In the next three editions of Together, the Transition Team will be sharing gleanings from the congregational conversations as a reminder of all the hard, good work the church has done over the past year. These pieces will be part report, part preparation for an online gathering in November that will bring our congregational conversations to a close.
The team has chosen Together as its main outlet because it has the most reach within the congregation. If you have questions about any of what is below, want to ensure that a particular insight is on the record, or desire to receive fuller summaries of the congregational conversations, please contact a member of the transition team made up of Shawn Hawkins (chair), Mike Ward, Sally Smith, Gloria Hodges, David Weatherspoon, Robin Miller, Cherish Mathis, and April Blankenship.
On September 29, 2019, we gathered to consider FBC’s history. Through a timeline activity, the sharing of photos, and discussion around the tables, here are some of the themes that emerged:
- relationships are key, and these are most powerfully built within groups and classes
- FBC contains multitudes – newcomers and long-timers as well as people all along the political and theological spectrum – which is both cause for celebration and challenge
- children’s and youth and music ministries are sources of great hope
- the church retains a commitment to Midtown, anchored by people who stayed after the split
- there are many who are willing to do a lot of work on behalf of the church
- healthy dialogue is valued and essential
- difficulties FBC faces include building usage and accessibility, the financial picture, a desire to engage the community more fully, relationship-building across groups, communication gaps, and the wide range of what people know about how the church works
The October 27, 2019, congregational conversation focused on connections and featured an interactive map and a photo station in addition to small and large group discussion. Some of the themes from the first event were echoed, along with:
- a desire to create more means of intergenerational interaction and noticing who is and isn’t here
- identification that mission projects might hit several targets: connecting people across groups, engaging intergenerationally, and catching people who aren’t engaged at the church in other ways
- church members’ request for a forum to discuss tender subjects
- a need to make first-time visits easier through increased signage (inside and outside) and sanctuary and outdoor lighting (particularly at night on the Parkway side) and more greeters who are informed about goings-on and willing to walk newcomers to classes could be helpful
- a note that communication is key and that not everyone has the same communication preferences
The November 17, 2019, congregational conversation addressed FBC’s mission, using the gathering to collect diapers for Hospitality Hub, feature tables set up by mission partners, and map FBC’s many assets (including financial, physical plant, individual talents and relationships, relationships between FBC and the community, location, radio access, reputation, and ministries offered). We talked about:
- how FBC is already making a big impact by providing space, funding, and person power to community organizations through individuals and the congregation as a whole
- how FBC can expand its impact by both considering additional mission partners and narrowing its mission focus, leveraging spiritual gifts more intentionally, working on the culture of the church to encourage more full participation, using the facility more effectively, improving communication, and getting more people involved in hands-on work
In December we took a break from the transition facilitation process, and the transition team hosted a Christmas party instead with cookie decorating, music, Christmas photos and other merriment!
On January 12, 2020, the transition team offered a conversation outside the typical transition facilitation process in response to requests for a space to name hurts. Through our discussion in the large group circle, these needs were identified:
- clarity around leadership structure, inviting more people into decision-making and ensuring decisions are communicated out from committees
- support for ministers, including defining the role of the personnel committee, educating about what it means to welcome and embrace a minister, creating constructive feedback loops for leaders, and establishing helpful expectations of ministers
- increased communication about ministry opportunities/events/leaders and building and budget questions as well as more frequent church conferences
- capitalizing on the reputation of FBC in the community and energy when it bubbles up, encouraging engagement in processes, listening intentionally to younger members, and celebrating who is here
- building relationships across groups through focus on common ground, more opportunities for interaction and dialogue, and noticing when someone is absent/struggling
- leading with love by ensuring safety for those with less power, embracing healthy conflict over avoidant comfort, building the atmosphere that makes people want to invite others to church, deepening trust, and living in the tension between seeing the gospel as political and wanting to keep politics out of church
On February 23, 2020, we turned our attention to the future and identifying common ground on which to build. The gathered group named that will require:
- more intentional, cross-generational time together with a substantive focus (worship, Bible study, topical study, mission project, etc.), an overt invitation to all, and attention to availability of the various segments of the congregation
- development of a culture of listening well using structure/ground rules/covenanting that are reiterated often
- expanded means of communication
The willingness to work is there but needs organization and direction in terms of examining the leadership structure, getting real buy-in from congregation before big decisions, developing deeper relationships with mission partners and those who share our space, and distinguishing between logistical and spiritual problems.
Thank you for your participation in this process! Your involvement and insights have paved the way for FBC to move into the next chapter of its ministry.