Listening Tour Summary and Top Priorities
At the end of the Listening Tour, my head and heart were full of the hopes and dreams this congregation has shared with me. As I’ve spent even more time at VRUMC, I feel extremely blessed to be a part of such a great congregation. If you haven’t had a chance, I invite you to listen to my sermon, “Why VRUMC?” from August 18. In it, I share my own initial hopes and dreams for this church and why I am so grateful to be your new pastor.
In a world where the role of the church is quickly changing, I am looking forward to both holding our traditions in one hand and exploring new ways to spread the Kingdom of God in the other. What follows is an explanation to the top priorities I’ve discerned through the Listening Tour and my first several months here.
First of all, I look forward to helping us improve our communication strategy in order to keep our members better informed, to reach new people through social media platforms, and to spur spiritual growth through mid-week digital communication. Another priority will be to continue to listen to the needs of the community around us and seek new and innovative ways to connect VRUMC with our neighbors. This will involve connecting our neighbors to our existing church ministries but it will also involve us creatively finding ways to engage our neighbors and build relationships with new people. Finally, I am excited to help foster a culture that celebrates spiritual gifts and empowers each person to find their spiritual gifts and then live a life of serving while leaning into the places God calls them.
We have a great church and I am beyond grateful to be here. I can’t tell you how many days I get an overwhelming, spirit-filled feeling while walking into this church. I am so excited to be a part of the work that God is doing here and I’m grateful to be serving alongside you!
Listening Tour – Top 3 Priorities
Improved communication was mentioned over and over again during the listening tours. An improved communication strategy will help us live into our mission and will strengthen relationships with God, with each other, and with the community.
Our digital footprint is just as important as our physical footprint. Many people visit church websites before visiting the actual churches. Often times, people will read blogs or watch worship online to first get acquainted with the church. Knowing that more and more people scout churches online, if we are going to paint the outside of our building or mow our lawn, it’s equally important to create a strong digital first impression. This begins with our website. Investing in a good website is a must and this will enable us to connect with prospective guests as well as keep our current members fully informed of church happenings. This will involve significantly revamping our website or creating a new one.
Along these lines, increasing our social media presence is vitally important. VRUMC has been experimenting with Facebook live and while it is building momentum, very little has been invested financially in the online worship experience and therefore, the quality of the experience is often lacking, especially regarding the audio. The communication team is working to explore what steps we need to take to improve our online worship experience. This will allow guests to experience worship and help our members stay connected when they miss worship for work, sports, or travel. An increased presence on social media will also allow us to share blogs, devotionals, events, and other information to help us all grow in our faith and interact with each other throughout the week.
My hope ultimately is that through emails, blogs, social media, online worship, and our website, more people, church members, and prospective members, will be able to grow in their relationship with Christ. The average churchgoer attends worship about once a month. While I’d love to change this trend, the reality is that content to help people grow in their faith should be available 24/7/365 and pushed out often. Spiritual development doesn’t just happen on Sunday mornings. Because people are so connected digitally, we have the opportunity to connect in ways and times that previous generations could not. Improving communications means creating more and more opportunities for people to connect with scripture, devotionals, each other, and sermons throughout the week.
SPRC has approved the hiring of a communication director but the specific job description is still being developed. Moreover, increasing funding to improve digital platforms will also be an important part of this strategy. The communication team, which was already meeting before I arrived, will be essential in developing this strategy and helping us move forward with our mission.
Connecting to the Community
VRUMC has a huge heart for those within our community. There is a strong desire to ensure that we help meet needs within our community and that we partner well with local organizations and businesses. There’s also a strong desire to help connect people without church homes to our church.
As I shared throughout the “Modern Missionaries” worship series, I believe that we become missionaries anytime we partner with the work that God is doing in our community. As our culture continues to become more “post-Christian,” it is vital that we see ourselves as everyday missionaries and representatives of God. This means that we must shift from a mentality of not just hosting but to one of “guesting.” Guesting means that we each have a responsibility to build relationships with others in places of work or recreation and then get invited into those new spaces. As modern missionaries, we take literally Jesus’s commandment to love our neighbors. Loving our neighbors involves knowing their names and their stories. It means being present for them as we go about our daily lives.
Not only do we individually need to neighbor well in our own neighborhoods, the church needs to neighbor well also. This means that we must get to know our neighbors, enter into their worlds, and learn their names and stories. It means that we must learn about the gifts they bring to the table as well as their needs. Throughout the Listening Tour, it became clear that while we partner with local organizations, we aren’t always intentional about truly getting to know the church’s literal neighbors. Many members have told me that although there are many apartments around our church, as a whole, we don’t connect with them often.
My prayer is that we will continually explore new ways to connect with our neighbors. Throughout this next year, we will take steps to be better neighbors. This will involve guidance and direction from the leadership of the church and bold steps of faith for all the members.
Spiritual Gifts and Serving
One of the best “take-aways” from my time at Trietsch was the importance of leaning into our spiritual gifts. Spiritual gifts are the unique gifts with which God has gifted each one of us to help us do ministry. There are many, many ways to serve inside and outside the church and yet, it seems as though there are never enough volunteers and our members are too tired or worn out to serve one more place. I believe that if we can make spiritual gifts a part of our DNA, then people will come alive when they serve. Knowing our spiritual gifts allows us to say “yes” to the ministries and opportunities that God has created us for and it allows us to say “no” to opportunities that ultimately drain us and frustrate us.
During the Listening Tour, many members lifted up that they would like to see new people involved in the ministries of the church. When we promote spiritual gifts, we help new people learn how God created them to serve. We then ensure that there are easy onramps for people to serve and we utilize specific spiritual gifts as the directional signs. Using the language of spiritual gifts, each ministry will create volunteer job descriptions to let people know when and how to serve that ministry. As new members join the church, we’ll invite them to take a spiritual gifts inventory and use this to help them connect immediately.
Our current plan is to weave spiritual gifts into advent and explore the spiritual gifts of the characters in the nativity story. In January, we’ll create opportunities to take a spiritual gifts inventory and study spiritual gifts together. Leaning into our spiritual gifts will strengthen each of the ministries within our church, from children’s ministry to congregational care, to worship, and to mission.
One Extra Thought: Staff Cohesion and Development
Vista Ridge UMC has an extremely talented staff. Pair this with a strong culture of lay leadership, I believe we have the right mixture for healthy ministry. One of my top priorities is to help create a stronger sense of cohesion among our staff members. Due to many staff being part-time and working various hours, the time we are all together feels limited. We are seeking ways to strengthen relationships and communication with one another. This will involve making staff meetings more about spiritual growth and leadership development as well as creating space outside of staff meetings for bonding. From webinars to conferences to bringing in guest speakers, there are multiple ways for us to invest in the staff so that they can lead their ministry areas effectively.