By: Christa Meland
Congregations that have gone through the Minnesota Conference’s intentional transformation processes have a few things in common: They are equipped to reach new people in a changing world, they see a future with hope and possibilities, and they exhibit new signs of vitality.
As Diane Owen puts it, they are “on fire for Christ.” Owen leads two of those processes through her role as the conference’s congregational transformation specialist.
Transformational processes are just one of the ways that the conference approaches “equipping missional congregations.” That’s one of the strategic pathways on our Journey Toward Vitality, a roadmap that outlines the conference’s vision to increase the number of vital congregations—those that are faithfully and fruitfully reaching new people, helping them to grow in love of God and neighbor, and sending them out to heal a broken world. Providing resources to help congregations connect with their mission field has always been a key focus of the conference, but the tools and methods to do so are constantly evolving. Here are some of the newest opportunities and latest changes when it comes to congregational development for Minnesota United Methodist churches:
• New process for large churches: A new transformational process called Missional Church Initiative will join two well-known existing processes—Healthy Church Initiative, which the conference launched four years ago, and Missional Journey, which started the following year.
• Missional Journey is for smaller churches
• Healthy Church Initiative is for those that are mid-sized
• Missional Church Initiative will focus on larger churches: those that exceed 350 in worship attendance
All three processes involve learning, completing a self-study, engaging in a consultation, and working with a coach to implement various recommendations that position a congregation for numeric, spiritual, and impact-based growth.
Missional Church Initiative will be led by Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey, who leads the same process for the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church, where she is director of missional church initiatives. She has also served on the staff at Ginghamsburg UMC, one of the largest churches in the denomination.
Director of Ministries Cindy Gregorson says Nilson Kibbey has had great success leading transformational processes in West Ohio and other conferences, and the Minnesota Conference is fortunate to be able to add her skill set to its team of coaches and facilitators.
“In our current cultural context, church is no longer seen as necessary or relevant to a larger and larger percentage of people as attested by the growing number of people who state they have no religious preference when asked about their faith commitments,” says Gregorson. “And many of our congregations are aging in terms of their membership, have grown smaller in participation, and are facing significant challenges in their capacity to support a robust ministry to their community. On their own, congregations do not always know what to do to respond to these changes—and that is where our intentional transformation processes come in.”
A new group of churches will start Healthy Church Initiative this fall, and the next round of the two other processes will begin this winter.
• Practical workshops for congregations: This fall, the conference will begin offering practical, quarterly workshops for congregations of all sizes and locations in order to share more widely the fruitful practices being discovered through the three transformational processes for churches. The first workshop, scheduled for Oct. 18 at Crossroads Church in Lakeville, will focus on creating a breakthrough prayer movement to spur outreach and will be led by Nilson Kibbey. Others for the 2014-2015 year are focused on connecting with community through prayer and discernment, building relationships through intentional invitation, and creating a great first impression. A different set of workshops will be offered in 2015-2016. The day-long sessions are designed for church teams consisting of the pastor and five lay leaders. Stay tuned for more information.
Other recent changes
• New branding: There is now a logo for the conference’s “equipping missional congregations” strategic pathway. All programs and opportunities that relate to that pathway will be branded with the logo pictured above. This reinforces the fact that everything the conference does relates to one of the four pathways on the Journey Toward Vitality. Aside from equipping missional congregations, through which a variety of programs and resources are available to churches, the other three are developing missional leaders, extending missional impact, and generating missional resources.
• New congregational development leaders: Over the next year and a half, while Director of Congregational Development Dan Johnson is working on Reach • Renew • Rejoice (a congregational development initiative to start new churches and grow existing churches), three other leaders will assume new responsibilities for the Office of Congregational Development.
Owen will lead the Healthy Church Initiative, Missional Journey, and a variety of other congregational development programs for existing churches. Owen has worked with the conference in various capacities since 2002 and has coached churches going through the Healthy Church Initiative and Missional Journey since they launched in Minnesota.
“It is exciting to see when churches suddenly realize that doing church differently is not only okay but rewarding and fun,” says Owen. “I am personally honored and humbled to be charged with such important work. I do not think any of us fully realize the full extent of change needed in the church today. We are a long ways away from transformation, but at least we are pointed in the right direction!”
Meanwhile, Rev. Paul Marzahn, lead pastor at Crossroads, will serve as new church strategist for the next year and a half, meaning that he will facilitate the process of determining how, where, and when to start new United Methodist faith communities across the state. Crossroads started as a single site in Lakeville in the 1990s and, under Marzahn’s leadership, it has since expanded to include four sites.
Rev. Cathy Townley will serve as church plant coach for the next 18 months; in that role, she will work with leaders of newly planted churches as they seek to grow those churches and make new disciples. She has extensive experience coaching churches on enhancing the worship experience and has consulted both new church starts and existing churches. She has worked with the Minnesota Conference in a variety of capacities, including as a coach for the Healthy Church Initiative.
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church