Vital Church Initiative (VCI)

A Word From Your Pastor

William C. Bills, Pastor

The Vital Church Initiative is not a magic bullet. But it (and things like it) are being undertaken in churches all over the country. There was a post-World War II church building boom in this country. Now, church attendance numbers are at all-time lows. Many congregations are simply aging out. The children of older members don’t attend church at the rates their parents and grandparents did. Older people don’t attend as much as they used to. Because decline in churches is slow, it often goes unnoticed. If nothing is done to engage new generations, more and more churches will close over the coming decades.

I haven’t heard any dramatic success stories from VCI. In many churches, it has slowed or stopped declining membership and attendance. But VCI hasn’t caused many congregations to experience rapid growth. The one proven method of growing congregations is simply to start new ones. But new churches tend to settle into habits and traditions around the 25 to 30 year mark. Then most begin a slow path of decline.

The waning influence of the Christian Church in America has made this even more pronounced. Some churches are growing dramatically. Those churches tend to be newer. They are not afraid to innovate. Churches that have been in existence longer resist innovation. But staying the same isn’t really an option for churches in this country anymore. The majority of congregations over the age of forty face two choices: innovate and develop a plan for the future or accept a slow and steady decline. Slow and steady decline usually happens over decades in churches.

David A. Roozen of the Harford Institute for Religious Research published a study entitled “American Congregations 2015: Thriving and Surviving.” According to the study, churches that thrive today are the ones that are willing to innovate. In the study, “innovation” is just the willingness to try new things. According to Roozen, churches that try new things fare better than churches that don’t.

While the Vital Church Initiative is not a magic bullet, it does afford congregations an opportunity to consider where they want to be in ten or twenty years. Obviously some of us won’t be here in ten or twenty years. But that is not the point. The larger question is, where will our church be in ten or twenty years?


Faith in Action: Bridge Team

by Pete Marvin, Bridge Team, chair

University UM Church must move beyond transactional ministry with the community into relationship building with its neighbors in order to extend the heart of Christ with the community and develop a relationship with those whom the church serves. This goal has been outlined for us by our consultants in Prescription 5 and many reading materials.

In other words, we need to get to know and serve neighboring individuals, groups of individuals, and organizations. And, we need to help them know us and the God we serve. UUMC’s Bridge Team is grappling with the development of an outwardly-focused, comprehensive plan for our church’s relational outreach ministries in the community.

Our first bridge event focused on reaching out to business leaders along the Trowbridge-Harrison corridor. UUMC hosted a “get acquainted” meeting on Tuesday, July 11, so they could meet our staff and tour our facility. While getting to know them better, we told them of our interest in building relationships with our neighbors, including the Red Cedar and Ivanhoe communities. We had hoped to invite residential neighborhoods to be our guests at UUMC’s fall kickoff Sunday brunch and concert. Although this has been put on hold due to the lack of a UUMC kitchen coordinator, we are discussing a variety of ways we might build relationships with our community.

Your ideas are sought. Also, you are invited to join present Bridge Team members Rebecca Berry Jost, Janel Horrocks-Boehmer, Pete Marvin (chair), Cynthia Webb, Sue Stahl, Melissa Hogan, and JoEllyn Roe. Just let us know of your interest by calling the church office (517-351-7030) or Pete Marvin (517-331-5477).

Intentional Means Having a Plan

William C. Bills, Pastor

Bishop Robert Schnase notes that “The inner world is a source of power and strength but it needs to be cultivated.” (The Five Practices of Fruitful Living, p. 84) Caring for our spirits equips us to handle life’s difficulties. It also helps us serve God and our neighbors. Having a plan for faith development insures that one never stops growing in faith.

Faith doesn’t grow only by attending services, listening to sermons, reciting prayers and singing songs. These are essential to the corporate life of the church but faith development needs to be practiced with depth and consistency outside of worship. Busy schedules make this a challenge. Disciples have to make time to grow spiritually. Disciples also benefit from the intimacy, accountability and support of friends. Intentional faith development is practiced with depth and consistency with the help of others.

In Galatians 5.22-23 we are told that the fruits of the spirit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Growth in faith increases the fruits of the spirit in us over time. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, taught that Christians could become more Christ-like over time if they availed themselves of the power of the Holy Spirit and lived intentionally as Christians. While it is unlikely that we will ever become altogether Christ-like, having a plan for faith development will help us become more like Christ over time.

Our church recently formed a task force for intentional faith development. Please pray for that task force. They are working to develop a plan for the entire congregation. In the coming weeks and months consider and pray about your own spiritual growth. Do you have a plan for spiritual growth or does it happen in fits and starts? Can you make time to devote to nurturing your own spirit or the spirits of other people? Please consider how and why intentional faith development can become a high priority in our church and in your lives. I hope you will commit to undertake a plan intentional faith development.

From Pastor Bill ~
VCI task forces have authority to implement

Our congregation read Bob Farr’s book, Ten Prescriptions for a Healthy Church, prior to the most recent pastoral change. I am not sure if Rev. Jennie Browne covered the chapter on Intentional Faith Development in her sermon series on that book. At the risk of being redundant, I would like to remind us of the importance of Intentional Faith Development for every congregation. The mission of any church will rise and fall with the strength of faith and Christian character of the congregation.

In Cultivating Fruitfulness, Bishop Robert Schnase tells us that intentional faith development refers to all other ministries and practices outside of weekly worship that help us to grow in faith. Sunday school classes, Bible studies, small groups, prayer time, and other spiritual practices help us to deepen our faith. Intentional refers to deliberate effort, purposeful action, and high priority. Those who practice intentional faith development should be able to look back over their lives of discipleship and see some kind of progress, some evidence of growth (Cultivating Fruitfulness, p. 43). Christians who fail to grow in faith often find themselves going through the motions, creatures of habit driven by the church calendar or tradition with little appreciation for mission and vision.

Lacking a plan for intentional faith development, many churches experience declining participation, leadership, and financial support. Disciples who don’t mature in faith have a hard time sharing their faith. Believing in God isn’t a guarantee that one will grow in faith. According to Bob Farr, “All this has resulted in a church full of consumers. When you have an outward form of faith but lack the inner substance of faith, you become easily upset when the leadership of the church begins to change the outward forms of that faith” (Ten Prescriptions for a Healthy Church, p. 58). If we fail to continually grow in faith, we may become attached to the outward forms of religion. We may become attached to preference and tradition. Lack of growth often equates to lack of vision.

Every church should offer a plan for intentional faith development. We currently have a task force developing one for ours. We each have to work at deepening our faith. This is something we do together. Depth of faith and commitment to discipleship are essential for churches that earnestly desire to follow Jesus and serve others. Growing disciples understand that we follow Jesus and participate in church not only for our own sake but also for the sake of those God calls us to reach and serve.

Rev. William C. Bills

VCI Logo for booklet.png

On Monday, March 27 at 7:00 p.m., the Visioning Team will meet with all interested persons to review the new vision statement for our church. They will also review the process for arriving at the vision statement. The team will share their personal understanding of the particular words they have chosen. Our new vision statement is:

Daring one another to love God and our neighbor