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.”