By Woody Woodrick
Hawkins United Methodist Church in Vicksburg needs to find a new fishing hole, its pastor says.
“We’re no longer a community church,” said the Rev. John Harper. “Like other churches in our area, we’re going to have to look at other parts of the city and county (for growth). The scope of our growth is going to have to go beyond the area where we are.
“We find ourselves, like other denominations, fishing out of the same pond. We’re trying to figure out ways to attract people to our church.”
Harper and his church came to that conclusion through a new process instituted in 2006 in the Mississippi Conference. The A2 Indicators are a method of assessing congregational wellness and ministry effectiveness. Using A2 involves a time of preparatory Bible study and then having church members answer 12 questions about their church’s ministry.
The process, based on Acts 2, was instituted for use during charge conferences, which are held in late summer and fall and completed by the end of the year.
The Revs. Shane Stanford and Embra Jackson, who developed and helped implement the A2 Indicators, said they’re pleased with the early results.
“There’s always some negative feedback to some new endeavor,” Stanford said. “This was our first attempt, but overall it was received very well. The stories we’ve heard back, especially from churches that have not done assessment in a long time, were very positive. People took it seriously and took time to look at where they are as a congregation.”
Jackson agreed, pointing out that some churches which were resistant at first eventually found the process useful. “People liked it because it is biblically based, theologically sound and gives an opportunity for churches to reclaim their vision and ministry,” Jackson said.
At Hawkins, Harper said the youth and adult Sunday school classes followed the four-week Bible study during October. Church leaders were then brought together to answer questions about 12 areas of church life, from staffing and facilities to conflict resolution. Harper said doing the Bible study put everyone on the same page when answering the questions. “The key word is awareness,” Harper said. “They were informed.”
Jackson said the next phase of A2 will use the church evaluations to see where steps to improve ministry need to be taken. He said district meetings will help with that process, and the goal is to find churches strong in one ministry and partner them with churches struggling in the same ministry. For example, a church trying to improve its children’s ministry might be partnered with another church with a vibrant children’s ministry. He said the conference’s role will be to help provide the resources for churches to grow and be effective in their communities.
“The annual conference is prepared to assist any local church that seeks guidance and resources for the direction discerned in the local church process,” said Bishop Hope Morgan Ward. “The annual conference, according to The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, exists to strengthen local churches for making disciples. This is our highest hope in the A2 process.”
Stanford and Jackson said the biggest hurdle the A2 assessment faced was the idea that it was a mandated process simply to compile statistics for the conference. Although the questions were expected to be answered for a church’s charge conference report, each church decided its own level of participation.
Stanford said as he talked pastors through the process, they generally became more receptive. He said he tried to emphasize that the purpose of the A2 Indicators was for self assessment by individual churches.
Jackson said some also feared it would be used as a tool to close small churches. However, he said A2 was designed to help churches “realize what God is calling them to do.”
“This is a way to look at all churches on a level playing field,” Jackson said. “The dialogue is not about how to close churches, but how to reclaim the vision to which God has called them.”