By LINDA M. LINONIS
The Healthy Church Initiative, a program in the Methodist Church, focuses on “growing fruitful congregations.”
The Rev. David Gilbert, senior pastor at Churchill United Methodist Church, 189 Church Hill-Hubbard Road, is an HCI facilatator.
The Rev. Mr. Gilbert said about six years ago he read a book relating to the topic. “God gave me a mission,” he said of how the material inspired him.
Mr. Gilbert admitted “none of the material is new or unique, but how it’s put together works.” He said the Methodist Church “tweaked and adapted” information that originated with the American Baptist Church on the topic.
The pastor said the material is based on a simple fact — the church in general was not fulfilling its mission of spreading the Gospel of Jesus amd making disciples.
He said passages from Matthew 28:16-20 that include “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” provide the directive to do just that.
The initiative is not only about creating new disciples but helping the faithful grow more fully in their faith.
Mr. Gilbert said the initiative will revitalize congregations and possibly attract new members. He noted that “18- to 35-year-olds are nearly absent from most churches,” but the initiative may be an avenue to attract them.
So far, Mr. Gilbert has led two study groups for pastors. Both had about 12 participants.
The pastors met once a month for four hours over nine months.
He said he first addresses how the church and culture were in sync in the 1950s and into the ’60s.
“The church lost the connection with culture,” Mr. Gilbert said. “Now they’re so far apart, the culture is antagonistic to the church, which is now like first-century Christians.”
Pastors must be retrained in leadership, Mr. Gilbert continued. But, in addition to pastoral leadership skills, the church also must develop lay leadership. Pastoral and lay leadership must “be on the same page.”
It is suggested that pastors conduct an “intervention” at which the congregation does a “self-diagnosis.”
The congregation is asked to list five strengths, five concerns and five presciptions pertaining to the concerns.
“The congregation has a sense of where they’re stumbling and struggling,” Mr. Gilbert said. “People want their church to do well,” he added, so this is why the process works.
The congregation must vote to address all the concerns. “It’s all or nothing,” he said.
Pastors will participate in a peer support group.
One of the main ideas of HCI is to prompt churches from looking inward to outward. “What does the community need” is a question to be addressed, the pastor said.
Churchill UMC is acting on HCI by offering Grief Share, which helps participants deal with feelings after a death. The church is working with two funeral homes in this area.
The church also has offered Financial Peace University to help people address practical tips about money matters.
“This is about getting out in the community,” Mr. Gilbert said.
Churchill UMC also has been working with the Blott Kids Christmas program as part of its community outreach. The project supplies holiday gifts for needy children at E.J. Blott Elementary School.
The community projects are valued, the pastor said, but what is most important is “having a relationship with God and Jesus.”
Churchill also has a “daughter” congregation, dubbed 614, that meets at 11 a.m. Sundays at The Refuge, which is near the church. Recently, the service had an attendance of 93. The name is based on Romans 6:14, “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
He continued that this “can’t be about keeping the church alive but introducing people to the love of God.” This will make the difference, he said.
Mr. Gilbert cited five practices of fruitful congregations. “Radical hospitality is reaching out to new people ... developing a ministry for new members,” he said. Churchill has implemented a gift card program.
“Passionate worship” must be practiced, Mr. Gilbert said. “Every Sunday is a chance to experience God ... we shouldn’t take it for granted so every service should be as good as it can be.”
Faith development must be an ongoing effort, he continued. “Discipleship pathways help people live more fully in God,” he said. The church offers small groups focusing on different study topics.
“We have to serve people,” Mr. Gilbert said, noting that’s about using one’s abilities to help people and demonstrate the love of Christ.
“We have to be generous with our time, talent and money,” he said.