On January 21, 2016, the Rev. Bob Farr
, Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence and a member of the appointive cabinet in the Missouri Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, held a lively question and answer workshop at the Iowa United Methodist Conference Center on the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) process.
The workshop was open to anyone with an interest in the Healthy Church Initiative and in attendance were coaches, pastors, lay people, consultation team members, facilitators, and conference staff.
Healthy Church Initiative is a renewal process for local congregations that is designed to enhance the leadership skills of pastors and laity in order to create a community focused, growing, vibrant and spirit-filled church. It was created by Rev. Farr and his team in 2008. Since then, there have been over 1,000 HCI consultations around the country.
In Iowa, 160 churches have been involved in some aspect of the Healthy Church Initiative process. Forty-five have gone through the consultation weekends and two dozen congregations are currently working with coaches to implement their ministry goals.
According to Rev. Farr, the reason HCI is so critical for The United Methodist Church is because one of the churches prevailing issues is, “We are not bringing new people to Jesus Christ.”
He suggested that during the HCI process the coaches should ask, “How did you get to become a United Methodist?” and they will discover very few people will answer by saying they were invited by somebody from that church.
HCI gets churches outwardly focused
Rev. Farr, who has led 128 individual HCI church consults in 29 conferences, said, “Churches need to become outwardly focused. They need to get the church out of the building and into the community. Then invite the community back to their church.” HCI helps the church build relationships with their community with the purpose of getting others to know Jesus.
“Membership tells you where you have been. Attendance tells you where you are now and baptisms tell you where you are going to be in the future,” he explained. “Most of our churches have very few adult baptisms and there is a decline in infant baptisms—both key indicators of what's to come.”
Rev. Farr explained there are many factors that go into tallying the result of HCI. There is growth in most of the churches that go through the HCI process and 40% of the churches are still growing by 5% or more after 18 months.
Much of the success has been created because it “changed the conversation.” It stopped the downward slide. The Missouri Conference has shown an increase in financial stability, professions of faith and baptism over that past 8 years.
The three main components of HCI are continuous learning, consultation, and coaching. Church leaders should be in some form of a continuous learning environment in order to support and encourage others. The HCI process includes leadership development workshops for pastors and laity. Trained consultants help churches identify strengths and concerns then provide prescriptions to address ministry opportunities. These consultations involve such elements as a community study, analysis of key data of the church, interviews with leaders, congregational training, visits from mystery guest worshipers, and more. Churches who accept the prescriptions are then assigned a trained coach to work with them over the next two years to identify resources and to hold leaders accountable to one another as they complete their ministry goals.
Rev. Farr told the group to expect conflict during the HCI process. He encouraged the group by saying, “Don’t fear conflict but push through it. Deal with it up front. Don’t back up or the good people will leave. Churches have to have some tension and conflict in order to grow. He suggested to the group to say these words over and over during conflict, “It's gonna be okay. It's gonna be okay.”
Going through the Healthy Church Initiative process also means a church is entering a continuous improvement process. “Churches cannot stay put but will need to reinvent. After the HCI process, churches should self-initiate writing new prescriptions to continue their growth."
Rev. Farr answered questions and gave examples of ways to handle situations during the HCI process. He closed with a message of hope by saying, “There is new stuff coming alive in The United Methodist Church and if we are to have a future, it is going to be because of the people like you who are involved in the process of planting the new churches.”
Not a program, but a process
HCI is quickly becoming the grammar of the annual conference. It is not a program, but a process, a way of thinking that leads to transformation and it is not just another conference program. The HCI Coordinating team currently offers an HCI process for parishes, and will be launching an HCI model that helps churches go deeper into their prescriptions. "We have found that 18 months after consultation does not give churches enough to time live into their prescriptions," said Rev. Dr. Jaye Johnson, Field Outreach Minister in the South Central District. "HCI 2.0 is designed to help churches go deeper and work on their prescriptions."
However, we believe that the ultimate goal of HCI needs to be creating new disciples of Jesus Christ. In other words, we need to be creating new communities of faith. The HCI coordinating team is developing an HCI process called HCI 3.0 that will help churches launch new communities of faith. "We cannot wait to see new people come to faith, and our world will continue to be transformed with this process," Johnson said.
For more information about HCI please contact your Field Outreach Minister or Rev. Rebecca Fisher the LDM for Evangelism and New Ministry.
Read more about Healthy Church Initiative at http://www.iaumc.org/hci