another church that was resistant to change, and is now having struggles because it tried to do everything the same way for too long. She didn’t want to see that happen to Pacific UMC.
“Bob Farr has got into my head, and I keep hearing him saying how you’ve got to keep doing something different,” she said. “If you get to static, you eventually end up having to start everything all over again.”
The church went through the consultation process, and came out with recommendations that advised them to have a clear plan for forming disciples, to develop clarity on their vision, and to hire a part-time director of children’s ministry to expand their programs in that area.
The church has also been trying an alternative worship service on the fifth Sundays, and is considering making it into a regular Saturday service.
Barry Baugh had been through Pastor Leadership Development 1 and 2 right as the Small Church Initiative was getting started. Normally PLD would be the first step in the SCI process, but since he had just completed PLD, the church went right into the SCI process. The consultation was in November of 2010, they voted to accept the prescriptions in December, and started implementing them in January.
“Some people were asking if we could just do part of the prescriptions, but I told them that if we wanted to continue on with the help of consultants, it was all or nothing,” Baugh said.
More than a year after accepting the prescriptions, Pennington is glad that her church participated in the Small Church Initiative.
“We are getting close to completing all of the Prescriptions that were adopted a year ago,” she said. “While we haven’t seen an increase in our worship attendance or in professions of faith we are becoming more intentional and focused. We have a clearer understanding and a process outlined for making new disciples for Jesus Christ.”
For more information on the Small Church Initiative, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.