Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Churches shifting gear to grow in 2 districts


The two superintendents sensed the enthusiasm as they welcomed about 100 people, undeterred by snow, to discuss revitalizing their churches.

SHIFTS networking got off to a great start for 19 churches in Crossroads and Heartland Districts in January.

Over 13 months, a team from each church is defining and implementing changes in four areas specified by Shifts. They seek to move:

• from fellowship to hospitality;

• from worship as an event to worship as a lifestyle;

• from membership to discipleship; and

• from serving self to engaging with all.

Phil Maynard wrote "Shift: Helping Congregations Back Into the Game of Effective Ministry" and developed resources.

"We can’t keep doing things the same way. We’ve got to help churches reconnect, most importantly, to the gospel of Christ," said Superintendent Greg Tener of Heartland.

Statistics that show ongoing declines in that district alarm him. The role of a superintendent includes that of key missional strategist. He longs "to help churches gain momentum, new energy, new vision."

Superintendent Rockford Johnson of Crossroads said, "We can’t start enough new churches to advance the Kingdom; we have to revitalize churches."

Joining to dream, plan

So the two leaders convened clergy from both districts for conversation on that goal. The districts share a border that runs right through the middle of Oklahoma City.

A strategy to use Shifts emerged from that gathering of pastors.

Then the superintendents identified churches at a five-year plateau in worship attendance and invited those with 100-199 in worship or with 200-plus to take part in "Companions of Life Cycle Renovation."

19 churches take part

Among the 19 congregations that accepted the invitation are Chickasha, Jones, Guthrie-First, Choctaw, Moore-First, and OKC-Chapel Hill.

All the teams will attend five seminars led by two Shifts-certified coaches, from Louisiana, at Oklahoma City University. Between sessions, subgroups of teams meet online. Throughout, they learn from the coaches and one another, sharing stories of challenges and triumphs, gleaning ideas and resources, adapting rather than reinventing wheels in some cases. Each team has homework — engaging action in that church.

Each team must include the pastor and at least four lay people. Cost per church was $1,800; the district paid $800 of that. A $200 district incentive is available to each church at the conclusion.

"We have a process, but each church is going to discern their own path," Rev. Tener said.

Shifts coaches guide teams to evaluate church life, think creatively, and move in new directions fitting for each congregation.

Rev. Johnson said, "They’re not told what to do, but they’re coached to use best practices. You have to define how you’re going to make those shifts (such as) from ‘serve us’ to ‘service.’"

Accountability is key

"How do you implement?" he asked and answered by describing a strength of Shifts: the coach holds the team accountable for implementation. Some church-growth tools offer only diagnosis, Johnson said.

The initial large-group meeting of teams, in January, included encouraging testimonies, the superintendents agreed. Several people posted photos from the day on social media.

Tener said, "The whole day was a movement of God’s spirit. It was good to say to each other that we are having this conversation about our congregations not just for survival but for us to say we want to make new disciples of Jesus Christ."

Johnson concluded, "When you have that many people show up from that many churches, ready to find a way for the Church to gain new life and growth, it’s not just an energy. It’s the energy of the presence of God." — Holly McCray


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