By: Christa Meland
Several years ago, while struggling with a lack of “bodies and bucks,” St. Charles and Dover United Methodist Churches began the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI)—a revitalization process involving learning, consultation, and coaching that’s designed to help congregations grow. (Thanks to your generosity through the Reach • Renew • Rejoice conference-wide campaign, 140 churches will enter a revitalization process between 2014 and 2020.)
“If you look at where they were on the church life cycle, they were over the hump,” said Rev. Heather Klason, who leads the two-point charge. “There was a sense of: What do we have to lose?”
HCI helped both churches to discover their niche and look to a hopeful future.
For Dover, that meant becoming a church for its small bedroom community and engaging in new types of outreach. So the congregation began offering an Easter egg hunt for kids, a haunted house during Dover’s “Pumpkin Fest,” and a meal at a park during the town’s Fourth of July celebration.
Participating in community events has greatly increased the church’s visibility. “When we started the HCI process, a lot of people didn’t even know there was a church in Dover,” said Klason. That’s not the case anymore. And the church actually renamed itself “Dover Community Church—A Mission of the United Methodist Church” to align with its new focus.
The inside of the church has also shifted in accordance with Dover’s new identity: Most of the pews have been taken out and replaced with tables and chairs to enhance the worship experience for families.
Meanwhile, HCI helped St. Charles to dream a new dream following a difficult decision members made to abandon plans for a new church building. The church celebrated funds raised through a capital campaign for the new building and instead used them to make the existing building handicapped accessible.
Additionally, HCI prompted St. Charles to embrace the work of “feeding hungry souls” and to increase its connection with its local elementary school. The church had already been contributing to a backpack program that provides nutritious and easy-to-prepare food for hungry children to take home on weekends. But it has since expanded its outreach.
Last summer, in partnership with other area churches, St. Charles served lunch at its building to elementary-age children going through summer school. The church also participates in a twice-annual food distribution to families who come to City Hall. Last year, the church received an Investing in Congregations grant from the Minnesota Conference that allowed it to adopt a classroom; members provided resources for the teacher to purchase extra supplies, they volunteered in the classroom, and they provided every child with two new books each semester.
HCI also prompted changes within the church. For example, a new Confirmation process was introduced to provide a more meaningful experience for children and to better meet the schedules of busy families. One week, students come to class. The next week, they do a mission project. And the third week, they do an activity with their families. This cycle repeats throughout the school year.
Klason said one of the HCI recommendations that the churches are now focusing on is forming joint councils. They will also work to condense the number of committees so that volunteers spend less time in meetings and more time in service.
The churches are looking at how to translate what they’re doing into numerical growth too; that hasn’t happened yet.
Still, the churches are significantly more focused and more vibrant than they were even just a few years ago—and the HCI process was the catalyst for that change.
“HCI encourages a climate of possibility,” said Klason. “It is a process to name and claim who you are. Part of challenge we’re facing today is church and the culture are changing. HCI helps you be really creative to reach people for Jesus Christ.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church