How churches transform problems into opportunities for vital ministry
The Vital Congregations project was authorized by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table in response to Call to Action research, which indicated a lack of measures and accountability within The United Methodist Church.
Congregations that need help, encouragement and support in moving towards health and vitality have resources available to assist them in achieving these goals. Best practices are offered that address the areas of worship, evangelism, small groups, missions, and stewardship.
A year ago, Trinity UMC in Battle Creek found they had a problem. People were using their dumpster as a way of getting rid of old junk. Not only were they filling the dumpster, they were piling stuff all over the church yard and parking lot. The Trustees went into problem solving mode.Their first solution was to get a different dumpster, with a key, so that unauthorized people couldn't use it. No one broke the lock on the new dumpster. Problem solved? Not exactly. People simply piled everything on the ground surrounding it.
As the frustrated Trustees went back to the drawing board, Trinity became involved in the denomination's Vital Congregations Initiative. They participated in the pilot year of the "Small Church Initiative" program and members of Trinity began attending meetings with persons from other small churches. While seated at the table with reps from Jackson Trinity UMC, new possibilities began to present themselves. "They shared how they had gotten a dumpster and invited people to fill it," remembers Trinity pastor Bruce Kintigh.
Trinity's Small Church Initiative Team returned to Battle Creek. "We realized that we didn't need a bigger lock and tighter security," Kintigh said. "We didn't have a problem. We had an opportunity to do ministry!" About the same time, the church was in negotiation with their garbage company. A sales rep promised to cooperate to improve the quality of service and the rates, facilitating next steps of their plan.
At the next Small Church Initiative gathering, Trinity gave a progress report. "We told them we were putting together a "Dump on Us" program," reports Kintigh. As they described their transitional neighborhood's abundance of rental units with absentee landlords, Superintendent Tamara Williams became excited and suggested Trinity apply for funding through the Albion District. .
The pastor notes that a bigger challenge than money lie ahead. "We knew no matter how big a dumpster we rented, it would not be big enough for the whole city of Battle Creek." It was necessary to focus the plan. "We discovered a lot about ourselves and about our perceptions of who our neighbors are," says Kintigh. Looking South was no problem. But to the North sat a " high crime and drug area." The congregation continues to struggle with the question, "Who is my neighbor," but, for now, they have targetted roughly 2,200 homes to receive a "Dump on Us" flier in their daily newspaper.
Pastor Kintigh calls the results unexpected and interesting. The Bad News ... they rented a very large dumpster and only had seven vehicles come with trash. But that was not the true measure of success. The Good News ... a number of people walking through the parking lot enjoyed cider, doughnut holes and friendly conversation. "Several wanted to see the inside of the building," Kintigh says, "and to be totally honest, the minute the first vehicle came we were already 100% above the number of people we normally make an effort to talk to and invite inside." Dump On Us proved to be a very non-threatening way to meet and greet neighbors.
Another "Dump on Us" is being planned for May. The congregation anticipates more trash collection next time as the community engages in spring clean-up. Instead of a week day, a Saturday event has been scheduled. "We're aiming for a season when people are busy remodeling and preparing for graduations and weddings instead of hunkering down for bad weather," Kintigh concludes.
Thanks to the trust, friendship and sharing developed through the Vital Congregations Initiative, "Dump on Us," will become an ongoing ministry of Trinity UMC in Battle Creek.
~reported by Kay DeMoss, Weekly News Senior Writer