Three years ago, First Christian Church in Denton, TX, faced a crossroads. They experienced the deaths of several active members of their aging congregation. The church wanted to reach new community members but weren’t sure how.
“We faced our own mortality as a congregation,” remembers Senior Minister Rev. Jack Mullins. “We knew we needed to adjust or create something new.”
FCC spent two years discerning and developed a project they called Envision, hoping to imagine what the church should be for the twenty-first century. Church leaders knew they needed to learn about their surrounding community to decide how they could best reach out and find opportunities to serve. So, they decided to ask.
FCC shared an online survey online in December 2018 and advertised the project in their local newspaper. Requesting stories from people who quit going to church, the survey asked only one question: “What is your relationship with church, with God?”
“The results were heart-wrenching,” remembers EnVision Community Minister Russell VanHoose. Respondents shared stories of painful exits from faith communities, of feeling judged and excluded. “We weren’t shocked by the results, but it solidified for us how hurt people have been by the Church, and it gave us a sense of urgency to move forward – to figure out how to tell people that we’re a safe place.”
These surveys were an important way for FCC to discover the spiritual needs of their community from members of that community.
“Our focus now is trying to communicate that, congregationally and programmatically, we reject the stereotype that the Church is exclusive and judgmental,” Mullins suggests.
While sharing the survey, FCC also developed what they call a two-congregation, one-church model. Their Envision project grew into an additional Sunday evening service and has attracted a new community of participants.
This service is a different experience, VanHoose explains. Envision is a “very interactive, full worship service – even the sermon is interactive, so it feels more like a small group meeting.”
Throughout the EnVision process over the last three years, FCC’s pastoral staff focused intentionally on community leadership, joining the local Chamber of Commerce, and giving sermons about relationship development.
FCC also followed up with a second survey, asking their local social media followers what they look for in a faith community, and these responses seemed to fit with their ongoing work: people responded with answers like inclusiveness, tolerance, and community outreach.
“Now we feel confident that we can match up with people’s answers,” VanHoose celebrates. “Transformation is a seed that grows best in the soil of relationships.”
Nabors Charlotte D. says
The Envision Community project has not only opened the doors to other members of the community and to other ways of authentic worship but has also energized and challenged the already established congregation
Mary Williams says
Hi Charlotte, As you know MDCC is having problems and has voted to sell and relocate.
Can you tell us something from this program that might help us with planning for a new location and mission? I hope you are doing well!
Doris Beckerman says
As a Regional Elder and local church elder and trustee, I am delighted and filled with hope that this model will be replicated in some form by other congregations who are facing their own mortality. I plan to share this report with other congregations and talk about it with church leaders.
As someone who was an active lay leader in a dying suburban church, a community survey was one of several ways we tried to reach out to the community around us.
Two suggestions: first, don’t make a “media” based survey the only way to contact neighbors. Use it as an entry point for conversations with other in your location (we did a school principal, several in the neighborhood association, door to door with as many neighbors who actually abutted our church property as we could, and at a “listening post” at an entrance to a local grocery store).
Second, we also surveyed our church members (and some ex-members), plus another round of contacts in our neighborhood, asking about what they saw as needs for their lives, their neighbors lives, and in our community. What sort of services could a group in their community provide? And we asked what sort of service THEY would like to provide if we at the church could help facilitate. What were their gifts and interests that were not being used as much as they would like?
Reminding people that all people have gifts and all people have burdens, and the church can help provide space and capability to address each side of an exchange, helped us.
From those inquiries, we began hosting other congregations and groups. One of the congregations grew, and eventually merged their larger membership and no property with our smaller group with too much property. Sunday mornings now fill the worship space, and we continue to host other start-up congregations at other times during the week.
Gerald Box says
This is a real blessing to read about how the people of the church are reaching out to those that are spiritually neglected and spiritually hurting.
Zenobia Mayo says
Excellent. It looks like your church made a plan and then worked the plan.