Monday, February 21, 2011

Transitioning New Pastors

United Methodism practices as “sent ministry.” Our pastors are sent (rather than called) to where they are most needed. We now ask every pastor and receiving congregation to submit a “First Ninety Days” plan. This year each full-time pastor who moved received a letter from me and the DS that stated specific goals and expectations in the first year. District Superintendent, Mike Stonbraker has taken the process another step further. I asked him to describe his creation of the Transitional Team.

The Cabinet and I are attempting to change from just “making appointments” to “making appointments work.” - Will Willimon

Transitioning New Pastors

Transitioning in to a new church appointment can be one of the most stressful events in the life of a pastor, his/her family, as well as the churches. Saying farewell to one family and entering a new church ministry packs a great deal of emotion and anticipation.

From the time appointments are announced until Moving Day, we must live through Annual Conference, sweltering heat, (not to mention one of those pop-up showers on moving day), trying to live out of boxes for the first few days, and our “first Sunday.” Pastors work to unpack their office, begin meeting the new folks, and help the spouse as much as possible. Staff and team meetings are planned, and we begin living out our First 90 Days plan. The new school term begins, football season kicks off, and districts schedule pastor consultations. Before you know it it’s time to start planning the Advent Season.

I have been working on a system with a fresh approach that would begin the transition process much earlier for the incoming pastor and church family. This past year I requested that four churches work with me by creating a Transitional Team to be in place by late March early April. This team would be hand selected by the outgoing pastor and the Chairperson’s of the Pastor Parish Relations and Administrative Board/Council. The team would be composed of a cross-sectional group from the church, to be composed of no more than twelve and no less than six people including the outgoing pastor, the incoming pastor and the two chairpersons.

First the team was asked to schedule a two hour meeting with me. Together we talked about the most pressing issues facing the church’s ministry. Worship, small groups, evangelism, and staff positions seemed to always be placed on the table. We focused on ways to improve these areas while keeping the church moving in a positive, healthy direction. No concern or issue was off limits. Second, we focused on making the transition out and the transition in, smooth and fluid. The team was asked to work closely with the Worship Team on the final Sunday for the outgoing pastor and the first Sunday for the incoming pastor. I asked that both events be prayerful and uplifting through celebration and hope for everyone concerned. I also asked that Moving Day preparations and assistance be made available for both pastors. Finally, scheduled meeting dates were made with the incoming pastor for April and May to assure he/she understood the pressing issues and expectations coming with this transition. But above all I asked that this Transition Team be “cheerleaders” for this time of change and challenge. Learn about the incoming pastor and their family. Spread hope and excitement for the years ahead while praising God for the ministry past. Bring unity and joy for everyone involved. Claim this appointment for what it really is, change and renewal.

I have requested that the Transition Team stay together for one year. They are to meet with me again in August to share updates on how well the team has worked through this transition and how the future year is beginning to unfold. So far the feedback has been very positive. Combining the First 90 Days and the Transitional Team ideas and plans have helped the early days of a new move to be a bit easier and smoother. Pastors are getting their “feet on the ground” much sooner and in the scheme of things understanding their new role and priorities.

This has really helped me as well. I’m learning much more about the individual churches and their desire to grow and make a difference within the community. Will this work? Is there going to be some tweaking? Only time will tell. However, I truly believe that getting more of the church family involved in the positive transition in and transition out is crucial for every church setting.

Mike Stonbraker
Northwest District Superintendent

P.S. I recently noticed that two of our congregations, who have had a recent history of struggling financially and finding it difficult to shoulder their fair share of our connectoinal ministries budget, are now participating at 100%! Both of these congregations, Liberty Crossing and Highlands (Birmingham) received new, young pastors last June (Wade Griffith and Mikah Hudson, respectively) which makes this progress all the more remarkable. If you want to know how we've had the best year in four years in regard to connectional giving, this is the primary reason: committed, dedicated pastors who know that the purpose of the church and its ministry is focused outside of the congregation, partaking of Christ's ministry in the world. Congratulations to all those congregations (more than half of all our churches) who participated at 100% or better! - WW

Monday, February 14, 2011

Monitoring Key Indicators of Congregational Health

Our Conference has pioneered the use of metrics in ministry in our Dashboard. Part of the impetus for this effort has been my observation that in every one of our thriving congregations, there was a noted attentiveness to fruitfulness and accountability based upon measurement of ministry. The converse is true in declining congregations. One of our slogans is “you only count what is important and whatever you count becomes important.” This article, which appeared in Wesley Seminary’s “Leading Ideas,” (Jan. 5, 2011) takes measurement of ministry to the congregation. I thought you would find it both interesting and confirming of our work.

Will Willimon

Too many church leaders are "leading in the dark." Congregational leaders need to develop a "dashboard" to monitor the basic metrics of their church. And monitoring must be done "along the way," not just at the end of the year. If you only looked at your car dashboard at the end of each trip, you would miss the most important signals the indicators are sending.

There are several guidelines when developing a congregational dashboard:

  • Keep it simple, up-to-date, and understandable…. it needs to be something that people can keep up with and understand.
  • Share the dashboard…. Even if some of the trends are negative, the sooner church leaders know the problems, the better chance they have of reversing them.
  • Compare trends over time…. Take the time to look at the larger, multi-year trends.

Monitoring People and Their Engagement

Worship attendance should be prominent on any church's dashboard. Congregations with more than one service should record the attendance for each service separately, as well as the overall total, so that changes in each service can be noted. A key metric of worship attendance is maintaining a 52-week running average of attendance that can be compared to the same average a year ago.

Tracking visitors is another important task related to worship attendance. Be sure you are greeting, engaging, and monitoring new and returning visitors. If there is more than one service, be sure to record visitors for each service. A key metric for gauging the success of your visitor follow up is tracking the percent of first-time guests who return for a second time and how that percentage compares to last year.

Membership is another important element of your dashboard — not just whether the church is growing, declining, or staying the same, but how it is gaining and losing members. Are membership gains coming from professions of faith, transfers from your denomination, or transfers from other denominations? If there are multiple services, how do they compare in terms of generating membership gains? Are membership losses coming from people moving out of the area, changing churches, dying, or drifting away? Once your congregation knows these trends, you can develop appropriate strategies to deal with them. A key metric is how many new members have been received so far this year compared to the same time last year.

Professions of faith and deaths. Comparing the number of professions of faith to deaths is a way of monitoring those entering the faith and those leaving the church through death. A key metric is the ratio of professions of faith to deaths.

Monitoring Giving

Keeping abreast of the key indicators of financial health is vital to sustaining ministry. Avoid the common practice of dividing the budget by 52 weeks as the standard to know whether the church is "ahead" or "behind" on the budget. Rather than coming in 52 equal units, each congregation's giving will follow its own pattern. Therefore, the most effective way to monitor offerings is to calculate the three-year running average of money received through each Sunday of the year and then use those figures to determine how much you "need so far" to be up to date on the budget. A key metric is where your year-to-date income stands in comparison to the portion of income that normally comes in by that same time of year.

Joseph E. Arnold is Research Manager for the Lewis Center for Church Leadership.

Monday, February 07, 2011

What We Have Learned About Planting Churches in North Alabama and Beyond…

Alan Beasley reports that Russellville First paid their entire Fund 524, Birmingham-Southern College, times two! I hope all of our churches follow Russellville’s lead and I hope all will receive an offering for our scholarships at BSC in Lent.
Will Willimon

Do you prefer the good news or bad news first? Most people prefer the bad first so here it is. Nationwide eighty percent of new churches fail. The only worse odds are among new restaurants. It is tough to start anything.

Why should we start new churches when many fail? Glad you asked.

  • Because there is no more effective method on the planet to reach new people for Christ.
  • Because the only denominations that are growing are those that are planting churches at a rate approaching two percent. (In case you are doing the math that would be sixteen new communities of faith per year for us. We start about a fourth of that number.)
  • Because everywhere in the world where the church is expanding (ie. China, India, Africa etc.) it is happening on the foundation of rapidly multiplying communities of faith.
  • Because Jesus commands us to go and do the new thing making disciples.
  • Because…selfishly we need more vibrant churches to share the load of paying for our mission (OK…I admit that is not the best motivation…but it is motivation.)

Can the failure rate be reversed? Again, glad you asked. Now for the good news…YES! We can reverse the numbers to an eighty percent success rates by focusing on four areas. That is where we have been pouring our energy into over the past eighteen months. In Jim Collins Good to Great lingo, “The flywheel is slowly beginning to turn.”

Effective Assessment of the Plant Pastor

Dr. Charles Ridley identified thirteen characteristics of effective church planters. Potential church plant pastors must be assessed for their effectiveness potential based on these characteristics. Jim Griffith has trained a team of pastors from our conference to do this kind of assessment. We have also developed a partnership with Growing Healthy Churches to do detailed assessment for our potential church planters. We are committed to having no one plant a church in North Alabama without the pastor and church having the highest potential for success.

Proper Training

We have sought outside help, partnering with Griffith Coaching to provide training through his “boot camp.” This boot camp trains in habits and skills that lead to the highest likelihood of ongoing effectiveness. All new church pastors in North Alabama have now had that training as will all future new church pastors.

Ongoing Coaching

Jim Griffith has provided coaching for us for the last two years. In turn he has produced a group of pastors from our conference to begin providing ongoing coaching for our plant pastors. We have adopted the Growing Healthy Churches model of cluster coaching. An effective new church pastor from our conference will lead each of these coaching clusters. Here is the message; you are not alone when you go out to plant in North Alabama. There is a team and ultimately a person who will be a friend, mentor and coach. Church planning in North Alabama is now a team sport!

Parent Churches

Partnership with a strong, vibrant parent church is paramount for effective plants. We are evaluating the possibility of treating any money given from a parent church in a similar fashion as capital money. This gives the parent church a financial incentive and benefit for doing this important kingdom work. We have found that any parenting church gets a big spiritual boost from becoming a church planting church.

Our Greatest Needs

Our greatest needs: Gifted plant pastors. Only a few have the gift mix to do this difficult work. If your fell called to this, I need to hear from you. We promise to give you what you need to succeed. Committed partner churches. Church planting cannot remain the domain of the conference. In fact…I work for the day when it is no longer the work of the conference. Because ultimately; churches plant churches!

Tommy Gray

Director of Congregational Development

North Alabama Conference of the UMC