Church growth is a complex thing. That is what Rev. Beth Horne, pastor of Melrose Highlands Congregational Church, UCC (MHCC) explained after being asked if their participation in the Churches Alive process was a key contributor in their ability to attract 19 new members in a very short period.
“The Churches Alive program is one of the many things that our church has done to increase vitality,” said Horne. “The Churches Alive process is a natural extension of the ways we are trying to be alive, vital, and purposeful.”
Two years ago MHCC joined the Churches Alive process to explore their unique gifts as a congregation, the needs of the greater Melrose community, and their own passions – trying to discern the place where God is calling them to grow. The Churches Alive Discernment Journey is a Massachusetts Conference program to help revitalize churches. This program is designed to help nurture and provoke the vitality of churches who want to deeply explore and discern their future. Churches Alive provides thorough exploration of all aspects of the church’s life and ministry as well as an in-depth understanding of its community, in an effort to answer the question “What does it mean for a church to be healthy, faithful and effective in this changing landscape of ministry?”
“We did not enter into the process saying that we wanted to grow the church,” said Horne. “We entered curious about how we could improve our vitality and step faithfully into the future.”
MHCC members attended trainings at the Conference’s Framingham location and met with their program coach. Over the next year they engaged the congregation using a survey, timeline, and appreciative inquiry, and conducted several congregational meetings. In addition, they utilized the Conference demographic tool Mission Insite to gather data about their community, and interviewed community leaders. The MHCC Churches Alive team held small group meetings among their members to discuss where God might be calling them to be; came up with four pillars that were unique to their church; and crafted a vision statement to be voted upon by the congregation that included nourishing themselves spiritually, nurturing youth, serving those in need, and building community.
Did all that work lead to increased membership?
“I feel the 19 new members last year can be attributed to our outreach into the community (including a craft beer tasting fundraiser), a new Music Director who is growing the choir, much improved space for our Sunday School, strong youth participation in recent mission trips to Mississippi and Pine Ridge Reservation, and many other small and large things including the Churches Alive process,” said Horne.
“I think the Churches Alive process has helped us describe what appeals to us, and what may appeal to new members, but Churches Alive isn’t what’s drawing in people to the church, said Moderator Teri Vienot. “All the activities Beth mentions are just some of the things that are vibrant about the church. I’d also attribute new member growth to Beth’s personal connection with families and individuals, as well as hands-on opportunities in worship and to serve, and as Beth says, many other small and large things.”
“The Churches Alive process is helping us to increase vitality—but more in a way that is helping us to be intentional about what we love and where we’re being called, rather than a process that’s bringing new members or growing the church,” said Horne.
“One of the strengths we’ve identified through the process is that we’re a welcoming church,” said Vienot. “And that seems to be in sync with what new members feel. “
You can contact Pastor Rev. Beth Horne or Moderator Teri Vienot at the church office at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Massachusetts Conference, United Church of Christ
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