Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Possibilities of Church Turnaround

“Anniston First UMC is responsive and working toward change. God is blessing!”

The words above begin a remarkable report of celebration and hope I received recently from the senior pastor at Anniston First, Rev. Peter Hawker. This was the second “90 Day Plan” I had been given since Pete’s appointment in January 2011. In both reports were descriptions of plans and goals being used to reclaim the church’s purpose and to create vision. In the second report it was obvious that momentum was being built and early buy-in from congregation and staff was taking place. Most exciting was the turnaround spirit of a church in decline to a church working hard to reclaim its purpose. The report included specific metrics of fruitfulness to the mission and purpose of the church. As one excited member recently said, “we have not seen this in years!” After receiving this six month report I placed some of these benchmarks in a comparative manner from the three previous years:

New Members

Professions of Faith


Average Attendance

First 6 Months of 2011





Previous 36 Months





In order to appreciate the early turnaround going on at Anniston First UMC it is helpful to remember the city of Anniston experienced major changes over the past several years. Most significant was the decommissioning of Ft. McClellan in 1999 and the major loss of human and economic resources within the city. The base closing affected the entire area including businesses, schools and churches. Anniston First was significantly impacted and forced to rethink its purpose in relationship to the changing community circumstances. Over the past few months the pastoral staff and leadership of the church have chosen to focus on turnaround while resisting the temptation to remain in a “maintenance mode” and decline. Their early success has been invigorating.

So what is the difference now versus that of previous years? First, is the leadership of courage and wisdom being offered by the two pastors, Pete Hawker and Minnie Stovall. It is no accident that the spirit of the church has been lifted due to recent growth. Now, growing forward is becoming contagious. It’s worth noting these early successes were born on faithful intentionality via consultation, candid communications, leadership buy-in and measured accountability to the goals outlined for the church’s turnaround. Especially important has been a continued promotion of the non-negotiable reason for being the church, “to make disciples and grow the church for Christ’s kingdom!” The expectations being built around “kingdom growth” and faithfulness to the vision is also producing secondary benefits of church health and vitality.

Here is where many of our churches lose focus and waste energy. Instead of “great commission” focus there is a scattered approach to ministry where everything is judged of equal value and penultimate ministry is treated as primary. Vision becomes fuzzy and goals become short-term reactions to seasonal needs. Unfortunately, there are many churches across our Conference quite busy but not very successful making new disciples. I am convinced that any church serious about turnaround must elevate discipleship making as primary and build vision around Jesus’ great commission.

Though early, Anniston First UMC is a good example of a church being intentional to pivot from decline to hope. If you want to know more about the turnaround ministry and vision of Anniston First, I recommend contacting the pastoral staff, Rev. Peter Hawker or Rev. Minnie Stovall. Their passion for purposeful ministry is infectious.

Bob Alford
Cheaha District Superintendent

1 comment:

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