Disciples News Service

North Carolina congregation partners with general ministries to develop stewardship plan

Congregational transformation doesn’t always require immense creativity or large-scale programs. Instead, important growth can be the result of subtle changes made largely on paper.

Reaching out for help is a critical first step. For First Christian Church in Greenville, NC, it was a simple recommendation that made all the difference.

At their 2018 homecoming service, lay leaders shared their congregation’s recent struggles with regional minister Bishop Valerie Melvin: in the span of 30 days their administrative assistant passed away and their minister resigned, leaving board members scrambling to keep everything in order.

Bishop Melvin’s suggestion: “Call Bruce.”

When FCC did call Rev. Bruce Barkhauer, director of the Center for Faith and Giving (CFG), last year, their board expected to get advice on shoring up their finances, but as the board’s finance committee chair Seth Brown remembers, “It didn’t take long to realize Bruce had a lot more in mind for us.”

Over the course of several months, Barkhauer worked with FCC’s board to organize their finances, but also understand how the financial decisions they make are in the context of the congregation’s mission.

In fact, as part of their collaboration, FCC developed a new mission statement: “To impact lives by loving God, growing together, and serving others.”

The work accomplished the congregation’s initial goals, as well. Through CFG’s Generosity Plus consulting program, Barkhauer explains, he and FCC completed a generosity assessment, “through a comprehensive view of their financial dealings, policy, practice, income, and expenses to give us a detailed analysis of their financial life.”

Through these conversations, the group also discussed an estate gift the congregation received and weren’t sure how to use. Barkhauer connected the team with their Christian Church Foundation zone officer Randy Johnson, and they have since begun the process of establishing a permanent fund with a portion of that gift.

Because of these wider Church partnerships, FCC has embraced a real culture of generosity, Barkhauer celebrates, because they’ve implemented strategies “to not just sustain themselves but thrive…When we work together, and value each other, we help make the Church stronger.”

FCC also feels the long-lasting impact of these ministry partnerships. “The ship is heading in the right direction,” suggests former board chair Whit Brown. “Eighteen months ago, we weren’t ready to bring in a new pastor, but this past Sunday [Oct. 13, when their new pastor started], we were ready.”

Finance chair Seth Brown agrees, recommending all congregations reach out to general ministries. “This work helped define the identity of the church and create hope. We now have a new administrative assistant, a new pastor, and a new mission. At the first Sunday with our new pastor, hope filled the entire church. To think about how we’ve grown over the last two years, with these partnerships, is an incredible transformation.”