Inch by inch ... life's a cinch!
Tom Northey was a wise old gentleman in the Lansing Asbury UMC congregation I served as pastor in the 1990’s. He is now a part of the great cloud of witnesses cheering us on in our faithful witness as Christians. Tom would often be heard repeating a simple, yet profound, truism: “Inch by inch…Life’s a Cinch…; but Yard, by Yard Life is Hard”. He was a great encourager of those around him. Essentially Tom was consistently supporting us to take steady steps of faith and witness, trusting that in the long run the work of God would be complete.
The next few weeks as you read the Weekly News, you will encounter articles about the Vital Church Initiative (VCI). I am so excited about the “inch by inch” progress the VCI is making in our Conference! In September, 2010 I and four other leaders from our Conference, along with four leaders from the Detroit Conference, traveled to St. Louis, Missouri. We participated in a three-day work shop on the essential components of, what the Missouri Conference of the UMC has titled, “The Healthy Church Initiative.” We all came back enthused and motivated to do what was necessary to launch this process of growth and transformation in the Michigan Area of the UMC.
We identified that all the recent emphasis on the “physical health and well-being” by our Board of Pension and Health Care had us all thinking about “healthy.” So lest this initiative aimed at congregations be confused with the emphasis targeting our bodies, we chose to call our process the “Vital Church Initiative” and soon, in good UMC fashion, it had a letters only name – VCI.
Five congregations on the Albion District began in early 2011 as our “Smaller Church Path Pilot” and in the fall of 2011, seven congregations on the Lansing District began our “Larger Church Pilot”. What had been five West Michigan leaders now had become pastors from twelve congregations and more than 50 laity. “Inch by inch…”
I and Naomi García, conference ministry consultant, began to do teaching presentations on districts to let others know of the VCI. More than 500 persons h dave now been introduced to the basic process information of the VCI. We also have added staff to support the ministry. By expanding the ½ time position of Director of New Church Development to also include Congregational Transformation and increasing some of the administrative support staff time to care for the many details we continue to move a few more “inches – five informed persons had become 500.”
We contracted with the Bishop Rueben Job Center for Church Development in collaboration with the Missouri Conference to provide modules of training in the areas of facilitation, coaching, consultations and oversight for both the Smaller and Larger Church Paths (SCP & LCP) of the VCI. The five persons “trained in Missouri” have now grown to be more than 50 trained persons, including all the West Michigan Conference district superintendents, plus Detroit Conference leadership, who have been equipped in all or some component of the VCI; “a few more inches – five leaders have become 50 leaders.”
As we begin the Fall of 2012, some component of the VCI will be underway on all six of the West Michigan Conference Districts. At the last count, which still increases as congregations make decisions to move forward, nearly 50 congregations have taken a step along the VCI journey!
The VCI is not without financial cost and a significant amount of time investment, both for the Conference and a local congregation. The cost of a declining worship attendance, mission engagement, evangelism and stewardship is an even far greater cost! These negative transitions didn’t happen quickly. Turning them around will be a gradual process as well, but…"inch by inch…life’s a cinch.”
I heard a presentation by the Rev. Dr. John Maxwell, pastor/teacher/leader/writer, as he walked persons through the biblical examples and emphasis of his book “The 21 Laws of Leadership.” He too must have been inspired by Tom Northey. I remember Dr. Maxwell saying, “We often overestimate what we can do in the short run and underestimate what we can do in the long run.”
I confess. As I drove away from St. Louis, 23 months ago--inspired, tired, overwhelmed, optimistic and enthused--I never imagined that in less than two years all six districts would be “up and running.” The leaders in Missouri encouraged us to “start small and start with whoever is ready.” Now, almost one out of every eight West Michigan congregations is taking their beginning steps! Praise God for the resources, leadership, commitment and effort each of these individuals and congregations are making. I am confident that each year more of our congregations will enter this intentional process for learning, transformation and renewal.
The Missouri and Indiana Conferences of the UMC have seen a statistical turn around in many of the congregations involved. Many other conferences in the UMC are implementing part or all of what has come to be known as “the Missouri Model of the Healthy Church Initiative.” This invitational, uniquely individual process draws people in through attraction in place of some imposed mandate. Every congregation decides its next steps and the potential consequences of those decisions. The future of your congregation is your openness to how God will move in your midst.
If you are interested in knowing more about the Vital Church Initiative or want to know when the next rotation of courses begins for congregations of your size on your district, please contact Gary Step, email@example.com
, or Naomi Garcia, Naomi@wmcumc.org
, or me, Benton@wmcumc.org
~Rev. Benton Heisler, Director of Connectional Ministries