Holy Conversations

October 1st, 2013

Would demographic and lifestyle information help your church fulfill its mission to serve the people within its reach? Can you share examples of how this has—or hasn’t—worked for you? Here are some examples of what our readers had to say.

Our church is in a neighborhood that is 95% Hispanic. In 2006, our congregation was 90% Anglo and in serious decline. For the past seven years, we deliberately focused our ministry and vision to reach the Hispanic community. As a result of our efforts, in July 2013, we started a “new faith community” underwritten by our Annual Conference. This is a bi-cultural and bi-lingual community designed to serve the needs of all people in the neighborhood. As a result of this new focus, our church has experienced a doubling in our worship attendance in the past two years. I will not say it was easy, but it was deliberate—we identified the target group and then we refocused our vision to reach that group. - Jimmy Nelson, Pastor of Hope United Methodist Church in Tucson, AZ

Two years ago, as a part of a congregational self-assessment, we asked, “Where do we have a strength in ministry that isn’t fully being tapped?” The answer was immediate: ministry with families who have children with special needs, particularly families with autistic children. With the support of the congregation, a parent took the lead, establishing Incredible Families, a ministry of networking, support, and fellowship for families of and children with autism. Since its inception, Incredible Families has provided monthly gatherings and outings, has fostered a “during the worship time” option for the children called STARS (Specially Talented and Rejoicing Students), and sponsored a statewide summer camp called Autism Summerpaloosa. It is a joy to welcome these folks with the love of Christ who welcomes us all! - Dorothy Ann Webster, Pastor of Lineville First United Methodist Church in Lineville, AL

I once consulted with a small church with declining numbers, especially children. Their common understanding was that young families were nonexistent in their town. Using demographic statistics, I was able to show them that, although their current church families were moving away, there were many children in their town. In fact, the majority of people in their town were children! This inspired them to revamp their facilities to accommodate children and to begin offering programs and events to attract and serve the children in their town. - Nan de Andrade, Pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Durham, NC

Using MissionInsight data, we have identified the needs of those who live in our community. Sunray is a small rural community in the Texas Panhandle. Four years ago we realized the need for a food pantry. It began as an outreach of First United Methodist but expanded into a Ministerial Alliance effort. The food pantry is housed in our facility. Mission Insight made us realize that this is a community with a young demographic. We began to look for ways to help young families. This summer we organized a lunch in the park twice a week for children who are normally fed at school. Again, this started with our church, but we involved the whole community. On food pantry days, we hand out information that might be helpful to the women who pick up food. For example, we distribute information from the Komen foundation to offer free mammograms for the indigent. We are always looking for ways to bring the love of Christ to those in our community. - Karen Young, Pastor of First United Methodist Church in Sunray, TX

We walked across the street and began to meet the people who do not attend our church. Over the last eight years, we have gotten them to leave their apartments and attend ESL classes, parenting classes, sewing classes, and a Bible study. Each of these ministries was something they asked us to offer. We have helped with back-to-school backpacks and tutoring in the local school also, and some of the parents became involved in the above ministries. Now we are offering a Sunday service in Spanish at 1 p.m., and last year we invited them to attend a Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day. About 125 attended. - Harold Travis, Pastor of Clear Lake United Methodist Church in Houston, TX

I believe that the call of the church is to be faithful to Christ’s unchanging mission in all times and all places. At the same time, the work of any congregation is to incarnate that unchanging call in the local context. I think about demographic and lifestyle data every day. The question of how and whether to focus on children’s ministries, to add financial planning classes, and if we should expect that there are receptive people in any age group are all determined at least partly by demographics. Demographic studies taught us that our church is in a commuter community, and so we have focused on Wednesday night programs with a meal and stuff for all ages. This information can never be used enough, in my opinion. - Nathan Atwood, Pastor of Millbrook First United Methodist Church in Millbrook, AL

Demographic-shmemographic. When a church does things they like to do and loves doing them, people will notice and come to be with the loving people they see. If we are loving, it won’t matter who we are looking for to come . We love others not because of who they are, but because of who God is! It’s not about us. It’s not about them. It’s about Christ! - Tom Kingery, Pastor of Rockton United Methodist Church in Rockton, IL

When I was the pastor of Fircrest United Methodist Church in Tacoma, WA, we found demographic information invaluable in framing an outreach program. An older congregation, we discovered that the average age of our community was 36 years. We also found that nearly one-third of the children in the area were being raised by single mothers. We developed an outreach program in light of these figures that provided Wednesday night meals for these young mothers and families, and we provided recreation programs in the elementary school gym next door for the children. Our congregation became younger and larger. - Leon L. Alden, Pastor of Oroville United Methodist Church in Oroville, WA

Rhode Island was hard-hit by the economy, and we saw an increased use of the town’s food pantry, housed in the church. With other churches, we began a community dinner to serve hot meals and to provide fellowship for those alone. After the flooding Holy Week of 2012, there was greater need. As we engaged in conversation with those attending, we learned of other needs—help with housing, support for a cancer patient, assistance with gas and winter coats, and so on. We do a lot of listening. Many have been referred to community social services, but many have connected to another individual attending the dinner. It is a community within a community. Church members, 10–75, are present; help is given, relationships are formed, and prayer is offered. - Lori Eldridge, Pastor of North Kingstown United Methodist Church in North Kingstown, RI

Our conference uses MissionInsite to aid pastors, leaders, and congregations in looking objectively at the communities we live and serve in. I believe the numbers matter, but we also need a narrative. We need a context for looking at the demographic information. One congregation has specifically targeted missions. I use the information to do strategic planning. We need to do Ministry By Walking Around. We also need to use the tools available to be meaningful, effective, and authentic witnesses in our communities. - Barbara Snyder, Pastor of New Hope Trinity Charge (East Benton, Montdale, and Waverly United Methodist Churches) in PA

Next Issue’s Topic:

In the February/March/April issue, Circuit Rider will feature frank talk about hope for reform in the United Methodist Church. What would you change? Your opinions about constructive UMC reforms can be sent to the circuitrider@umpublishing.org

About the Author

Circuit Rider

Circuit Rider is a magazine for United Methodist clergy. Issues back to 2008 are available on Ministry Matters. For read more…
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