4:00 P.M. EST April 8, 2010
Many congregations find themselves struggling amid economically challenging times when membership rolls are shrinking, financial resources are dwindling, and operating costs are rising.
To further complicate the problem, the neighborhoods surrounding many churches have evolved, becoming increasingly diverse.
The Rev. Phil Maynard, director of the Florida Conference Center for Congregational Excellence, and the Rev. Dan Campbell, chief executive officer of Joining Hands Community Mission in Holiday, hope to offer a new model for doing ministry in challenging circumstances like these.
Maynard and Campbell have developed a partnership over the last two years, as the former Community United Methodist Church in Holiday, where Campbell served as pastor, transitioned from a self-sufficient, functioning church to Joining Hands Community Mission.
The mission opened in 2009 as a faith-based social services agency for homeless and at-risk families. It is part of the Southwest Pasco United Methodist Church Cooperative Parish, which also includes First United Methodist and Asbury United Methodist churches in New Port Richey.
“The big picture here is how do we develop a process that allows struggling congregations … a way of redefining ministry in the communities that they serve?” Maynard said.
Based on their experiences, Maynard and Campbell are co-writing a customized ministry redevelopment guide for leading congregations toward effective ministry in their communities. Many of the lessons they learned from their experience will be incorporated into the blueprint they are developing.
“We want to try to share this with other churches that are kind of struggling to find new life,” Campbell said.
Several categories of churches are potential candidates for the redevelopment process, Maynard said, including congregations serving the same demographic within a defined and limited geographic area. Other candidates are churches located in areas that have experienced a significant demographic change or are so economically depressed the community can’t support the typical ministry structure.
Some of these situations are rooted in church development that took place a half-century ago, Maynard said.
“In the 1950s, one of the ideas was that every neighborhood needed to have a church, and now the neighborhoods have changed dramatically,” he said.
People are also using different methods to choose the church they plan to attend, basing their decision less on location and more on “where they feel connected with God,” Maynard said.
These collective changes have resulted in churches that no longer effectively serve their neighborhoods and that are located too close to one another, Maynard added.
But these churches also have a unique opportunity, Maynard says. Congregations have the chance to explore their community’s needs and adjust the church’s mission accordingly.
“It really has to be their decision,” Maynard said. “The congregation has to decide that there are better ways to do ministry than what they’re doing now.”
District superintendents or pastors themselves might identify potential candidates for the process, Maynard said. The church cluster system, which connects pastors with their peers, may be another way to facilitate this kind of awareness among clergy, he said.
Although the visioning process at the Southwest Pasco churches took longer than 12 months, the investment is paying dividends by meeting community needs.
“We had a lot of people come and tour from other (United) Methodist churches, and the number one comment I get is, ‘Now this is what I thought the church is supposed to be like,’ ” Campbell said of the mission.
One measure of success is the variety and number of people who have been served, Campbell said.
In addition to its ongoing resource center, the mission’s Holiday Center outreach prepared 277 Thanksgiving meals for needy families in November, according to mission director Nancy Dougherty.
In December, 643 families received Christmas groceries, as well as gifts for 1,238 children. And every week, about 100 boxes of emergency food are given away. Since its opening last July 1, the mission has provided services to 2,714 clients.
“Those services mostly consist of crisis food distribution, but also include providing clothing, shoes, diapers, ACCESS (a Florida public assistance program) services, summer feeding, kids’ camp, hygiene package provisions, mail-handling services, and case-working referrals for rent (and) utility assistance and shelter help,” Dougherty said. “It’s been a phenomenally busy and exciting six months.”
The mission is partnering with Metropolitan Ministries of Tampa and several other community organizations and business, Campbell said.
Changes that build on other partnerships are possible, too. One example is the potential receipt of a grant from the state that would kick off the construction of a certified hurricane shelter for 300 people on the mission property, Campbell said. The building would be available for daily use by the mission when not needed as a shelter. Relationships with other organizations are the key to developing these kinds of opportunities, Campbell added.
“The future, I’m convinced, is that you don’t do this kind of thing without a partnership,” he said. “The churches, government and local businesses have to work together.”
More information about Joining Hands Community Mission is available at http://www.joininghandsmission.org. More information about the redevelopment model is available by contacting Maynard at Phil.Maynard@flumc.org or (321) 217-6007.
*De Marco is a writer for the Florida Annual Conference. This article originally appeared in a different form in the Florida United Methodist News Service Weekly Digest.
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