Eight strategies guide United Methodist churches toward transformation
When Missouri is hosting the General Board of Discipleship’s School of Congregational Development, it stands to reason that Missouri’s director of Congregational Excellence would be a teacher there. Bob Farr presented a seminar on Friday, August 17 at the school about church transformation.
Farr said he gets his motivation as a director for the Missouri Conference much in the same way he was motivated as a pastor.
“Every time I see a pastor move on from being a professional pastor to a missionary, that excites me to no end, like it used to excite me to see someone come to know Jesus for the first time,” he said.
The School of Congregational Development was conducted in St. Louis August 16 – 19. It is planned by the General Board of Discipleship, and is held in a different part of the country each year. Missouri leaders involved in the school included Bishop Robert Schnase, Rev. Robyn Miller of the Church of the Shepherd in St. Charles, and Rev. Emanuel Cleaver III of St. James UMC in Kansas City. Of the 533 people who attended the event, 49 of them were from Missouri.
Farr is part of the United Methodist Transformation Network called Route 122, which refers to paragraph 122 in the United Methodist Book of Discipline that calls for the renewal of existing congregations. The network has defined eight strategies that are needed in congregations seeking renewal. Farr presented these strategies at the School of Congregational Development, and cited examples of ministry in Missouri relating to each area.
- Focus on the transforming grace of Christ: “The church needs to leave the building,” Farr said. “As a pastor you’ve got to love this and live it, because if you don’t they (the congregation) won’t.”
- Apostolic Leadership: “When you’re doing transformational work, you’re going to run into folks who don’t want their church to transform,” Farr said. “Controllers like to keep it small so they can control things. Many of our churches are quite comfortable being in decline. This is hard work, and if you do your job right you will lose some friends."
- Conference Alignment on Missional Focus: “In Missouri we restructured to put our entire focus on local congregations,” Farr said. “Even our Conference treasurer is out three days a week consulting with local churches. I attend all the cabinet meetings, and spend a third of my time working with District Superintendents, because they often have to deal with discontent from difficult transformational change.”
- Continuous Lay and Clergy Learning: “Nearly all of Missouri’s clergy are engaged in our PLD (Pastor Learning Development), and our LLD (Lay Leader Development) has had more than 500 participants.
- Assessment of Congregations: The Missouri Conference is using new tools to help assess congregational effectiveness, including www.umvitalcongregations.org and www.vitalsigns.trendsendapp.com. Missouri’s Healthy Church Initiative is a process that works with focus groups within the congregation, staff interviews and even mystery worshippers to help guide congregations toward greater fruitfulness.
- Accountable Action Plan: Missouri’s Healthy Church Initiative and Small Church Initiative arrive at prescriptions for congregations after the initial assessment, and are required to accept all of the prescriptions to continue the process.
- Ongoing Coaching: Missouri churches that vote to accept prescriptions are assigned a coach to help the church move through transformational change. Coaches are people who have grown churches. Coaches in LLD are lay members who have demonstrated success at growing something, like a private business.
- Open to leading of the Holy Spirit: The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and congregations must prayerfully seek guidance on how they can fulfill this mission at each step of change.
When Farr considers ministry in the Missouri Conference, he knows not everyone is in the same boat. To put business language to it, United Methodism in Missouri has 850 franchises (churches) run by 515 individual contractors (pastors), 320 of whom are in a very good union (ordained elders), and 85,000 volunteers show up every weekend (church attendance).
“I don’t have any power,” Farr said. “I can’t make any of those people do anything.” Rather, he tried to influence outcomes through relationships that he is building with leaders. Some form of the Healthy Church Initiative is now being used in 29 Conferences at about 1,000 churches.