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The Vital Connection episode five: Challenges of church transformation and change

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In this episode of The Vital Connection, Rev. Kermit Culver, Northwest District Superintendent talks about the processes of church change and transformation. Culver was appointed to Bismarck First United Methodist Church.  The church had been a very strong church. The membership dwindled by about 40 young families and struggled. Congregants told Culver they wanted to grow, but, he learned, “There is no growth without change, and there is no change without pain.” How do you go about the change and survive the pain?

Rev. Kermit Culver, Northwest District Superintendent. Photo by jlynnstudio.

Here are some insights:
First things first: Leaders need to build trust. The church needs to trust you before members will follow the leader. Trust can be built by loving everyone and leading them to do what is right. The leader needs to discern the church's capacity for change. Culver asks these questions—"Are there people that see the need? Do they love their grandkids more than their hymns?"
End the belly-button gazing. The church can not change if the people are just looking internally or, even worse, at their past. Forget about pursuing former members. Look for opportunities for the church to selflessly reach out. Culver tells a story about how a church in Cannonball needed heating oil. The members of Culver's church met that need.  The gift became a culture-shaping because, people focused on the need outside of the walls instead of the need inside the walls.
Hold the vision in front. The vision of the Bismarck First UMC was to grow younger. There is no book on how to do this for any specific church. If the vision is regularly put forward, and if decisions are filtered through the vision, the church can take steps towards that vision. More importantly, people have their eyes open for those opportunities God sends our way.
Find allies within the church. You don’t need people to just say "yes". Culver states, "You need people that are willing to take a bullet for the vision…not necessarily for the pastor." Leaders need  to have open and honest conversations with these risk takers. These risk takers will keep going in the right direction and  will deflect opposition. Most risk takers do not need to be in any kind of official position.

Photo: Bismarck Legacy UMC. Photo by Dave Stucke, Dakotas Conference.

Self-awareness. The pastor and the church need self-awareness. One pastor can realistically only take care of maybe 50-100 people. Culver has this to say about being real. "A pastor is not good at everything and cannot realistically attend every meeting, council every couple, visit every sick person, provide leadership for every ministry, and preach 52 great messages a year. Know your limits and also know what fills your tank for ministry. The congregation needs to be honest with itself too. Does it have unrealistic expectations of the pastor? Is it holding on to ministries or programs or ways of doing things that are not doing much good anymore?"
Finding leaders. Selecting and hiring leaders is so important to the mission. How do you know who is the right person? Culver asks three questions to identify key leaders."Do they have a relationship with Jesus? Do they understand the vision? Do they give generously? Before you talk about skill and abilities, you need to address these questions. It will hold back change more than anything else, if you put someone into leadership that has answered 'No' to one of these questions."


REACH 2018—Save the date for the 2018 Reach event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, October 5-6, 2018. The conference will have five tracks to equip local church leaders to move forward in mission.

The featured presenters will be Bishop Bruce R. Ough, resident bishop for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area; Debi Nixon, executive director of regional campuses Church of the Resurrection, Leawood, Kansas; Rev. Jacob Armstong, Providence United Methodist Church, Mount Juliet, Tennesee; Rev. Adam Weber, lead pastor Embrace Church, Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

 Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix by Edwin Friedman. Click here for more information


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