Senatobia District team finds A2 success stories

10/2/2007

By Neville Vanderburg
Guest Columnist

Editor's Note: Seventh in a series of articles on the A2 Indicators.

The first line of a Buffalo Springfield song from the 1960s goes, “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” Over a year ago the Senatobia District, following the guidance of Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, began a conversation that, at the outset, might not have seemed exactly clear to all involved. Led by our District Superintendent the Rev. Victoria Sizemore-Tandy, we began the A2 assessment and have come a long way together as a district since then. Much good has been accomplished and we would like to share that story.

To some in our district as well as across the conference, this assessment process was somewhat confusing since it begins with “A2 Indicators” and moves into something called the “A29 Ministry Plan.” To anyone confused or uncertain, we would simply say “take heart, it’s not that hard,” and, to borrow a famous advertising slogan, “just do it.”

Probably the biggest “success” we have seen is that the process works. It is a no-cost solution that provides our churches a method to assess the health of their overall ministry.

As Ward indicated in the beginning, “Our conversations will arise from meditation on the description of the early church — united, generous, joyful, growing — that we find in Acts 2:42-47. Each local church will talk together, discerning the level of congregational health in 12 areas of shared ministry. The goal of the conversation is the sharing of wisdom within the local church. Where is our mission focus? Where do we celebrate strength? Where are we called to give attention? What weaknesses threaten to impede our witness for Jesus Christ?”

In Phase 1, we just rolled up our sleeves and completed the A2 Indicators at all churches in the district. It wasn’t optional or open for discussion. Now, we know that there was some grumbling, some wariness about top-down directed action and that some of the A2 assessments were completed just to put a check-mark in the completed box. But we also know that our first success was in “just doing it.” That led directly to follow-up success in Phase 2.

At the first meeting of the district A2 Assessment Team the general consensus was “what are we going to do with all these numbers?”

We quickly realized that the individual scores weren’t our focus. Individually the scores were what they were — each congregation’s own. That realization led us to divide our district into three groups based on their A2 scores:
• Vital
• Healthy
• Needing assistance

Many of us have heard the Rev. Shane Stanford compare the A2 Indicators to collecting a patient’s history at the doctor’s office. In much the same way, once the indicators were complete at the district level we were able to conduct triage to identify which churches needed immediate attention and which ones could wait. 

We have found many success stories as we have gone out to individual churches in Phase 2. Generally speaking, they all revolve around the conversations Ward described. Certainly some of the conversations have been less fruitful than others. But what is so exciting to us is that the A2 process enabled those conversations to begin, many of which might not have otherwise taken place. This follow-up is what will keep A2/A29 from becoming just “something else dreamed up by conference,” and then put on a shelf. Some of our success stories are:

• At Palestine UMC we were able to move past the emotional component of the A2 “score” and had a great discussion on the church’s core values and mission. Core values coalesced around “meeting the community at its point of need” which led directly to the development of a draft mission statement: “Know the need, meet the need.” Finalizing the mission statement was identified as a key step after which budgeting, planning and programming can follow in support of that mission.

• At Water Valley First UMC the success was twofold. First, they realized that the A2 process wasn’t outsiders coming in with a plan to “fix” their church. This encouraged them to talk about the issues facing their church and begin sharing ideas to address them.

• At Lewisburg UMC we saw the congregation energized and involved in the process, even leading the congregation toward a decision on purchasing land for a new church.

• At Mount Olivet UMC we succeeded in determining that the existing mission statement was not useful. While it was an accurate reflection of what they thought the church’s mission was, it was too complicated to be useful.

Also, during the conversation on the budget percentages in various categories, the members were able to see that there are no “right” or otherwise expected numbers. The conversation strengthened the connection between budgets and mission statements, and they realized that if their budget was built to support their mission then it was right for them.

• At Batesville St. Paul UMC, we strengthened the link to the broader “connected” United Methodist Church and planted the seed to work with other churches for VBS materials.

As the Senatobia District A2 Team continues visiting with individual churches, we are excited about the next step. It is clear to us that Phase 3 is where our churches will truly begin to be the 29th chapter of Acts. 

Going forward, we anticipate that we will begin providing resources and training to those churches identified as needing help to become healthy again. Also, we will begin using our strongest and most vital churches as models and mentors across the district.

It is an exciting time, one that harkens back to the beginning of the church. The spirit of God is moving across our district, through us as individuals and through our churches. It is a refreshing wind of change that inspires us to reconnect with our mission as we seek to answer the question, “What will God have our church do in our time?”

Vanderburg lives in Olive Branch and is a member at Maples Memorial UMC.