Healthy Church Initiative
By RUSSELL W. MAY
We began discussing the Healthy Church Initiative, or HCI, over two years ago and agreed that for our church, HCI was a good idea.
We were in the early stages of decline, having gone several years without any notable growth, and felt morale was low and programming a bit stagnant. We needed to energize and motivate our leadership and congregation.
Our Church Council voted to approve entering Phase 1 of HCI. Six lay volunteers as well as our pastoral staff participated in eight months of study. We read a book each month on a variety of topics, which gave us plenty of good ideas for things we could work to improve and confirmed things we were doing well. The lay volunteers attempted to meet once a month with our pastors to share what we were learning as well as visions we had for the future. We provided HCI updates to our Church Council and held quarterly town hall meetings for those interested.
After eight months, our Church Council voted to enter Phase 2, the self-study part of the program. We enlisted our HCI training team as well as the Church Council to lead groups of people to gather the requested information. This got more people involved in HCI, even though they did not yet have a full understanding of how all the pieces fit together. Those who underwent the training to be team leaders shared their visions of what they had learned with the others working on the self-study topics.
After about four months, we submitted a binder of data that exceeded an inch thick to the Consultation Team. We also retained copies for our pastors and church leaders, which is proving eye-opening as we continue to work. It was finally time for our weekend consultation, and we were very excited.
On a Friday in February, a team of eight that included pastors, North Texas Conference staff and lay members with HCI experience came to our church. The consultants interviewed our pastors, staff and lay leaders, asking them what was working well and what needed improvement. They led a focus group of church members not involved in leadership, asking similar questions. This session was especially impactful as we had a cross section of ages, lengths of membership and areas of involvement.
On Saturday, we had a debriefing with our Church Council before beginning a six-hour training session attended by as many as 60 church members. It was an interactive, productive day as we discussed ideas about how we could improve our church and make a better impact on God’s Kingdom. Everyone left the Saturday meeting understanding the opportunity in front of us and encouraged that we could make fundamental changes that would revitalize our church. The energy level leaving Saturday was very high.
The energy from Saturday spilled into Sunday, and you could feel the buzz of excitement up and down the halls and in each Sunday School classroom. The lead consultant gave an uplifting message at each of our worship services. After the last service Sunday, the lead consultant presented the full report, which included five key strengths, five opportunities for improvement and five prescriptions to put those opportunities into action. There were no surprises, but having the information prepared in a clear, concise format, with copies given to those in attendance, was certainly a benefit.
We held three town hall meetings to review the report in detail and get church members’ ideas on the HCI report. Many asked good questions to clarify points and gain perspective on the plan. A month after the consultation weekend, we held a Church Conference, when our church voted unanimously to accept all five prescriptions.
We look forward to working with our HCI coach to plan, develop and implement the strategies to achieve excellence through the prescriptions.
We were asked recently: “Would we do it again?” The answer: “Absolutely!”
In fact, we wish we had started this process years ago so that we would be further along. We are excited about our future and look forward to the positive fruits we know will come. God is surely blessing us as we seek His will and work to grow His Kingdom.
Russell W. May is HCI chairman for Lake Highlands UMC in Dallas.