By Pamela Dilmore
Rev. Bob Farr, a Director of Congregational Excellence, stirred conference enthusiasm with his presentation of the work and efforts of creating excellent congregations in Missouri. The strategies include the Healthy Church Initiative, Small Church Initiative, Hispanic Ministries, and New Church Starts.
He recalled that when he went to church as a boy, his job was to ring the bell. Sometimes the bell got stuck. He used the memory as an image for congregational excellence. “The job of Congregational Excellence is for churches to ring the bell as often and hard as they can. Sometimes it gets stuck!” he said.
Healthy Church Initiatives deals with transforming existing churches. Ten years ago, he asked “What would it look like to transform our churches?” HCI set a goal of 100 church consults over ten years. He reported that the team has been in 114 churches. HCI has been in every district and consulted with churches that want to work for transformation. He challenged the conference by saying, “If you haven’t done anything. TRY SOMETHING.” The challenge was a loud ring of that bell he described at the beginning of his presentation.
In the work of New Church starts, the ten year goal was 30 new churches. In the past 8 years, Missouri has started 35 new congregations. Of these 35 starts, 21 have been successful. The new churches have brought in 3,500 new worshippers. Missouri has been placed in the top five conferences in the nation for new church plants. Several restarts and second campuses are underway in 2014.
In the work of Hispanic Ministries, they have discovered the bilingual congregations bring in more people. He praised the ministry of a bilingual congregation in Carthage. He expressed gratitude for the work and ministry of Geovanna Huffman, who has moved to do ministry in Texas. Suzanne Nicholson is beginning as the Associate in Congregational Excellence.
Missouri has more multicultural churches than any conference in America. A new Islander congregation with several groups of people from Pacific islands has begun in Independence. It is the only Islander church in the Midwest.
Many churches have been planted by people who are laity, and a program is being developed to certify and empower more laity in the ministry of new church starts. Leadership development and workshops provide inspiration and training for starting and restarting new congregations.
Farr told us how proud he is to “fly home” to the churches in Missouri after he has been in other conferences. In all these ministries of Congregational Excellence, Farr said, “We are trying to ring the bell!”