Thursday, March 3, 2016

LaGrange First UMC Prescription For Health

Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18, KJV)

“How can we return our our church to vitality?” “How can we have more children and youth at our church like we used to?” “How can we stop our recent decline and start growing again?” These questions – and others like them – are ones that I have heard repeatedly from various church members since arriving eight months ago.  And while there is no single, “magic wand” solution that will fix these issues immediately (like some might want), there is certainly a process to follow that, in my experience leading two previous churches, can turn things around:

Step 1 is for us to rediscover our mission/purpose and current IDENTITY – that is: who are we now?.  Not, “ Who did we used to be?”, or “Who do we wish we were?” But “Who are we now?” -- the good, the bad, the things we like, and the things we wish we didn’t know.  For example, we may wish we still had 1700+ members averaging nearly 600 in worship, but that is not our current reality of 1113 members, averaging 351 in worship.  Instead of over 200 children and 150 youth in our programs eight years ago, we now have about 100 children and 80 youth active.  Now, this kind of information is difficult for us to hear, but it is our reality.  To take a successful journey, one needs to know where they are beginning from  -- that is the task before us now and through probably this Summer and Fall: to rediscover who we are. So, look for various ways your leadership (starting with a Long Range Planning Survey on March 13) will be asking for input regarding this question for the next few months.

Step 2 is for us to begin to prayerfully discern and then eventually implement a new VISION for LaGrange First UMC – a Vision that is bigger and more compelling and unifying than the provincial visions that many of us may currently have.  It will be a Vision that is bigger than me, you, or any individual, class, or peer group. In short, it will be a Vision for who God wants us as a church to become – a Vision that grows out of who we are (our DNA) but which calls us to become something and someone new as a church congregation.

These two steps may seem elementary, but the reality is that to do them correctly and thoroughly may take up to 12-18 months, and will certainly involve a lot of hard work, discussion, flexibility, and even anguish.  Nevertheless, I firmly believe that this is God’s prescription for our church’s future health, and you’ll want to know that my intention is to lead us as a church to be willing to take these two steps over the next year or so.

In the meantime, though, we can begin to “prime the pump,” if you will, by offering renewed opportunities for each of us to engage in mission, ministry, discipleship, worship, and care as we seek to deepen our own spiritual lives.  After all, since people are attracted to churches who’s members are “on fire” for God, both of these steps begin with each of us being willing to open ourselves to deeper walks with God.  So, look for new and renewed opportunities in this regard over the next 18 months.

I realize that some of us have grown accustomed to practices and traditions that no longer serve to help us grow, but which nevertheless make us comfortable. Consequently, I recognize that this journey will not be easy for all of us.  However, just as God has walked with us through our past, I believe we can trust Him to walk with us into the future as we allow Him to lead and guide us to continue our rich heritage of being an effective, vibrant church for Him!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

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