On May 16, I attended the L.I.F.T. Conference at First Christian in Macon. This event was sponsored by our Regional Church. The speakers were Rev. Jorge Cotto and Tony Rodriguez from Central Christian Church in Coral Gables, FL. and Rev. Dr. Gilberto Collazo from Church Extension where he is in charge of the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation.
L.I.F.T. stands for Loving, Impactful, Transforming Communities of Faith. The promotion for the event asked five questions. If the answer was yes, you were part of the target for the conference. These were the questions:
1. Do you need a push in moving toward being the church that God wants you to be?
2. Are you asking God what is next for your congregation?
3. Are you struggling with which way to go in your vision and mission planning?
4. Is change often the topic of conversation in your congregation?
5. Do you have more memories than dreams about your ministry?
Did you answer yes? I did, which is why I attended.
During this conference, Jena Kennedy from Chestnut Ridge Christian Church in Marietta shared about her church’s changes. She shared that the congregation decided they didn’t want to be the best church in the community; they wanted to become the best church FOR their community. Among the steps they took was to Embrace Change. They also restructured their Constitution and By-laws to be more Nimble and to be quicker in response to ministry vision. They also acknowledged that it was okay to fail.
It is better to try and realize a mistake, than to let fear prevent even trying.
Rev. Cotto and Tony dialogued about their congregation’s transformation. Coral Gables was a declining, primarily Anglo congregation. They intentionally called a Hispanic pastor since the neighborhood around the church had changed since the church started in 1927. Currently they have three services on Sunday morning, English, Spanish, and Spanglish.
Central intentionally developed a spirit of Commitment and Compromise, meaning that the work of ministry and the church was no longer theirs, but belonged to God. By beginning this way, a spirit of Respect, Love, and Patience developed. This meant that everyone had a voice and it was heard. It didn’t mean that everyone got their way, but they all worked together in discerning what God was leading them to become.
Central stresses Unity and Identity. Unity does not mean uniformity. Rather it welcomes all voices to the discussion and patiently allows God to guide them to consensus. Identity is the responsibility to learn Who We Are as part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
They also intentionally have two people in charge of all ministry teams, one who has been in the congregation for some time and someone newer to the church that feels led to be involved in that ministry. In this way, they celebrate their traditions but also welcome new ideas and ways of doing ministry. This encourages a positive outlook, even when things fail. They don’t look for the person at fault in failure; they go back to their vision of their ministry to the community and try something else. The last point Tony and Jorge made was the challenge of leaving their (and our) Comfort Zones. They endorsed Chestnut Ridge’s attitude of becoming the Best church for their community.
I am sharing all of this because I believe we have an opportunity to create within this congregation the potential for being the best church for Warner Robins. To that effect, I want to share news of an opportunity to explore New Beginnings. There will be two opportunities to learn what this entails. We were told that this would NOT be a Church Growth program, rather it is a church transformation work. On Friday, June 5th at 7:00 p.m. at First Christian Church in Albany or on June 6th at 2:00 p.m. at First Christian Church of Atlanta in Tucker, New Beginnings will share what is involved and how the program can serve our congregation and our Region.
By joining New Beginnings they would do an assessment of our congregation in late August or early September. In November our congregational leaders would gather to learn how to facilitate a congregational conversation to decide on moving forward or not. There is a financial commitment to participate, but by working within the Region, the cost is spread out over all the congregations taking part.
Their flyer reads, “The Process works! Congregations connect to mission in new ways. Leaders have clarity about the direction the church can go. In many cases the church grows.”
I believe that this is a great opportunity for our church. I encourage any of our leadership who are available on either of these dates to join me in attending one of these meetings. I will be going to Albany of Friday, June 5th, and I would love company.