As with many churches today, we found ours to be a dwindling congregation of faithful, but older members. We realized the need to actively reach outside of our church walls to share our gifts with the community. In addition, we wanted to extend an extravagant welcome to the community and invite them into our church community. Many of our members shared the feelings of author Paul Nixon in his book, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church.
A “Futuring” task force was formed to assess the current state of our church. We could then focus on ways our church could expand into the community. Lee Johnsen from Partners in Development was key in this process. Lee first helped us by assessing local and church demographics. With that background information, we decided to form several focus groups comprised of church members and visitors to explore ways to reach our community and to grow our church. Centered around the themes in Paul Nixon’s book, a series of three sessions were offered to the congregation. (Each session was held on four separate days of the week.) Lee Johnsen, from Partners in Development, creatively designed these sessions in an interactive, engaging way so that all members could participate in them. Lee also trained the 8-10 facilitators, some of whom had never previously led a group prior to this experience. After the sessions, Partners in Development helped collect the data so that it could be used for implementation immediately.
Over 50% of our members participated in these focus groups. By design, these sessions created lively discussions and created avenues for people to freely share ideas for revitalizing our church. Many members commented these were some of the most productive church conversations they’d had in years. Because of the excitement generated in these sessions, people took action immediately: to date, a new small group ministry has been developed, there have been numerous outreach and community events sponsored by our church, and church membership is growing. Visitors never fail to comment about the warm welcome they receive the moment they enter our church. Partners in Development helped us to focus on our future and then worked with us to create a viable plan to begin the process. Our church members are engaged and enthusiastic as we actively pursue the path ahead.
Patricia Harris, Director of Spiritual Formation
Congregational United Church of Arlington Heights, IL